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GenderCool teens remind us that the world is full of promise

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- The world is a frightening place filled with peril, abuse and discrimination -- and it's even worse for people who don't fall neatly into society's traditional buckets.

This was my state of mind last week as I drove out to a home in a suburb north of Chicago to meet a gaggle of teens, some of whom have already gone through things in life that most of us could never imagine. Tough stuff like bullying from adults, mistreatment by school administrators and abandonment by friends and family.

But instead of meeting scarred, jaded young people, I was greeted by a stunning cross-section of tomorrow's leaders: articulate overachievers with resumes that put mine to shame and accomplishments to make Ivy League college-admission counselors drool.

Morgan, 13, from Colorado is already a celebrated photographer. Her picture of a tiger moth's pearls was featured at London's Natural History Museum for Wildlife, where she was a finalist for photographer of the year in the 10-and-under category.

Jonathan, a half-Filipino, half-white 17-year-old from Connecticut, started college when he was 13 and is now in his third year of studying biochemistry. He's looking toward medical school in an M.D./Ph.D. program.

Tru, a half-Jamaican, half-white Canadian who just turned 16, has already given a TEDx talk in Vancouver and was named one of that town's most powerful people.

 

These sorts of high achievements are what make Morgan, Jonathan and Tru shining examples of the best hope we have of someday solving problems like inequality and lack of access to medical care.

And their specialness has nothing to do with the fact that they're all transgender and have known it as long as they can remember.

The LGBTQ movement has come a very long way. So even though the adult transgender population suffers from outsized poverty, lack of access to jobs, poorer health outcomes, as well as increased rates of violence and murder, Morgan, Jonathan and Tru are part of a cohort of young people who will hopefully never experience society's wrath about whether they should or shouldn't present as the gender they identify with.

"I didn't experience any negativity at all," Morgan told me in recounting when she began to present herself as a girl. "Basically, everyone was pretty cool with it. None of my Facebook followers unfollowed me when I made the announcement, no one sees me as an in-between person, I'm just me."

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