She / Her / Hers

African American model wears Play Out LGBT Pride shirt and gender-neutral low-rise boxer briefs.

Community to me is being around people similar to me, emotionally and spiritually. Additionally, we share similar struggles and/or accomplishments. To me, community is also chosen family, deeper than friendship. People who may not always understand me 100%, but they love all of me unconditionally--my light and darkness. They are consistent, they communicate their love verbally and through their actions, and they hold me accountable when needed-- in a compassionate way.

I came out (to myself) when I was 28, which was only five years ago. I still struggle with feeling comfortable with my sexual identity; I was in denial about it for most of my life. I also feel that gender and sexual identity is fluid as we evolve, we shouldn't try to box ourselves.To become more comfortable in my skin I sought out therapy with someone who specialized with the LGBTQIA+ community. If therapy is financially unavailable I recommend searching on social media for free queer + trans (QT) or QTPoC (people of color) events in your area and/or a town close by. If you are in school, I also recommend seeking out the school counselor(s). School counselors are free in high schools and colleges. Most importantly, if you meet a therapist or counselor and it doesn't work out--it's not you, that person is just not a fit. If possible, look for someone new, don't give up hope. If you went to the medical doctor and you didn't like them, you'd search for a new one and not blame yourself for not liking that doctor--have the same mindset when searching for a therapist or counselor.Also, volunteering with local LGBTQIA+ nonprofits or nonprofits that have LGBTQIA+ divisions will allow you to be around people like yourself and it will give you the opportunity to observe and hopefully seek out queer + trans mentors and/or friends, who will make you feel safe, as you are attempting to evolve into your gender and/or sexual identity.

If you feel like you are unable to be your authentic self right now, at this moment, I resort to my original thought about searching for LGBTQIA+ nonprofits in your area and/or in a town close by. If you volunteer for these nonprofits they will allow you to be yourself and respect your discretion. It is easier said than done, but give yourself compassionate self-talk around it. You do not have "come out." Not coming out doesn't make you any less queer/trans. Just try to focus on what you want in life and come out when it feels right. Don't do it because you feel pressured, do it because it is something you genuinely want to do and it is safe for you to do so.

If you may be experiencing bullying, peer pressure or force because you are queer: Choose your battles wisely. Regarding bullying, if it is physical bullying and you are financially in a position to, I recommend taking up boxing, martial arts and/or self-defense classes. I do not condone violence, and you should not go searching for a fight, but knowing how to defend yourself...unfortunately can mean life or death.If financially you cannot take these classes, search for free self-defense classes in your neighborhood or a town or two over. I have seen that you can watch self-defense videos online as well, but it's better to learn these skills in-person. 

Regarding emotional bullying and peer pressure, again evaluate the situation--talk to someone about what is happening, a counselor, therapist, and/or a free LGBTQIA+ hotline number. If someone is emotionally bullying you to the point it's impacting your self-esteem or daily life, it is harassment. Try your best to document it; whether it's online, or in person. If you have proof of the bullying then you can file a harassment claim on the person or people with the police. Usually, once you threaten a person to file a harassment claim they will leave you alone because they don't want a record. As a community (especially people of color), I know we tend to be anti-police and we don't want to "call the cops" on people, but there are situations where we can stop emotional bullying--no one deserves to feel victimized. We have to put our emotional and physical health first especially if someone is intentionally trying to harm us. 

Lastly, try to release the emotions of your pain. Write, sing, dance, draw, etc. although it is extremely vulnerable I recommend releasing your thoughts publicly in spoken word or even writing articles for online magazines. There are tons of LGBTQIA+ blogs and online magazines who are looking for queer + trans writers. Some of them will compensate you for articles.Aside from therapy, I have found writing to be extremely therapeutic. I write a monthly column about my struggles publicly. It is an immense part of holding myself accountable regarding my self-love. People have reached out to me and thanked me for being so open with my pain because it allows them to not feel so alone. Yes, there will be trolls who try to tear you down. I just delete and block online bullies--I don't engage. In my experience, there are more people cheering me on than trying to bully me. Trust me, someone out in the world feels the way you do or similar--regardless of race, gender and sexual identity. 

African American model wears Play Out ringer T and burgundy plus-size low rise boxer briefs.

Tina & Monick are the powerhouse producers behind POC Productions the "I Identify as Me" documentary. Learn more about the documentary here, find an event/screening near you, or donate to the support the film! 

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