Teddie is a 21 year old trans-gender youth with arresting, long-lashed sherry-brown eyes. Soft-spoken, with a nervous laugh, he favors illustrated cartoon-and-grafitti-style caps and clothes that blend into the area of Chelsea where we decide to meet. Kicked out of his mother’s home at the age of 14 by his mother’s boyfriend, Teddie entered foster care and lived in several group homes until he aged out at 18. Since then, he has been homeless, couch-surfing with various friends or romantic partners, staying in LGBT-specific (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual) shelters, but never fitting in. His relationship with his mother is mostly non-existent. Although he stays in touch with his two younger sisters, it is mostly through Facebook. His random sleeping arrangements have sometimes been very precarious, putting Teddie into vulnerable situations such as having heroin addicts for roommates, feeling in imminent physical danger and sometimes under threat of forced sexual contact – all in addition to the mental stress of having no money, no job, and no hope.
Due to Teddie’s transience, his birth certificate with his legal (female) name has been lost. The lack of a legal identity has made his life even more difficult; he is unable to complete some of the paperwork he needs for job applications and for public assistance and food stamps. Teddy is trying to obtain a hearing with social services to find assistance.
At the time of our first meeting, Teddie is living with Jenny, his steady girlfriend of seven months. He describes this as the longest relationship he has ever had. He feels that he has a stable place to live, at least for a while, but is always worried that if the relationship fails, he will be on the street again.
Through an LGBT-sponsored program, Teddie has been undergoing hormone treatment to prepare for breast-reduction surgery, and he continues to reconcile the biological gender of his birth with his emotional and sexual identity as an adult male. He is not sure if he will continue to seek surgical solutions to a complete sex-change, but feels this first surgery is the minimum required for his mental well-being.
At our next meeting, I find out Teddie has secured some public assistance and job training through HRHC (Hudson River Health Care). He’s more goal-oriented and focused on what he wants and how to get it. He needs clothes for professional interviews. He wants to lose weight and get fit to be healthier and happier, so he’s been walking more. He needs a better resume, so he shows me what he has and asks my opinion about changing it to reflect his new identity. He wants to work with other transgender youth, helping them to make their way, so he’s looking into a college course to train for health and human services. It’s a significant change from our first meeting. Teddie has crossed an important line. I see it now, in his eyes and mine: he has hope.