AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Caitlyn Jenner's fame means her decision to live as a woman has been very public. But it's not every day that a transgender man or woman discusses their transition in a national TV interview or has a photo spread in a major magazine. Thousands of people in this country, especially young people, struggle with how to reveal their gender identity. We wanted to hear from one of them. Youth Radio sent us this story of 20-year-old Bella King. And a warning - Bella's story contains a word many people will find offensive.
BELLA KING: My name is Bella King. I go by they-them and she-her pronouns. A couple years ago, I started realizing that I was very, very unhappy with how my body looked. I couldn't deal with it. What would help with all that, like, horrible anxiety that I had over my body was wearing dresses and just doing the exact opposite thing that I felt was expected of me. Then I start thinking, hey, maybe being male is not for me. I identified most with trans woman. And I told my mom first. I was incredibly afraid to tell my dad. I actually never told my dad because he'd, you know, he'd used to tell me that I was going to get shot if I was gay or if I was, you know, if I wore a dress or anything like that. I've been attacked a couple times in the streets for wearing a dress.
I was called a f***** pretty much every day of my high school existence and all my middle school existence, too, and beaten up quite a lot. You know, everywhere from elementary school up to high school there was a lot of shame there for me that had just been built up from years of being bullied and being misunderstood or being outcasted for who I was. You know, it took me a while to realize that, like, even though I had all this shame built around it, that shame was not mine. That shame had been given to me by other people. I would say that the amount of messages that we have in our culture about, you know, what is right, how you're supposed to be a man - those messages are punishments towards people who don't identify as straight. Those kind of messages that tear down our self-esteem and make us, like, feel that we are less than the rest of our culture, I feel like that's a form of violence.
CORNISH: Bella King's story was produced by outLoud, a project of Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.