Ni'Tee: Against All Odds... And Stereotypes
A man's man inside and out. A cool dude from Philly, but few know what it really took for him to arrive at this place. It was anything but a short easy journey....
I first met him at a model casting for one of Uomo Moderno's fashion shows from Italy. He walked in with dreadlocks to the floor and slightly almond shaped eyes, introducing himself as "Ni'Tee." "Cool name," I thought.
After drilling him on his sizes and modeling experience, I asked him to strut the runway a few times to show me his various styles of casual to more formal styles of walking. Ni'Tee was confident, self-assured, but not proud or arrogant.
He volunteered his expertise in showing the other, less experienced male models how to walk with elegance, but all the while in a manly way. I was pretty impressed with this guy. As we were standing around chatting, I briefly mentioned a transgender model that had walked in our show at New York Fashion Week.
Ni'Tee's face lit up. He grabbed me aside and began to narrate his arduous journey. I listened intently, asking him question upon question. It was all somewhat new for me, yet all very natural to accept. I had met him as a heterosexual man and that's how I view him to this day. I was informed, however, that I may be of the few exceptions.
Days passed after our fashion show. I couldn't help but wonder how many other young men and women could be out there, confused, doubting their true identity, not knowing where to turn.... I encouraged Ni'Tee to narrate his own story, in his own time when he felt ready, and that it really won't matter how people would react to it. After all, it's his story, and here it is in Ni'Tee's own words:
Today you are a biological male and you are attracted to women. Would it be correct to classify you as a heterosexual man?
"Yes!" How I define my desires and live my life on a daily bases, I find within my role of self-identity. How I solely view and see myself, as well as the ultimate respect I ascribe to others in my life, and the man I seek to manifest every day is a man that I have always effortlessly yearned to accomplish "for myself." A heterosexual male is how I live my life, so a heterosexual male is what I identify with.
How would you define yourself when you were born, and what fundamental differences that exist between then and now?
When I was born, I lived a life and identity that was "given to me," one that was ideal for those who found joy in their visions of whom and what they wished me to be. Being born female, I felt obligated to play the role of being someone's daughter, sister, and aunt; when in reality I never saw in myself to identify with any of those feminized titles. Becoming more aware of my needs, happiness, life desires, and goals in life, the difference between then and now is that, if I knew then what I know now, I would have shown people who I was sooner. When someone shows you who they are, believe them. I wish I knew that I could have been "who I am today," had I possessed the resources that I found for myself after embracing my gender identity.
Was there a time you became consciously aware of your sexual orientation?
I noticed my attraction to girls in kindergarten. I actually remember the girl's name from my kindergarten class even to this day. I went through several identity phases throughout my entire school life, being amongst peers of my age and constantly influenced by others of my age. I saw in school how others who identified secretly as lesbian and gay were teased; so of course I couldn't get it and, on top of all that, my family wouldn't get it then, just like they don't get it now.
What did you do with that realization?
I lived a life as a female for a great deal of my life, because "I had to" from the time I was born up until the time I was 19 years old. From 17 to about 20 years of age, I just dressed more masculine "for the time being," because in my mind I had to please the people I loved or liked. I still tried to be me and please my family.
How did others view you while you were growing up?
My family viewed me as a girl-a "tomboy." Being born physiologically a female, I was viewed as someone's daughter, sister, and aunt; but I was also viewed as a tomboy.
My peers saw me as a tomboyish type of figure, as well. I also had to "dress up as a female," since I came from a religious upbringing and had to attend a lot of Christian activities and meetings where I couldn't dress masculine. I had to "play the feminized role." I spent my whole life pleasing others around me. I truly felt my best when I was dressed masculine. I felt very secure when I could express myself in that way. Being a female was more torture for me then, being bullied, and I lived through both very heartlessly.
Did you ever consider yourself a lesbian during that period of life?
From the age of 18-20, I went through the "butch lesbian" phase, while also "dressing as a feminized image" to please "different groups of people." These groups consisted of family, friends, and partially the work place. This was one of my most challenging experiences, because I was still trying to "feel masculine but never was gratified with just dressing masculine."
I definitely started to feel the angry anxiety of "being addressed as a lesbian or a stud butch" everywhere I went... LGBT clubs, social events, etc. All of these labels started to detach me from myself, put a strain on me, and make me more and more "out of touch" with whom I sensed to be exclusively.
So you consider "lesbian" an inaccurate label of you then?
Before starting my physical transition, my outer image didn't match my inner state of mind. So I would say a hearty "Yes" now and then; "lesbian" did not define justly who I was. The people outside looking in saw "lesbian," even "androgynous"; that's what others saw when I walked into the room.
"Lesbian" once fit the image of "other's views of me." Debating that was endless, trying to explain, when all others saw was a very attractive model figure of a female. I knew I had to "change how others viewed me" if I were to be respected as the man I have crafted myself to be before my eyes today. I had to show people who I was. Today "lesbian" doesn't fit my physical being. Today people "see me" for whom I stand and remain in my own skin.
Can you elaborate on the difference between someone like you and a lesbian?
A lesbian "connects fully with her female being." She also connects with other female identified lesbians in whom she is attracted to her "felinity," as well. Lesbians also go through "female things together," such as a monthly cycle.
As a straight identified man, the difference between a lesbian and me is that "I'm a man" and my entire lifestyle everyday consists of me effortlessly being the man I'm so honored to have grown into today. I do everything as a man. I shave, have fitness vigor, play sports, etc. I live my life as a full-time heterosexual male. If I had been born a biological male at birth, I would be considered a straight man: One who loves women and not a "woman who loves women and identifies herself as one." That is a lesbian to me.
How did you finally understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?
I knew it was up to me at one point to "let everyone go." I knew I had to break free from the trap of other's image of me. I knew for sure that "I wanted to be happy in my own skin," and that it was up to me to empower that process.
I envisioned myself to be beyond the average masculine tomboy that others saw in me, the "lesbian" label that no longer fit the road on which I was heading. After a while, having a butch stud image was not ideal for the road on which I saw myself going long-term. Growing into a man and not a woman was something I began to accomplish for myself. It was then when I realized that I didn't agree with "everyone living their life"; when I desired my own life, it wasn't taken seriously by the ones whom I loved. I knew then that "I was my family," and that "I'm also my caretaker." I knew I had to take charge of my own happiness and no longer give it away to people who were living their life but turning their backs on me for living my life, just because they were embarrassed of me and couldn't explain me to their friends and associates.
When did you finally accept your sexual orientation and true identity?
I want to say I accepted my sexual orientation more and more as I began my adult life. I think I owned it more once I achieved my own independence and started living my life in a new way then when I couldn't express myself freely at home when growing up.
The limits I had "still held me mentally," even though I felt a little free. A lot of my gender choices I made while going through my change "was still somehow decided based on what others or my blood family would think!," even though I knew that this was "for me."
I began to mold myself to no longer be trapped in my family's image of me. I started to own my "male Identity and gender" full time in 2003 (4 years prior to starting hormone therapy). It wasn't until my "true image started to unveil" that it started to become more and more real, that I was even more consciously aware of my true existence. I felt EVEN more eager to build on my territory, to build on my image-my manhood.
To be continued