Around age 14, Mom bought me my first desktop computer. Computers were new to me. I didn’t even own a cellphone yet. I thought my oversized Zune MP3 player was high tech. The idea of a computer — and the Internet — overwhelmed my mid-2000s teenage mind.
I busied my time after school with MySpace and Quizilla. I used YouTube to find new music. I watched Evanescence music videos on repeat to soothe my teenage angst. The computer offered an outlet I couldn’t find in my rural Oklahoma life.
And it is through the Internet I discovered my love for writing.
One day browsing fun quizzes about what animal you are, or color, or shape, I stumbled upon a quiz asking, “Do you want to be a vampire?”
“Do I want to be a vampire?” I wondered. This was before the Twilight age. I had an Anne Rice addiction. I dreamed to be the next Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Of course I wanted to be a vampire. Who wouldn't?
The quiz led me to an online vampire game. The game was simple — a basic grid your character wondered around, meant to be the vampire city. You bit humans. You gained powers from different tasks. But the big draw-in of the game was the connected chat rooms.
The chat rooms allowed you to take on the persona of your vampire character and roleplay it out in text-based roleplay writing. Instead of reading about other vampires, we could create our own dark backstories and write them out with other people. We could be anyone we wanted to be.
I was hooked.
At the time, I didn’t understand why I chose to create a male vampire character. It made sense on a level I couldn’t formulate into words.
There always seemed to be some internal disconnect — like mismatched wires — between my mind and my body of a young teenage girl. I felt male. I felt like a man. But my body disagreed.
I couldn’t control who I was in reality, but in this virtual world, I could be anyone I wanted.
Logging into the computer, I no longer had to be this girl. I could be him, and with being him, I could write a male vampire: handsome, mysterious, and powerful — all the things I lacked and so desperately wanted to be in my real life.
The chat rooms, while mainly in-character, also had out-of-character sections. Cautiously, I joined in. But I didn’t tell them my “real” name. I went by another name, a new name, a name I always wanted — a man’s name.
No one knew differently.
The days of playing the game turned into months. Months turned into years. Soon enough, I had become a part of an online community of strangers who were now friends. I thought of myself as a friend too. Even if they didn’t know my “real” name.
In my daily life, I didn't have close friends. I grew up in high school as the classic goth kid who sat in the corner alone reading. When I went home, I booted up the computer and drifted into another life: friends, writing, and a whole other world of possibilities.
As the years progressed, I grew closer with those I wrote with the most. They knew where I lived, what school I attended, the types of classes I took. We exchanged gifts. We wrote each other letters.
We told each other everything — everything I could, at least, without exposing myself as a biological female.
I couldn’t video chat. I couldn’t talk on the phone.
They wanted to see what I looked like, and I shared a few fuzzy photographs of my older brother. They wanted to hear me speak, so I downloaded a voice changing program to deepen mine.
The endless lying twisted my gut. I had always considered myself an honest person, and an honest friend, and yet here I was lying about myself for years.
I desperately wanted friends. I wanted acceptance. They knew my life and my feelings intimately, but they were greeted with a false face and a false name. I could tell my online friends anything and everything — everything but that one truth.
And it was my oversharing that finally ended the charade. An ending that needed to come.
Trying to make in-real-life friends, I auditioned to join my school’s drama club. When they accepted me, I couldn’t contain my excitement and told my online friends.
One of those friends decided to look at my school’s website. She checked out the section on our drama club, which featured a cast list of its members.
It’s there she found my name unlisted — and in its place a female name, but with my same last name. The only kid in the school with that last name. The only family in our small town with that last name.
My heart jumped into my throat when she texted me her confusion, and later her realization: I wasn’t who I claimed to be.
The information quickly spread in our gaming group. Surprise turned to anger. Several people disowned me; more told my lying ass off. But a few, the ones I was closest to, stayed.
They wanted to understand. They wanted to know why I had lied.
I told the truth. I feared rejection if they knew I wasn’t this boy I claimed to be all these years. It had become hard to separate myself from him. I had become him. Being him felt like my actual reality and being her felt like the real fraud.
It’s then that my closest friend, the one who discovered me, asked me if I was transgender.
Transgender? I asked. What’s transgender?
She explained. Suddenly my whole world made sense. I wasn’t a fraud, I wasn’t a fake, I wasn’t a weirdo. There were other people like me out there, people that were accepted and loved and could live as their true, authentic selves. I wasn’t a catfish after all.
I was, in fact, transgender.
I’ve been out of high school for nearly 10 years now. I’ve been a part of the same online gaming community for over a decade.
When I first came out as transgender, the term “transgender” wasn’t as commonly known as it is today. Growing up in the Bible Belt, I barely even knew what lesbian or gay meant, let alone transgender.
When I came out, many people in our game cut ties with me. It hurt. I left for a while and only kept contact with the few who accepted me.
Later, with a deep desire to write again in that fun fantasy world, I made my return. This time, I found a community blooming with acceptance for its transgender brothers, sisters, and non-binary members.
I no longer feared myself as a “catfish” fooling people into being my friends. I no longer had to hide the truth.
Was I born a biological female? Yes. Did I use fake photographs to pass myself as a man? Yes. But my intentions were never to be a fraud.
I wanted desperately to live, even if only virtually, as the person I was.
Now in my late 20s, I’ve publicly come out as transgender. I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy for a year and am four months post top surgery.
And while data shows increasing support for transgender rights, work still needs to be done.
American legislatures continue to push for so-called “bathroom bills” to force transgender people to use the bathroom of their assigned birth sex. U.S. President Donald Trump banned transgender people from serving in the military.
Discrimination in housing, health care, employment, and more continue put transgender people at risk.
Violence also remains prevalent against our community, especially against transgender women of color. And while numbers in October 2020 showed over 30 members of the community murdered, Sarah Kate Ellis, president of LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, told the USA TODAY numbers could be higher “since many trans people killed by violence are misgendered by police and can be misreported in the media.”
Speak out for our rights. Call on your elected officials to approve pro-LGBTQ legislation. Volunteer. Find more ways to help HERE.
The transgender community needs your support now more than ever.
We are not frauds. We are not fakes. It may take us time to know who we are, but we are who we say we are.
We are people, like anyone else. We deserve love, we deserve acceptance, and we deserve happiness.
Will you help us?
Cassius Corbin is a poet, fiction writer, photographer, and blogger from rural Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter @cassiuscorbin, Instagram @sixfeetrooted, or email him at email@example.com. Buy his photography on Redbubble.