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Liliana Quinn

By Renee Cobrea
November 13, 2018

I met Liliana Quinn over the summer through my friend, Nyela, who is a transgender woman living in the state of New Jersey. We were put in a group chat together on the social media app, Snapchat, as Nyela attempted to create an entirely new friend group out of her pre-existing friends. Many of her friends were a part of the LGBT community, so while they all had something in common, it is extremely difficult to just make people who have never previously communicated become best friends in an instant. The group fell apart in a matter of days. Once the chat group disbanded like it usually does when people who don’t know each other are forced to interact, Lily and I still remained in contact.

I am not entirely sure why, but she and I just clicked together. We went from Snapchat to playing video games with each other on Xbox to sending text messages to sharing late night phone calls. Our friendship is an especially strange one as we are very different people; frequently when we game together she will aggressively rage at our online teammates as I gently cheer them on. While Lily and I do not play much together now, primarily due to school, work, and outside stressors, we still text and call frequently enough, and I consider her a close friend of mine. I chose her because I felt that she has a story to tell and she is a very important person to me. I think her story deserves to be told, even if she does not think so, so I will recount everything she is willing to share with me.  

I would like to give some context for this paper, and more importantly, for these interviews. Without this kind of context, many of the answers given by Lily would seem incomplete, or blatantly would not make sense. I will state that Lily is a transgender woman but many people in her life do not know that she is, particularly those in her day to day life. Most, if not all, of her online friends know about her feminine identity, but not most of her family or in real life friends. Because of this, I use her chosen name and not her given name for this paper. I wish to help protect her identity at all costs.

Lily is a bit of an alcoholic and some of the interviews we do are conducted while she is intoxicated. She entirely consents to these interviews beforehand, and often the interviews are planned days in advance, she just believes that it is easier to give an interview about intimate or personal when she is drinking. While I am not the biggest fan of her drinking. I love her dearly as she is my friend, and I will not force her to stop drinking for the interviews, because I recognize that some of the content she is talking about is very sensitive. It can be very distressing to discuss personal details of one’s life, especially one that is as hard as her’s, and drinking is a way for her to lessen the heartache involved with storytelling.

To conclude, Lily is a very affectionate person but does not often speak in a politically correct way. She may tell me she loves me and in the same breath tell me a very dirty joke. She is a bit abrasive but that is all a part of her charm in my opinion. Lily is upfront about her desires and is very loud about what she wants, she is not afraid to speak her mind, which will obviously become apparent in the interview. Lily is an incredibly unique person and it is important to keep these thoughts in mind as I recount her story.

Tell me everything you can about your early childhood:

“My first memory was walking out of some sort of room in my house into what I believe was my living room. From there, my memory skips to my mother’s bloody hands filled with glass and police lights flashing outside of the window. My father was arrested.

My dad was an alcoholic. I didn’t see him too much growing up until my mother herself developed alcoholism. She later fell developed a cocaine addiction and disappeared for a while when I was nine. I didn’t realize she left because she went to rehab, then, because I was a child I moved in with my dad. I didn’t see my mom for a while after.

A lot of my childhood involved me being alone or with me learning how to deal with my intoxicated parents. It wasn’t hard being alone. I didn’t really know what it meant until later in life. When you’re a little kid you don’t really feel alone when you’re playing by yourself. You have your imagination. Loneliness was a foreign concept to me, even if I was doing stuff by myself. I didn’t know what being alone actually meant until middle school.

As a little kid, I would walk home every day after school because I grew up so close to the elementary. When I was walking home from school I saw a silhouette in the distance and I figured it was my mom so I was like “oh shit moms back!” and ran to greet her. I was a fat kid so I could only run halfway down the street before I had to slow down. I tossed my bag on the lawn when I got to the front of my house so I could hug her, but she told me to pick up my bag. Of course, I protested that. I was just a kid who wanted to see their mom. I was excited to see her after so long, but she told me she didn’t care, and that I should “pick up my fucking bag”. So I sadly picked up my bag off the grass and then I could hug her. She wasn’t very nice to me in the early days.

I don’t really know what my mom is like now. I haven’t really seen her in person for two years. I have seen pictures of her online and she just looks old and withered. Other than that I don’t know too much about her. When my dad died when I was 11 I had to move back in with her. She was out of rehab so that's where I was placed, and with her, I grew up very poor and very hungry. I basically had to do anything I could to find food. I understood how the human body works and that I needed food above everything else so everything I did was to get food and stay alive. I don’t want to necessarily say I was neglected, but it was bad. My mom tried her best but she couldn't escape the alcoholism and the drugs. So I secluded myself from her, and my stepfather, and did things my way.

