I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I am trans. There’s one memory I always find myself returning to, probably my earliest recollection of anything relating to gender expression. I was very young—it must have been before even starting kindergarten. I was with my family and a family friend at an indoor gym where parents would bring their kids to play.
Angelle Eve Castro (she/her) sister, daydreamer, friend
The friend was a girl a bit older than me, someone I looked to as a role model. She and I were in a room that was all about letting kids use their imagination. There were stuffed animals, different make-believe sets, and, most importantly, a chest full of all kinds of clothes. Sifting through that chest, I was mostly unimpressed with its contents until I pulled out a long, flowy dress. I was captivated by it. I put it on and it fit perfectly. I can remember the joy that welled up in my heart. I loved who I was in that moment. I danced around that room and felt so free I could’ve sworn I was flying.
But there was something awry about that happiness I was feeling. Something forbidden, even. I was a boy, after all. I would eventually have to leave that place and leave that dress behind, leaving freedom behind with it. I couldn’t let that happen. The next thing I remember is hiding in a closet behind a wall of stuffed animals. In the darkness of that moment, I determined that this feeling was something to keep hidden. And so, I did, or at least I tried to.
While growing up, there were always times when I couldn’t hide those feelings. On the first day of kindergarten, I met a girl named Annie and was jealous that she had such a feminine name. In second grade, I shaped my handwriting to be like the handwriting of the girls in my class. In third grade, I had my makeup done for the class play, and I jumped around unable to contain my joy. The truth about who I am would reveal itself to me continually. But these events were few and far between compared to the constant reminders that I was assigned the role of boy. I was often questioned by the guys around me, “Why is your handwriting so girly?” The joy of having my makeup done was snuffed out when an older boy asked me why I was so giddy over a little makeup. My mom would often lament about how she wished for a daughter but birthed only sons. Instances relating to gender always left a bitter taste in my mouth.
In middle school, when puberty struck, my bubbling internal conflict reached a boiling point. How could I be so unmistakably feminine, yet the world around me insisted that I be masculine? Desperate for answers, one day I scoured the internet searching for something to explain why I felt the way I did. Why do I feel like a girl on the inside? Am I a girl trapped in a boy’s body? I learned about gender dysphoria and finally was able to put a name to the uncomfortable feeling I’d experienced my entire life. But I knew little to nothing about transgender people. I knew that being transgender made me very different from everyone else, and it scared me. It just reinforced the idea that being trans was something to keep hidden.
Throughout middle school I ended up telling a handful of people the truth about my gender, all of whom were girls in my grade that I had grown close to. I was surprised when all of them were really kind to me about it, and I found a little bit of reprieve knowing that I wasn’t completely alone with the knowledge of my true self. Even so, it still felt like a secret that I couldn’t fully share. In private with my female friends, I felt somewhat like I was one of the girls, but I was still stuck being a boy everywhere else. I distanced myself from these friends to protect myself from the pain of feeling that way. I went back into the closet.
The feeling that my transness was a deep dark secret was magnified one day when a heated argument broke out in the comment section of a social media post. One of my old friends was arguing with a newer friend who I hadn’t come out to. I was trying to mediate the situation but was showing an obvious bias for my newer friend. My old friend, someone who I had trusted to keep my secret safe, then commented, “Why don’t you go put on some makeup?” My already anxiety-ridden heart dropped into my stomach. Being trans was so awful, so worthy of shame, that it was literally being used to blackmail me. And not only that, but it was working. I messaged her, apologizing profusely, swearing that I would stop defending my new friend if she’d delete the comment and not expose me. I cried myself to sleep that night.
In the following months I became severely depressed, so much so that I was suicidal. I started to see my transness as a curse. The way I saw it, being trans had only brought me suffering, and there was no reason to believe that anything would change. There were many nights I didn’t sleep at all. I would stay awake trying to figure out how to kill myself painlessly. I didn’t want to suffer the pain of death, I just wanted it all to end, to slip quietly into the night and never again deal with this curse. [If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text the 24-hour Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or visit 988lifeline.org]
The people around me could tell that there was something deeply troubling me, and I ended up telling a few of my closest friends that I was feeling suicidal. My concerned friend group hatched a plan to cheer me up. One day at lunch, a group of my friends and classmates all stood up in front of the table where we were eating. They said that they knew I had been feeling down lately and that they wanted to lift my spirits. All together they sang me the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars. Wherever all those friends are now, I hope that they know they saved my life that day. I still go back to that song during times when I’m feeling down, and it revives me the same way it did then. Although they weren’t aware of the real me, there were people in my life that I didn’t want to let down. I decided I wanted to keep living, even if I couldn’t reveal who I was inside.
