News / USA

Barred from Prom, Teen Couple Celebrates Their Own Way

Barred from Prom, Teen Couple Celebrates Their Own Wayi
X
Carolyn Weaver
June 10, 2014 8:36 PM
Approximately 700,000 Americans identify as themselves as transgender, studies show. Some experts say by early childhood, many already know themselves to be the other gender 'on the inside.' As they grow up, many face rejection, discrimination and violence, sparking debate about their civil rights. VOA's Carolyn Weaver has the story of a teenage 'trans-man' and his girlfriend.
Carolyn Weaver
Until the last year or so, transgender people were little noticed by mainstream news media, except when they became the victims of hate crimes. But recent articles and memoirs by transgender writers, TV shows with transgender actors and characters, and rights campaigns have increased public awareness - and, perhaps, acceptance.
 
About 700,000 Americans - less than one-half percent of the adult population - identify as transgender: They feel their male or female bodies don't match their true identities. By early childhood, experts say, many declare themselves to be the other gender "on the inside." They are boys who say they should have been born as girls, and girls who insist they are truly male.
 
As they grow up, many face rejection by their families, discrimination and often violence.

'The wrong body'
 
Teenagers Nathaniel Baez and Anaïs Celini met at their church two years ago and fell in love, first as two girls. They considered themselves lesbians. Together, they researched transgenderism and came to believe that Nathaniel, who had always felt male, needed to live as a man.
 
"My whole life, I felt like I was in the wrong body, I felt like I was a guy, a little boy when I was little. I used to want everything that boys wanted," Nathaniel, who is now 19, said in an interview at a McDonald's restaurant near Anais' house in Brooklyn.
 
 Anaïs, 18, dresses fashionably, dyes her hair burgundy and speaks with the poise and thoughtfulness of someone much older.

Nathaniel's huge glasses and quick smile give him the air of a nerdy, likable young man.
 
"I used to pray to God night after night after night after night after night that I would just wake up in a boy's body, like, just be a guy, and then everything would be OK," he said. "But it didn't happen, because that's not how life works, you know?"

Mother didn't approve
 
Nathaniel's father was bemused by her masculine ways, but his mother was at war with them, and partly blamed Anaïs.
 
In 2012, Nathaniel was a senior at Martin Luther High School, a private Christian school in Queens. A week into the term, his mother learned that Anais was enrolled there, too. "As soon as she saw her, she was like, 'I can't let you go to the school any more.' She parked the car, took me out of the school, drove me right to Grover Cleveland [a public high school] and enrolled me there," Nathaniel said.
 
"I wanted to make her happy, and I felt like there was something wrong with me," Nathaniel said of his mother. "So I did everything that I could to try to be the female that my mom thought she was raising."
 
He broke up with Anaïs and threw away his "guy" clothes.
 
"I bought a whole new $500 wardrobe of girl clothes that still have the tags on them, to this day, in my mom's closet," Nathaniel recalled. "And I was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to do this. I'm just going to dress it until I'm straight, as a female.' "
 
Nathaniel and Anais reunite

The effort proved impossible. He and Anaïs reunited. Nathaniel moved out of his mother's home, to the Chelsea Foyer, a Manhattan residential center run by Good Shepherd Services for homeless young adults. He began working as a store clerk.
 
Anaïs, whose mother had rejected her for her lesbianism, moved in with her father and began her senior year at Martin Luther High School. She had looked forward to the senior prom since her freshman year, but worried that Nathaniel would not be welcome.
 
"We already knew we were going to have a problem with the school, because they don't allow same-sex couples to attend prom," Anaïs said. But because Nathaniel now identified as male, and even had an ID card that said so, she hoped the school would let her bring him as her date.
 
The answer was no, she said. A school administrator whom she asked for an explanation told her that transgender was "unconventional" and not in accordance with Scripture.
 
"At first I was upset. I was going to sit there and try to convince him," Anais said. "But nothing I could say could really get to him, he would never understand. He's talking about emotions and a mentality that he's never had to go through. He doesn't understand that ... by telling someone they're 'unconventional' - in a Christian environment where you're supposed to be building people up - it's degrading."
 
Publicizing tale of discrimination

Nathaniel called a local TV station, and the two appeared on a news programs. Martin Luther officials refused to comment, and Anaïs accepted that she would miss her senior prom.
 
"So, I decided to throw her her own prom," Nathaniel said. He orchestrated a weekend of fun: three nights at a hotel, a trip to an amusement park, a theatrical performance and an afternoon of laser tag.
 
And then: an actual prom. The staff at Chelsea Foyer had learned about the situation and decided to hold the center's first prom in a show of support.
 
"We all came together and brainstormed some quick and easy ideas of how do we put together a prom, how do we transform our meeting room into a little banquet hall," said social worker Elizabeth Garcia, who oversees the Chelsea Foyer.

A week after the Martin Luther High School prom, Anaïs and Nathaniel stepped into the party room, where a deejay was playing house music. A tinsel-covered wall threw splashes of light on the dancers, who were residents and staff members alike.

A royal reception

Some wore masks; Nathaniel had suggested a "Phantom of the Opera" theme. At the end of the night, guests voted Nathaniel and Anaïs prom king and queen.
 
Later in June, they'll march in New York's Pride parade, a symbol of the increased prominence of trans people in the gay-rights campaign for equality. Anaïs plans to go to college in the fall, and Nathaniel will continue working and saving money for his own apartment. Their fathers both accept their relationship.
 
"Even though two years doesn't seem like a very long time, we're at the point now where others' opinions, whether they support [us] or not, are irrelevant," Anaïs said. "We know the work we've put into being with each other. We know the fight we had to go through, and what we mean to each other.

"So, yeah, whether they support it or not, I love him."

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
June 10, 2014 9:41 PM
What an appealing and intelligent pair. The U.S. would be doing well if we had more such young people.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid