Belinda Trevino: On Being an Advocate for Trans Youth and Their Parents

Gay/Lesbian, Transgender / Wednesday, December 13th, 2017
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Belinda Trevino wasn’t happy in her marriage. She had three beautiful babies, but her relationship was not healthy or fulfilling. She began noticing in her late twenties that she was attracted to women, but due to her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness in a conservative Mexican family, she tried to ignore these nagging feelings.

The relationship eventually imploded and she got divorced six years ago, and as she puts it, “my wings popped out” and she was finally free to be herself. The 41-year-old San Antonio, Texas, resident is now happily engaged to her fiance, Kat, and lives openly as a proud gay woman.

While experiencing rejection from her family and religion and learning to accept herself was painful, Trevino believes it all happened for a reason: when her son, Mason, came out to her as transgender a few years ago, she was able to relate to him and embrace him with open arms.

Mason is now a 19-year-old college student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While he’s off at school, Trevino, a data analyst, spends most of her free time building and facilitating support groups for trans youth and their families and offering them services such as free chest binders, free clothes, and now even a college scholarship.

Here’s the story of Mason’s coming out, Trevino’s coming out, and how their shared experiences led her to create the #beHuman Campaign to help trans youth and their families.

Profiles in Pride: When and how did your son Mason come out to you as transgender?

Belinda Trevino: I think it’s been about 2 ½ years. Mason came out to me as trans when he was a junior in high school, in the summertime. He said, “Mom, let’s go for a drive.” That’s when he told me, on the car ride in Corpus Christi, where we used to live.

Little by little he started saying that he was not gay, that he felt he was transgender, and asked me if I knew what that was. I said yes, I’ve got friends who are trans. The first thing I told him was, “What took you so long to tell me?” Because he and I are best of friends; why did you keep this from me for so long? He could have been happier.

But he said he didn’t know what it was, what he was feeling. He did research online, watched YouTube videos. And then when he found the word transgender, and what it meant, it just fit perfectly with what he was going through.

Belinda Trevino with her family
Belinda with her family. Photo by Eliza Volk Photography.

PIP: How did you react to the news?

BT: We cried and we hugged. Of course, as a mom and a woman, I just went on and on and on. Saying “when I was young…” and “this is what happened to me with my mom…” And then he finally got upset with me and was like, “It’s not about you.” I just wanted to let him know I somewhat understand. I comforted him and told him we’re gonna be fine.

But we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had gotten disowned because I was gay; they kicked me out of the church. Mason’s other side of the family is very religious too. So I was just nervous about how they’d relate and how they’d react to him being trans. I didn’t want them to not accept him.

So when we went home, I asked Mason, “Do you mind if I share our story? I need to find other parents like me. I have so many questions and they’re not answers that you can give me. I can only find them through other parents, especially parents who are Hispanic, who have our culture, who are machismos.”

He said it was fine. He also wanted me to tell the family, and I did slowly.

At one point, I remember I got mad at him for something. I went to go find him to apologize, and he was upset in the garage, just pacing, crying. He said, “Mother, why haven’t you talked to me about what I just told you?” It’s like it was all built up inside him. And I remember just standing there crying, and I said, “I don’t know why.” He said, “It feels like I told you and then that was it, you went on with your life.” I said, “Well, I have to.”

He said he thought I was in denial. I just started crying, we were both yelling at each other. I asked what he wanted. He said, “Just acknowledge me; acknowledge what’s happening.” And then I got mad at him, and I said, “Well, you don’t talk to me about it. If you don’t tell me, I don’t know anything. Talk to me, tell me what you’re feeling, what’s going on.”

So at the time, we were scared. We didn’t know how to handle it. I told him I was sorry, and I’d try better. And after that, everything happened so fast. He said, “Mom, can you find me a doctor? I want to start taking hormones.” So I’d be at work trying to find him a doctor.

Then I had to deal with his dad, my ex-husband. When I finally told his dad, he didn’t accept him. He was very angry and didn’t understand, and he got really mad at Mason for refusing to dress as a girl.