From the ages of 14 to 16 I became a seasoned criminal to survive. I did a series of breaking and enterings, drug deals (both selling and collecting), and I did one mugging. I didn’t like the mugging. I don’t like how intimate it became. When I look back on these things I think “I’m a horrible person” and every day I try to make up for it. I live with my grandma and I go to work every single day. I haven’t had a day off in a week in a half. Believe it or not, I’m a compassionate person.

My mother abandoned the family house after she spent the $200,000 inheritance my father intended for me to have after he died. She tricked me into getting a joint account with her when I was 18 years ago to have legal access to my money. All she left me with $2,000 dollars, the other $198,000 was used by her to marry her new husband and start a life with him, and I had to use to use the remaining money to pay my bills. I was left completely broke except for the three weeks I was able to take care of myself on the $2,000. Then for about three or four months, in high school, I lived with no power, cold water, and very little access to any food. Basically, after my mother and her new husband abandoned the house, I had to completely take care of myself.

I asked my grandmother if I could live with her, and she said yes, so that's where I am. I love her to death. She gives me everything that I need. My grandmother has always been nice to everyone all my life. She has always done her best to give everyone whatever they need, but she doesn’t seem to know when to stop helping people. I’m 21 years old so I don’t care that she helps me, I’m a kid who needs the help, but my mother is 40 and my grandmother still gives her money. My uncle is a disabled vet, so he actually needs the help my grandma can provide. I can understand why my grandmother helps him. My mother, on the other hand, is a failure, but my grandmother keeps trying to help because they’re both her kids. She keeps trying even though she knows she can’t keep giving to them.

But I appreciate everything she does for me. So I’m currently living in her attic because that's always where I live when things get bad. This place has always been my safe haven. From birth until now this attic has been my home. I’ve always come back to this attic.

I got a little too wasted one night after I got home from work about a month ago. I got too wasted and I passed out on my bed and she was worried about me and she came up to my room and shook me. Apparently, I got up in my drunken haze like I was about to fight her, and in her words not mine, I got physical. Now I barely drink. I used to come home wasted every two weeks. She tried to kick me out but I talked her down out of it. My uncle is an alcoholic. My mom is an alcoholic. Everyone she gave birth to or in-lawed to is an alcoholic. She had a right to worry about me. Jerseys hard, baby. My life is hard.”

What was it like being trans in this toxic environment?

“I didn’t really understand what I was feeling nor did I have a name for what it was. I always had doubts about who I was and what I felt, but I didn’t really realize what I identified as other than male. I was never really into all the things that were expected of me as a masculine male. From childhood, I always leaned more towards the feminine values that were taught to me in school, at home, and in the public sphere. From then on I slowly developed more and more of a feminine outlook and personality. Contrary to how I felt, I’ve always expressed my gender outwardly as what I like to call the “all-man all-the-time badass”. I guess I was just covering up how I felt on the inside. I thought that people wouldn’t fuck with me in public if I expressed myself as a fully masculine male.  Looking at it now, as an adult, I was a child who was conflicted and didn’t know who to talk to.”

When did you first realize you were trans?

“I didn’t realize until more recently, when I was 16, that I was transgender. As a child, I was always interested in playing girl characters in video games like Pokemon. When Professor Oak, the guy who gives you your first Pokemon, would ask “are you a boy or are you a girl?” I would be like “that's a good question... let’s try the other gender”. If I was given the option to be a girl, I would go for it. Nowadays I get upset if I have to play a boy character in games. Like I will be physically upset if in a video game I can create a character and they have to have a penis.

I had a player model in Halo: Reach when I was 11 or 12 that was a girl and I ended up communicating with a guy my age over Xbox 360 live through the message chat system. He asked if I was a girl and it didn’t feel right to say “no”. You know me, I just like to do things. So I lied. And I lied. And I lied. We developed a relationship and he became my boyfriend. One day he brought up that I should get a microphone so that we could chat in the game so that way we would make a better team, and I said I had a microphone. So in the span of like 2 minutes, I tried my best to recreate what, in my head, a girl sounded like. It was really primitive compared to how my voice sounds now.

