My name is Drian Juarez, and I am living my authentic life as a proud transgender woman.
Getting here wasn’t always easy. Like you, I faced barriers that at times seemed insurmountable – lack of quality health insurance or a stable place to live, and working the streets to earn money.
As a child at a time when there weren’t gay-straight alliances, resources, or advocacy for children like myself, I experienced a lot of terrible bullying. Fortunately, I had a grandmonther who loved and nurtured me. She taught me to be myself and be proud of who I was. I remember feeling like if they didn’t understand me or like me, it was their problem. But, I did always feel like an outsider.
At the Los Angeles High School for the Arts and in college I was very involved in the arts. I fit-in there, and began to feel a lot more confident. It wasn’t until I graduated college, though, that I came to understand there was a word for what I was – transgender.
My employer didn’t cover any of my transition related care, and even though I had a job and a degree, I couldn’t’ transition. I was working very long hours and it wasn’t feasible to take another job to pay for it. So, like many other trans women in my life, I became a sex worker to pay for my transition. Eventually I left my job and did it full time.
At first it was empowering because I was experiencing dating, relationships with men – things that most adolescents get to experience. Soon, I started taking many risks with my health, and although I was able to get hormones and surgeries, I started feeling ashamed and depressed.
In 2004, I was invited to be the DJ at a Halloween party in San Francisco. Violence broke out, and I was shot in the eye. I had to go to the hospital wearing a mini skirt and heels. I remember sitting in the ER feeling completely alone. I had no job, no work history, no savings, I was living trick to trick.
When I got back to Los Angles I talked with a friend who was receiving services from agencies in LA, including a trans women’s support group. I got involved in that and started learning about other agencies I could participate in. One agency even hired me as an HIV/Health educator. I was able to connect with the clients, predominately trans women of color who were doing sex work or using drugs. Today, I am a Program Manager at the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.
Through the connections the Transgender Law Center has with the LA service organizations, I got involved with the Transgender Leadership Summit in 2005. I’ve been to every Summit since! At the summits I have been able highlight the barriers that trans women experience, and hopefully make their lives better.
Going to the Transgender Leadership Summit feels like coming home. It feels like when I was in the High School for the Arts, because there is a comradery – similar experiences, stories, things we had to endure to be ourselves. You start to see the value of your struggle, the value of why you endured what you did and how it brought you to where you are now.
I will be presenting a workshop called “Beyond Outreach – Personal and Professional Development” at the summit this year. I hope to see you there! If you’re unable to attend, please donate today so that Transgender Law Center can continue to empower and inspire transgender women like me.