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We Talked to a Trans Teen Surviving the Shitshow that Is North Carolina

"It wasn't just about water fountains then, and it's not just about bathrooms now."

by Evy Pitt Stoller
Apr 14 2017, 12:00pm

Vinnie is a 15-year-old transgender boy living in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the heart of the fight for trans bathroom rights. And since the state decided last year that students must use the bathroom with the same assignment as their biological sex, he's left with no restroom he feels comfortable using at school.

Vinnie struggled for years with self-harm, and, at his darkest moment, suicide. The weekend after a suicide attempt, and a subsequent seven-day stint in the hospital, Vinnie stopped wearing his makeup, and cut his hair off. He finally didn't feel "wrong" and "didn't hate [him]self."

With a newfound commitment to staying true to himself, Vinnie is confident and sagely positive. Here's a little more about how he got to a place of trans positivity, and what he plans to name his dream dogs.

See Vinnie in Broadly's Youth, Interrupted, here:

How do you cope with going to a school that doesn't support you using the bathroom you feel comfortable with?
Sometimes I don't even want to eat at school. Sometimes I'll be shaky and my mouth will get dry. [I say] "I can't, I can't, I can't, I have to last until I get home." It's not cool. It's so much more than what I'm allowed to do, it's how it's going to make me feel. The emotional turmoil of having to be seen.

You just gotta say, "I will be fine when I get home. I can use the bathrooms there." Two more years of school, and things will improve and get better, hopefully.

Do you find social media to be a source of support?
Social media is good and bad. It's all about what you allow yourself to see and what you keep away. It's easy to get sucked into the negativity, and it's important to have people to remind you to take a step back from it. It's important to see super supportive things. There's no shame in searching 'trans positivity' and looking for things to make you feel better about it. It's really nice to see trans and queer people who are successful who are doing things.

Ian Alexander is a trans guy who's in Netflix's original show The OA. His parents aren't supportive of him at all, but he's still doing the things he likes to do. It's great seeing trans people being successful in any outlets and it's inspiring.

How do you feel about publicly discussing things as personal as how and why you use the bathroom?
It was really hard at first, but it's going to be my whole life and there's not really anything else that I can do besides advocate for myself and for other trans and queer people. The things that I say reach a lot more people than my immediate family and my friends and that's a huge thing. To know I have opportunities and ways to reach more people is everything. I know that if I have that chance and opportunity, I need to seize that immediately. I don't know who that could help, who that could inspire.

Why is this conversation important for cisgender kids?
If they don't hear first-hand accounts, then they aren't seeing what's happening. You'll see a title of an article that's "trans teen, blah blah blah" but you just keep moving with your day. But if you know someone who's going through these things, then it's a lot more personal and real for you and that shouldn't have to be the case. You shouldn't only be aware if you know a trans person.

If there [are] more of our stories and our struggles out there, then people will know how it is, and we need people in our corner. I love intersectionality—it's my favorite thing in the whole world, and I think it's so important and powerful when different minorities support each other. If you have someone else's back, then they have yours.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I just wanna have a dog.

I want to be able to look at my life and be content with it no matter what I'm doing. I just want to be happy. I want to have two dogs, actually. A golden retriever named Steven Grant Rogers and a chocolate lab [named] James Buchanan Barnes. Those are the names of Captain America and Bucky Barnes, my favorites in the whole world. I feel like those are their dog personas. I love Steven and Bucky with all of my heart. They're together. They're so gay.

Why are bathroom rights about more than just bathroom rights?
It wasn't just about water fountains then, and it's not just about bathrooms now.

Bathrooms are in every public place, that's just the surface of what you see going on in a trans person's life. Once you get past that, there's so much more that we're fighting for that people don't see. And if they're like, yeah we can give them this bathroom thing, they'll realize what else we can't do. [We need to] start with something that's more #relatable.

What can the VICE/Tonic community do to be part of the movement?
I think you guys are doing a great job already. Not taking away from our stories. I feel like a lot of the stories and the videos are great representations of trans people and what they're going through. It's not a Fox News kind of thing. It's not watered down.

More is always great. I'd be happy to do anything that you want me to do. I'm here, I'm queer, and available.

Vinnie's mom, Jennifer, chimes in:

Be an ally. Being supportive and loving all people no matter where they are is so important, and I don't think enough people realize or understand that.

How has the response from peers changed, if at all, since you became such an outspoken advocate?
I think a lot of my friends are really excited, even people who I'm not super close to.

How do you approach talking to people who may not be supportive of you and your rights?It all depends on their willingness to learn. If it's someone who's like, "this is how I feel, and you're not gonna change your mind," then you're stuck on the wrong side of history and there's nothing to do to change it. But sometimes I'm able to say, "this is what trans people are, this is who I am, this is what trans people aren't." There are a lot of misconceptions. Imagine you had to make a heart-wrenching decision every time you saw the bathroom. Take a walk in my shoes.

There are some people you can't change, and sometimes you've gotta let that go. There's not much I can do. If you have people that love and care and support you, then you don't need those other people who don't do those things. Always educate, don't try to change the opinion.

What would you say to trans kids who may be afraid to admit who they are or stand up for their bathroom rights?
There's always going to be someone in your corner. No matter how many people you feel are against you, there's always gonna be someone with you. I may be halfway across the country from you, but I'm still gonna be able to listen. DM me anytime. Seriously, you're always going to be able to find someone. You're not alone. We're the future. And I believe in us. We've changed so much already—ahem, North Carolina government—we can do it. We have and I don't think there's anyone else that could.

You can reach Vinnie on Twitter or Instagram.