I gave up trying to express my transness and instead just leaned into being the “me” that people expected. It was just bearable enough that I believed I could make a life that way. I pushed on in this state for years. High school and the years after graduating were a blur of creating new ways to convince myself and everyone around me that I was a man and I was happy that way. But I wasn’t. I was never happy about who I had become or who I was becoming.
I had people in my life who I loved and people who loved me. Still, it didn’t feel like I was receiving any love at all—only the person who I had become against my will. I didn’t allow myself to think about my past, and I also couldn’t seriously consider my future. Regardless, I stepped forward tentatively into the uncertain future awaiting me.
Two years after graduating high school, in the fall of 2018, I moved away from my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, to Boston to start college at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. I had never really wanted to go to college, but I was deeply drained from living in the home where I grew up repressing myself. I was ready for a change. It also brought me closer to my girlfriend Grace, who had moved away the previous year for college. I wasn’t surprised when I immediately started to struggle in my classes. Bottling up my emotions and my identity had taken its toll on my desire to learn.
One invaluable outcome of moving away for college was that I had no shortage of time alone with my thoughts. Those long days and nights of pondering brought me to a point where I was finally able to consider my issues with my identity. Realization dawned on me that I was struggling so much because I had been repressing my true self. I resolved that my gender dysphoria was never going to go away unless I faced it head on and dealt with it.
Now that I had acknowledged and begun to understand the feelings that I had kept repressed for so long, I had a choice to make. Would I continue trying to keep my identity a secret to protect myself? Or would I accept the fact that I was transgender and move forward in authenticity, finally admitting to myself and the world who I have always been?
It took some time to reach a conclusion, but in the end, there wasn’t a decision to make. I needed to live as authentically as possible. I accepted the fact that I was transgender and set my sights on taking whatever steps were necessary to relieve myself of dysphoria. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was, without a doubt, the only path that would lead to true happiness.
I wasn’t ready to come out of the closet quite yet, but I started trying to prepare myself for that eventuality. An old but familiar uneasiness took root in my heart. Would the people in my life accept me for who I was and support me in my endeavor to become the person I had always kept hidden away inside of me? I wasn’t 100 percent sure that they would, and it held me back from doing what I knew needed to be done. One day in October of 2019, something was able to push me off the edge of uncertainty upon which I stood. It was a newly released song from Eve, a Japanese artist who had quickly become my favorite from the days I spent listening to them while pondering myself. Their songs often describe the feelings associated with going through the motions of a dull and unfulfilling life—feelings of trying to drag on aimlessly or putting on an act to be more digestible to the people around you. The music was always relatable to me. But this new song hit me somewhere deeper than any had before and came at a time when I was waiting for a sign to lead me in the right direction. The song is titled “Raison D’être,” literally meaning “reason for existence” in French. Every word rang true for me.
I seized the courage that built up inside me, ready to tell my truth to the world. Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I slowly came out to people who were close to me. First came my girlfriend, Grace. She was one of the people that I was most anxious about telling since she was closer to me than anyone else. I knew though that she had to be the first person I told. At this point we had been together for over four years. We had grown together and helped each other through everything.
“I am still transitioning. I’m happier than I could’ve possibly imagined in my wildest dreams. Every day I wake up, and I’m more myself than ever before.”
On the day that I resolved to tell Grace, I was a nervous wreck. It had been ages since I last told anyone I was trans, but the pain I had associated with having people know was still fresh in my mind. I drove to Grace’s apartment, ready to lay bare the truth about myself but scared for what might come of it. When I arrived at her place, I was practically mute. I knew I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t get the right words to come out of my mouth.
When she gently inquired what was on my mind, I forced myself to say that I had something to tell her that might affect our relationship moving forward. But no more words would come. I ended up typing up a sort of coming-out letter on my phone. She read it and took a moment to process. The silence felt like hours. After a couple of minutes, Grace said that she supported me and wanted to be with me no matter what. We cried together, our tears a mix of catharsis and uncertainty about what the future would hold for us. But at least we would get to experience that future together.