I was full of anxiety at first, but then I realized 12-year-olds don’t have a brain and I that I could easily pull it off. I only practiced for two like solid minutes going through my vocal tones, trying out different voices. But then I was like fuck it, and let it happen. It’s effortless to change my voice now. If you give something freedom, it just does its own thing like Vladimir Putin in the election.”

Is it a scary experience to come out to someone?

I’ve only ever come out to people when I’m drunk or when I’ve had a few drinks in me. The only time I’ve come out sober in real life was to my friend Ashley and let’s just say she’s not my friend anymore. But other than that I always have a few drinks in me beforehand so I have never really had to feel the anxiety of coming out to anyone because I’ve been drinking. You’re going to turn in this paper and its just going to be about the effects of alcohol on fragile people. It makes me realize I have a drinking problem.

What is it like to be trans in your environment now?

“Nobody around here knows about me the way I would like them to. I know I want to come out to people, but I’ve built up such specific type of relationship with the people I work with and the people I grew up around that it would be impossible now. Growing up I used to be this macho man, but if I came out and said “hey I want to be a chick” everyone would treat me different. I know they would. Like the other day, when I was working, there was this homeless trans woman at my workplace but no one wanted to kick her out. Not only because she was homeless, but because they saw her as a weirdo. A guy in women’s clothes. That really hurt. If I wasn’t a secret I’d probably be treated the same way. I didn’t want to do it and it hurt to kick her out, but I need this job.

There only a select few people I’d bring out my true self too. My best friend is overseas in Iraq and he doesn’t know about me. I know how he’d respond if I told him about my identity and I know it wouldn’t go over well. I can’t afford for everyone to treat me different. Too much to lose and not much to gain, I’ve basically been lying to everyone. I feel like I’m roleplaying my masculinity. I don’t go out in public like “I want breast but I have a penis”, even though I want to genetically be a woman. I don’t look at a naked woman in a magazine and think “she’s so attractive”, I think “I want to have her body”. It hurts to hide this, but I have to.”

Conclusion and what I’ve learned:

I learned that not all trans men and women can or will fit into neat little bubbles of being transgender and that the trans identity and the representation of said identity are not a universal constant. An individual does not need to present as hyper-feminine nor as hyper-masculine to understand or know their own identity. Being trans does not necessarily mean being out and about and proud constantly. Sometimes being trans is getting absolutely wasted on a Friday night and playing video games with your online friends because they’re the only people who know about the real you, not the you that you tell your employer or your neighbors. Sometimes being trans is using two different voices, a masculine one and a feminine one, in the same breathe because you received a sudden and unexpected phone call from your boss at 8 PM during a late night gaming session. Being a transgender individual is never like it is shown in the movies because the world is far more complicated than generic drama and witty one-liners about life and gender.

Trans can be open or it can be hidden, but it is still trans, and it is that person’s choice as an agent in their own life story to decide who they are and how they are going to present themselves to the world. Whether for their own safety, their own sense of acceptance, or their own preference, it is the individual's choice to present themselves the way they do. Lily alone has a choice in who she presents her true self to. She herself is in charge of her identity, but it comes at a price. While she does get to decide who knows the “real” her, those who do not know are forever kept at arm's length due to her fear of the stigma and backlash involved with revealing something so raw. Some, no matter how devoted or intimate a relationship is, in the real world may not be so forgiving or so easily disengaged from as online friends. Liliana’s passive agency does not equal cowardice but is instead a form of self-preservation.

I also learned and that not all LGBTQ+ youth who face adversity face it because of their LGBTQ+ status. Sometimes the world just sucks and things are hard for no other reason except that it is. Life is hard. It is much harder than it should be and for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes we cannot pay bills. Sometimes we cannot tell people who we are. So we suffer. Suffering is universal. It is not confined to one community or another. All suffer in different ways, on different levels, at different times, for different reasons, but we suffer. But we get up and we brave through the day. We work hard at our dead-end jobs where we keep ourselves hidden so we can come home to hide some more. At least, sometimes, we can suffer with other people, and that makes the suffering more manageable.

So, to conclude, Lily is important to me and I am willing to suffer with my friend through thick and thin. That's just what you should do for someone you care about.

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in each article is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the PUGS editors, Gender Studies program, or UNC. Therefore, PUGS e-zine carries no responsibility for the opinion expressed thereon.