Powering Through & Destroying Closet Doors

by Ryan Cassata


I love getting tattooed. While it’s a bit painful, something about it feels very meditative to me. While the needle is injecting ink into my skin that will be on my body forever, I am doing my best to distract myself from the pain. I talk to the tattoo artist. I share a bit of my story. They share their story a little bit. Sometimes we even become friends after a series of several tattoos. I always try to power through and finish the whole tattoo in one sitting, whether it’s an hour or five hours. The stopping and going makes the pain worse in my opinion and I fear that I’ll never want to finish the piece. So I power through.

Powering through is what I have always done in my life. There have been several times, and still are several times, where I fear doing what I have to do because, as an androgynous trans guy, I am afraid of the places I am going or the people I may run into there. I started speaking to schools about LGBTQ topics and sharing my coming out story when I was 13 years old, still in middle school. I had a lot of fear about it, especially when I started speaking at the podium in schools about being trans, in a time where being trans wasn’t talked about so frequently or openly. I delivered my talks. I focused on the positive feedback and ignored the hate comments. I visited more schools. I educated more people. I kept powering through.

I learned about Harvey Milk when I was in high school. He became my hero and role model as soon as I learned his story. He had graduated from my high school and eventually became a politician in San Francisco and helped move the Gay Rights movement forward. He did everything he could, whether he was afraid or not, to help our community be heard. I admired him for that. I admired that he spoke to the community, that he gave so many people hope, how he understood the importance of hope. I admired him for his bravery and courage. I admired how he kept powering through.

As I started to give more speeches and talk about my experience opening the minds of staff and students, and changing the rules in the same high school that Milk graduated from, I did feel fearful about the work I was doing. I was traveling to places that weren’t very open minded. I remember speaking at a school in rural Illinois when I was 16 or 17 and there were several unhappy students that protested in very scary ways. I also got many comments over those first several years that were alarming, including a transphobic parent bursting out into a fit of anger during one of my speeches on Long Island, not far from my hometown. Still, I kept going. I kept powering through. Even though I was afraid, I knew what I had to do. I reminded myself of my purpose. I reminded myself that if I were to get physically hurt or even killed, that it wouldn’t have been a waste, that I helped some people before I left…that I was able to do something good in the community…that hopefully my death could wake up more people into understanding or to become activists themselves.

When I turned 18, I got my first tattoo. It hurt way worse than I thought it would but it was completely worth it. I wanted this specific message on my body to remind me of my purpose, to remind me to keep walking forward, marching on, and helping my community in all the ways that I could. I needed the daily reminder to keep powering through. I got a tattoo of the quote that Harvey Milk said while he was receiving death threats shortly before his assassination, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” I also got his signature under the quote. Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White in 1978 in an act of homophobia which the courts ruled as “The Twinkie Defense.”

I read a lot about Milk, watched the documentaries and the bio-pic that Sean Penn starred in. I had the poster hanging on my wall in my bedroom, and now I had one of his most important quotes and his signature inked on my skin forever. Shortly before getting the tattoo I won the first ever Harvey Milk Memorial Award when I graduated Bay Shore High School for all the positive changes I had made in my school, changes that I made for the survival of myself and for others that would walk the halls after me. That award, the tattoo, the poster, the movie, all reminded me of my purpose. To power through the fear and march on to help my community move forward and also learn how to power through.


About the Author:

Ryan Cassata is an award winning singer-songwriter, actor, performer, writer and LGBTQ activist & motivational speaker based in Los Angeles. With features in Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Daily News, Ryan has made the most of his young career, which started when he was just 13.

As a musician with over 550 performances touring across the United States and internationally, including dates on the Van’s Warped Tour, SXSW and at the worlds biggest pride festivals, Ryan has been praised by The Advocate saying he’s a “Transgender singing sensation”, Paper Magazine put him on the “50 LGBTQ Musicians You Should Prioritize” list, LOGO put him on the “9 Trans Musicians You Need To Get Into” list and Billboard put him on the “11 Transgender & Non-Binary Musicians You Need to Know” list and premiered his most recent music video for “Daughter.” He has also been heard on Sirius XM Radio, BBC Radio 4 and other radio stations around the world. MORE INFO AT: http://www.ryancassata.com/