I was angry at my ex in a way, but in another way, I wasn’t. Mason’s dad was just scared. You’re scared of the unknown if you’re not educated on what is going on. When I told him, because he was Mexican, religious, machismo; he would close his eyes and his ears to anything I said. He said, “I’ll never go walk at Pride with you guys. I’ll never be that supportive dad you want.”

But slowly, little by little, he started to say “my son” and started calling him Mason. And then we told his grandparents. And to my surprise, everybody’s just welcomed him with open arms, called him Mason, called him grandson. It’s just been awesome. With his dad, we just had a little bump in the road, but it just had to take time.

Belinda Trevino of beHuman and her son
Belinda and Mason

PIP: What did you do next?

BT: I was inspired to search for other parents like myself. After I had Mason’s permission, I started reaching out to my friends in the LGBT community and asking around if there were any support groups in Corpus Christi for trans people specifically, not just LGBT. There wasn’t.

So I started a fundraising event to raise awareness and start a support group for trans youth and their parents. I was already involved in the nonprofit community in Corpus Christi, and I thought, if I can just raise awareness for the trans community, maybe I can get some attention.

Leading up to the event, I met Kitana Sanchez, a transgender woman. She said that she volunteered with the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation, and I told her what I was doing. She was excited and said, “I’ve always wanted to do this but I didn’t have the resources and nobody would help me.” I said, “Well, we’ll do this together.”

So then she introduced me to Brittany Andrews, another local trans woman. And then we got together and we put on this fundraiser. That’s when we started getting more attention. People started coming out of their houses and online, saying yes, we need somewhere to talk. We don’t have anything just for trans people.

Then I started getting parents — women in the business community in Corpus that I’ve known forever. And one of them messaged me saying her son just came out as trans and she had nowhere to go. She said, “Belinda, I don’t even know what to do.” And I said, “Girl, you and me both. We’ll go through this together.” So she went to the fundraiser.

Shortly after that, we had our first support meeting at the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. We called it #beHuman, because we are all working towards the same purpose: to see our children thrive and become successful, happy human beings. And at the end of the day, we’re all just humans.

#beHuman supporters at San Antonio Pride
#beHuman representing at San Antonio Pride (pictured: Jensen Nelson-Reid, Rhyan Rhymes Solis, Erick LaRue, Mason Marshall Henderson)

That woman I knew went to our first meeting. It was real emotional for her and I, because I’d known her forever, I’d worked with her. I know her daughter at the time went to college, and to find out that she needed me too….we gave each other long hugs and cried.

They meet at the Wellness Foundation every Tuesday, and the group has grown. I moved to San Antonio, but I think they currently have 15-20 people who go there. There’s also a legal advocate who helps members with name changes.

The Wellness Foundation has always given us the space to meet. But I actually just found out that the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation is picking them up as an official program two years later, and they’re going to try to get grant money so they can have a professional counselor during meetings!

PIP: That’s great! When did you move to San Antonio, and what did you do in terms of activism once you got there?

BT: As soon as Mason graduated high school, in the summer of 2015, we moved to San Antonio. I sold my house to put him in college. When I got here, I’d already been online doing research on nonprofits, because that’s my passion, to give back to my community and to get involved. So I wanted to put my hands where there was the most need.

I wanna say the first one I contacted was Unify, which offers services for LGBT youth. I met up with them to see where I could volunteer and tell them a little about myself. And then I started talking about #beHuman. They were telling me that at the time, there were not a lot of groups or services here for transgender people….specifically for them. It was surprising to me since San Antonio is so much bigger than Corpus Christi, and Corpus is more conservative and reserved.

I started looking for other people to help me start a group here. Then I found Erick LaRue, a local trans man, and Ashleigh Brown, a local trans woman. Erick had his own trans men support group and Ashleigh volunteered with HRC. I messaged Erick online and said, “Hey, do you know if there are parents who need help?” He said yes. So I contacted Unify and they were willing to host our meetings, and that’s where it all began. We’ve been going strong ever since.

Belinda Trevino and family
Belinda with her daughters, Ashleigh Brown, and her partner Kat

#beHuman was created specifically to be a parent support group, but as time went on, I found that this was bigger than just us, so we added to our name and now call it the #beHuman Campaign, and it’s for anybody who wants to come. I won’t turn anyone away.

