Voices of M-A:
Olliver Pelayo's Transgender Identity Sparks Passion for Social Justice
Continuing our series of celebrating the voices in our community, Olliver Pelayo who The MARK first introduced us to in "Trans Truth," sat back down with us to share a remarkable journey of discovering his identity and transitioning with the people in his life.
Olliver Pelayo, a senior at M-A, is a transgender male. Pelayo is one of few openly transgender people at M-A, and takes pride in being an accessible resource for those who might be wondering about their identity. He shared his journey over the past few years, describing his experience discovering who he was and how he wants to portray himself. Pelayo hopes sharing his story will encourage dialogue about the topic of cisnormativity ("the systemic process of "othering" trans or gender non-conforming people"), by allowing people to have a deeper insight into his life.
Pelayo was assigned female at birth. He explains that he did not think very deeply about his gender for most of his life. Once he began thinking about gender stereotypes, however, he started to question the pressure society puts on people to encapsulate the gender they were born with. He explains that “once I started pulling [gender] apart, the whole female thing didn’t really work.”
Pelayo’s journey of coming out as transgender still continues today; introducing himself often includes subtle outing, depending on his perceived safety of the situation. Pelayo initially identified as “gender queer” during his sophomore year of high school. Following winter break of that year, he officially considered himself a guy.
Upon entering junior year, Pelayo explained that he wanted his teachers to call him by his male name and use male pronouns. He admits it was difficult for some of his teachers to always remember how to address him, and he accepted that. However, this year he is more adamant about correcting people if they address him with the wrong pronoun. He attributes this change in attitude to a stronger confidence in his transgender identity. “I’ve become more comfortable with myself and speaking out about trans issues in the first place, so it’s really nice to be able to do that and feel comfortable and safe enough to do that.”
Pelayo recalls his experience of coming out to his friends as fairly easy. He believes the ease stemmed from the fact that “a lot of them are not straight or cis in the first place,” and they often have conversations about the topic. Despite this openness, Pelayo admits that his transition did cause strains in some of his friendships, as it presented a change in their dynamic. “You have to find out what works for you in terms of comfort level and education level of other people on these issues that are so important to you.”
"once I started pulling [gender] apart, the whole female thing didn't really work"
He found it more difficult to come out to his family members, but still faced relatively little resistance. He has always had a close relationship with his mother, who he describes as “pretty supportive” throughout this process. While she struggles to understand some of his choices and to call him by his desired pronoun, she still accepts his decision to transition.
When asked whether or not he has faced direct or indirect bullying, Pelayo responded, “I think I’ve been lucky enough to not have actually been faced with (severe bullying).” He recalls a few instances in which people called him hurtful names, but because those who said harsh things about him were people he was unacquainted with, their words did not greatly impact him. He does acknowledge that he hears people talk about him behind his back, which upsets him. “I’d rather be able to talk about me being trans and talk about these internalized misgivings that they have, than have it be this undercurrent…I would rather be able to teach people rather than it just be like ‘I don’t get what this transgender thing is.’” Overall, however, he believes the M-A community has shown him tolerance.
Pelayo enjoys being a source of information on the topic of transgenderism if people are interested in educating themselves, but noted that not all transgender people are comfortable playing that role, because not all transgender people wish to serve as educators willing to speak openly about their journey. He points out, “We get asked all these intrusive questions…that you could very easily google and it gets so frustrating and then people get mad when we’re not the perfect epitome of education and respect.”
Pelayo’s involvement with social media has enriched his understanding of his identity and the transgender community. When he began to question his identity as a female, he saw the internet as a way to connect with people going through similar experiences, and he realized that he was not alone. The internet also offered “more access to the words that I could use to define myself and I had more access to understanding what it means to be this and what it means to be that and what it means to actually identify yourself as something bigger than you individually.”
He encourages people who find themselves questioning their identities to reach out to others online and use it as a tool for exploration. “It’s been a big learning process for me because nobody’s born knowing about these things and a lot of people don't end up learning about them their whole lives because of the way society just doesn't talk about it or spreads misinformation.”
"You can present however you want and you can be whoever you want and it's really great. You shouldn't have to put yourself in a box you don't fit into."
“It’s really liberating to be able to explore these options that you have for identifying yourself because there's so much more than we are raised to believe. Because gender is really infinite, because it's not really a real thing…you have all these things you can do and you can present however you want and you can be whoever you want and it's really great. You shouldn't have to put yourself in a box you don't fit into.”
When asked how his identity affects his view of himself and his actions, he explained: “Coming out as trans I’m accepting that I’m trans and my identity as a trans person has probably affected me more on any level than me being a boy itself just because that's such a bigger part of my identity.”
His unique experience has forever altered his perspective on life and given him a passion for “social justice.” “When you’re a part of the struggle and when you're identity is so steeped in whatever is happening around the world then its so much closer to home. And the same goes for anyone on a marginalized axis. These things are going to mean so much more.”
He defines social justice as working to give all people a voice, regardless of how they may deviate from social norms. He believes it is essential that society listens openly to these people rather than trying to speak for them or disregard their opinions.
Pelayo serves as an inspiration to the M-A community because of his confidence and courage to display his true self to the world.
Pelayo wants to share a few links that he encourages readers to view in order to find out more about the topic of transgenderism.