Forum: “Change is happening”

Editor’s note: Some parts of this interview were omitted for clarity and brevity.

Daily Texan: Where are you from?

Sebastian Colon-Otero: I grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to Austin in 2002.

DT: How did you choose UT?

SC: I came to Austin to do community organizing, to work with Allgo. It’s an organization for LGBT queer people of color. … During that time, I did some things with UT but I was not a student. … Since I left, I always wanted to return. I care a lot about UT and Austin, and it always felt like home. … [When] I decided I wanted to return to Austin, my partner asked me “What would be your dream job? What would you do there?” And I said “My dream would be to work for the counseling center and to provide mental health to the people, to the students who are in need.”

DT: When did you begin identifying as a transgender individual?

SC: That was before coming to the US … Eventually, it was not through rational analysis that I came to the conclusion that I needed to transition physically and pursue medical support. … It became pretty clear to me, okay, I needed to transition and embrace who I am. Even though intellectually I was not sure, emotionally it became very clear — That’s when I began the physical transition.

DT: What was that process like — that divide between emotional and psychological readiness?

SC: It was a nonlinear, back-and-forth, complicated process. … I was struggling with the idea of being myself and the fear of being accepted and supported. … Mostly it was an emotional rollercoaster and a lot of self-care and taking time. It took a lot of love, a lot of allyship, a lot of people coming together, a lot me putting my feet down saying, “I’ll take care of me, I deserve to be okay, and I don’t know how to do it, but I will do it.” … People around me helped… including people who didn’t know what transgender means who stepped up. So I believe in change — my change and social change. It’s possible. It happens.

DT: How do you see this issue playing out and creating social change? How can people who are not trans-identified support this movement?

SC: I think for a non-transgender, cisgender person, the first step is to be aware of their own gender. I also tell people to look where it hurts, look where your own gender has been difficult, where your own gender becomes painful or limiting or judged so you can sense what it means to me. … We are talking about an experience of challenging these boxes, these ideas of who we should be, and that is liberating to everybody. … You can recognize the places where it might be easier for you to speak up or where you can create space where we can speak up.

DT: How can change be happening at UT?

SC: Change is happening, has been happening, will continue to happen at UT. … There are allies figuring out how to do it, there are administrators committed to diversity in all forms and shape — change is happening. Is it pretty? Is it perfect? Is it over night? It’s not going to be. … I believe in the goodness of UT in trying to change. I think it takes all of us to talk … to organize together, it takes all of us to believe that if it’s not happening the way we think it should happen, that we ought to create space to make that dialogue happen, and the system always ends up changing towards the best.

DT: If you could say one thing to transgender individuals on campus who are going to read this interview, what would it be?

SC: The first thing is to reach out and pull every resource that you could pull into your life that will help you be okay and help you take care of yourself. And then, with your feet on the ground, communicate your needs. … I think [it is important] for trans people to seek each other. We deserve to be alive, to be okay. I am an example for you. I have a lot of privilege, but I come from a lot of oppression as well. I am a trans man of color, I come from a single mother, I grew up in poverty, English is my second language and reaching out saved my life. …  I would say: Seek your networks, find your resources, repeat to yourself, “I deserve to be alive, I deserve to be okay, I belong in this world, and it will happen, I will find a way to get the support that I need.”

Sebastian Colon-Otero is a psychotherapist in the Counseling and Mental Health Center.