I’ve just had such a great response. I’ve met wonderful parents that need help. It’s crazy how many parents are really out there. They end up finding us and they tell me they’re just scared because they don’t have family support; either their husband’s not supportive, or they don’t have any money, because transitioning is expensive. I think that’s why #beHuman has sort of evolved from more than a support group, and more like providing services.

I started with the clothing swap, because it is expensive to buy a whole new wardrobe. Then our binder program; I’ve given out probably 10 chest binders already to kids via Instagram and our Facebook page.

I’ve noticed there are some people and organizations that ask for their financials and stuff like that, but I just ask them to tell me their story. I’m not a big corporation, I’m not a big company, I’m just a mom. I run it out of my house and storage unit.

They say, “What do I have to do to get a free binder?” And I say, “Just tell me your story.” And then they’ll tell me. “You know, my mom doesn’t know, I’m binding wrong and I can’t afford one, I’m still in the closet.” And my heart goes out to them. How can I not help? I’m not going to ask him to give me his mom’s income.

Then once someone has top surgery, they can donate their binders and someone else can use them.

PIP: Can you tell me more about your transgender clothing swap program?

BT: The idea of starting a clothing swap was when we started buying clothes for Mason. It was just a whole new financial cost we had to take on, because we didn’t have any male clothes. So when we started buying male clothes, I had all Mason’s clothes leftover. They were girl clothes that were too big for my daughters, and they were just going to sit there. I didn’t really want to donate them to Goodwill or Salvation Army. I thought, I want to donate them to someone who is transitioning male to female. I want to be able to help other parents go through this journey with us, too.

So I ran that idea past Mason, and he thought it was great. So then that’s when I went online and started asking people, “Hey, if you have clothes you want to donate, and this is the reason why.” People were all for it. So I started picking up donations, and we held events where transitioning people could come swap or just take free clothes.

Ari Franco Ulloa, Erick LaRue, Ashleigh Brown, and Belinda at a #beHuman clothing swap event

Now that we have so much, I’ve had to get a storage unit. People can make appointments with me to access it. My ultimate goal for this clothing swap, and I really need to give it another name, but I want it to be like a mini mall, a mini boutique, where if you need something, you can just swap out your clothes and get what you need. Or if you are starting new, you can just shop.

So they’d be able to get in there and pull some blouses, t-shirts, jeans, shoes; we have everything. Polish, makeup, wigs, hats, coats, bags, suits. I want to be able to let them know, you’re not alone. I know it costs money to transition, and we have clothes for you. The community supports you, we support you. I want them to be able to shop safely, where they’re not embarrassed, and they don’t have anybody judging them.

PIP: I saw you recently launched a college scholarship program for trans youth. Can you tell me a little about that?

BT: Yes, I’m very excited about that. When Mason was getting his scholarships and grants at school, I noticed they’d say they’re getting a grant or scholarship from so-and-so fund. But what

I didn’t hear was anything for LGBT students. And I thought that would be pretty awesome if we were to raise money or have a fund set aside for a trans student that’s going to college, because college is expensive.

I usually pass everything through my son just to get his thoughts, but this one I didn’t, because I wanted to keep it a surprise. And I thought, well, in our group from Corpus, we have two kids that are in high school that are just doing great. What a great way to honor and support them by giving them a scholarship fund? At least like $500. And then here in our group in San Antonio, we have three that are in high school that should be graduating soon.

I wanted to better to serve our families, to let them know, you have a community that supports you. You have a family here that wants to take care of you. So on top of the clothing swap, we have the chest binder program, and now we have the scholarship program just to ease the parents’ mind.

These are all deserving kids. It takes courage and bravery to go through high school being trans. And I want them to know they have people who believe in them. I don’t want them to go unseen and unheard of. We’re proud of you and here for you.

Kat and Belinda with Ron Nirenberg
Kat and Belinda with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg

PIP: Now I want to talk a little about you. While most of your advocacy is for the trans community, you’re gay and engaged to woman. When did you come out and start living as an LGBTQ person?

BT: After my divorce six years ago, I did. I started feeling attracted to women late in my twenties, but because of my religious background, it was a battle in my head. Like, “I can’t do this, I’m married, what am I thinking, this is wrong.” And then I’d just push it away.