Moving forward from there, I decided that I was going to repurpose the letter I wrote to Grace and edit it to fit whoever it was I was coming out to. It’s hard for me to voice my thoughts coherently, but when I can write them down it becomes much easier for me to make sense of what’s happening in my head. Coming out to my loved ones didn’t seem like such a daunting task once I realized I could do it in writing.
A few weeks after I told Grace, I sent the revised letter to my mom. I spoke about how she had always been aware that I was depressed but didn’t know that the reason was because I was repressing the fact that I was trans my entire life. A few more weeks passed, and I sent the letter to my Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog). She was helping me pay my way through college, but I had decided that I wanted to drop out of school and focus on my transition. I told her that my heart wasn’t completely devoted to school, and that transitioning was more important to me than getting a degree.
Then I sent the letter to my three brothers that I grew up with. I told Tyrell, Isa, and Sammy that I would never want to lose the love that we shared, and that I hoped they would accept me for who I truly am. And they did. Everyone I came out to accepted the truth about my identity and supported me wholeheartedly. Deep down, I think I knew that they would all love me unconditionally. Coming out to everyone else was a much more harrowing proposition. It was going to take some time until I was ready to do that.
At that point I was ready to start transitioning, even if not everyone knew the truth about me yet. Around the beginning of 2020, I started seeing a new doctor who specializes in trans healthcare. I learned about what transitioning entails, both the social side and the medical side. A whole array of medical procedures and therapies that would target my gender dysphoria and help the perceived version of my identity match the version of my identity that I had always experienced on the inside.
While I was preparing myself to start the long process of transitioning, the COVID pandemic flipped our world upside down. Because everyone was quarantining from the rest of the world, I got to begin my transition very privately. In late April of 2020, I began hormone replacement therapy. As I started undergoing the changes that came with HRT, only a handful of the people closest to me knew. I had a lot of time to think about who I wanted to become and what steps were necessary to achieving that ideal.
I created my new name during this time: Angelle Eve Castro. I knew I wanted to keep the prefix “Angel” from my first name. It was passed from my grandfather Angelo to my mom Angélica and then onto me. When I discovered the name Angelle, I loved how unique and feminine it was. It matched exactly who I envisioned myself as. My middle name Eve comes from Eve, the artist who helped me reach so many conclusions about how important it is to let my authentic self shine through. I took my mom’s last name, Castro. The real me was beginning to take shape.
The real me was finally getting the love she deserved and had fought tooth and nail for. I was reborn in every sense of the word.
About a year after starting my transition, I was finally ready to tell everyone the truth about my identity. I got to reintroduce myself to the world: “My name is Angelle Castro, and I am a transgender woman.” The world smiled back at me in response. I received overwhelming support from the people in my life. There were a few individuals who couldn’t bring themselves to fully understand what I had gone through and who exactly I was. But most of the people in my life were willing to accept my truth and loved me all the same, if not more. The real me was finally getting the love she deserved and had fought tooth and nail for. I was reborn in every sense of the word.
More than a year has passed since then. I am continuously learning new things about who I am as a person, things that I never had the chance to express before starting my transition. It’s incredibly liberating to be seen as the woman I’ve always been but wasn’t always able to express. The bonds I have with the people close to me are truly strong because they love me for me. And just as importantly, I love myself fully and authentically. I love who I am and who I am becoming.
My hope is that, in time, the world will come around to realize that transgender people are who they say they are. Full stop. Anybody who is suffering from gender dysphoria deserves to receive the treatment that is so often held from us.
There are many systemic injustices that affect people who belong to racial, sexual, and/or gender minority groups. Trans people, and especially trans people of color, face nonstop discrimination for simply existing. But trans people, in all our strength and all our authenticity, refuse to give in to the walls of cruelty that are constantly closing in around us.
I’m not quite sure what direction I want to go in life. What is wonderful, though, is that I have a life that’s entirely my own, and I get to decide what to do with it. I’m grateful for all that I’ve gone through, good and bad, because the sum of my experiences shaped me into the woman I am today. It’s so important that people like me get to live a life expressing themselves authentically. The world is a better place when trans lives are uplifted.