Then when I got divorced — and no disrespect to my husband, he’s a great guy — but I felt like, finally, I’m free. I’m free to be me. I felt like with my religion, that I was always constricted to a certain way of life and a certain way a woman should act and a certain way a wife should be to her husband. So when I got divorced, I felt like my wings just popped out, and I like I can fly now, I can do what I want, pursue the things I wanted. I wanted to be involved in the LGBT community, because honestly, I felt that way. It was exciting to me, to be me.

But after being in an on-again-off again relationship, I went to counseling and learned to find myself and find what made me happy. And I think once I got good with myself, I met Kat. But I think because I was already centered. I really forgave myself for my divorce. I forgave myself for the way things were handled with my church. I forgave them. I just forgave a lot; I had a lot of hurt in my heart. And so I felt like finally when I was finally at peace with my life, I met the woman who was meant for me. She came into my life at the right time. I was on a different path before so I am glad I met her at the right time.

Belinda Trevino and her partner, Kat
Belinda and her partner, Kat. Photo by Eliza Volk Photography.

PIP: Do you feel that having gone through that experience, it made it easier for you to understand Mason when he came out to you?

BT: You know what, I said the same thing to myself months ago. I called Mason, and I said, you know what? I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason. That God puts you on a certain path and he shows you how to get there. But we’re imperfect, we’re human beings, we’re gonna veer off. You have to think of him as your parent; he gives you all the tools you need and he teaches you.

So I told Mason, as I look back on my life, would I have accepted you if I stayed a Jehovah’s Witness? Would I have believed in you and would I have loved you if I would have stayed? Because according to my religion, that’s wrong. I don’t know what I would have done. But I thought, I know who I am inside, I would have stayed with my son. But I had so much to lose back then if I’d stayed a Jehovah’s Witness.

Maybe this was supposed to happen. Maybe I was supposed to get divorced because I was living a lie, not living authentically. We got divorced, and I went through all my experiences. Then when Mason came out to me, I think I was better prepared.

You know, I felt like I was stronger as a person. I feel he made me a better mother to my other daughters too. And I told him I felt like all my life experiences brought me here, because this was supposed to happen.

I’m glad he finally was brave enough to tell me. I think this was supposed to happen, I was supposed to go through all this stuff. I was supposed to leave the church. I was supposed to find Brittany and Kitana, who have become very good friends of mine now, to find all these advocates here in San Antonio, all this great support system. I was supposed to go this way to make me appreciate my life now.

And Kat has just been a blessing. She’s just everything I could ever ask for. Now that we’ve been together, she’s a big part of #beHuman and helps me with it so much. It’s tiring. It’s a big sacrifice. Because you go to work, you come home, and you get ready for your group, you get ready for the clothing swap, deal with binders, and I’m on my phone talking to kids and and talking to parents all the time.

And she never gets upset with me. She’s always supporting me. She’ll help load my car, organize clothes, send out binders for me when I’m at work. Help me with events, she’ll put up the tent, help me sell shirts. And then when she can’t come, she helps me watch the girls while I’m at group. She helps me a lot now that Mason’s gone. I tell her it’s not easy being with me, because I’m so busy, but she makes it effortless.

PIP: I can relate — it is amazing how sometimes during really hard times, it’s difficult to just get through it, but afterwards, it can feel like maybe you went through it for a reason or that it put you on the right path.

BT: Yes! I went through that epiphany in the shower. I’m a thinker. I’m thinking, and I rush out in a towel and I tell Mason, and he goes, “Oh God, Mom.” He doesn’t like organized religion. He’s got his own thoughts on that because of the way they treated me. But I’m just like, “Hey, this was a part of my life, this was supposed to happen.”

Now I feel I’m at a good point and my life is coming full circle. I’m just excited to see who else we can help with #beHuman. There are so many great organizations and resources here in San Antonio. If you can’t come to ours, go to SAGA, go to PFLAG, go to Fiesta Youth. It’s amazing that there is a lot of support; we just need to get to them and find those families we can help. I’m just excited to see where it’s going to go.

Learn more about the #beHuman Campaign and its meeting schedule on its Facebook page!

Featured photo by Cynthia Mack.

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