O n Christmas Day, Nancy Sims and her transgender daughter, Lily Pando, will sit down for dinner at a table that has been used by their family for more than 240 years.
They will be joined by three other trans youth—Jason, Vinny, and Cass—for a special Christmas where they will be fully accepted for who they are.
“The one thing that kept me from taking my own life was the fear of my gravestone having the wrong name on it.”
Earlier in the day, they will open presents. The night before, Sims will host her annual Christmas Eve party, complete with handmade tamales and other Tex-Mex dishes. The youth have come to live with Sims because they are friends of Pando’s from HATCH, the Montrose Center’s program for LGBTQ youth. Pando intervened when she saw their lives wobbling, and Sims is delighted.
“I was an only child, and I always wanted to have four others in the house,” Sims says.
Trans youth homelessness remains a major problem in Houston and across the nation. Some youth are thrown out because their parents will not allow a trans child to live with them. Other youth are thrown out emotionally: while they can still live at home, there is no supportive environment.
“I felt I could give them stability, support, and food,” Sims says.
A Home with Acceptance
Jason, Vinny, and Cass each came to Sims’ home for a different reason, but their stories have common threads: early years of frustration at being forced to play gender roles that did not fit them, childhood bullying, bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts, and lingering anxiety about using gender-appropriate bathrooms. They all say they’re thankful for HATCH, the first accepting space they knew. At Sims’ house, each helps with cleaning, taking out the trash, cleaning litter boxes, or cooking. It is a happy family of five.
The youth are grateful and polite, bright and idealistic, and very in tune with the realities of trans life. In their own ways, they are each preparing to move from Sims’ home in the coming year to live on their own.
“Now when they fly, they will soar,” Sims says.
Sims will also be moving—to a smaller residence. Pando is headed to college in the fall, and Sims says her current home is too big for one person.
Sims comes from a long background of political consulting. For the last decade, she has used her skills as a public-relations consultant. She is also a visiting political-science lecturer at the University of Houston.
Sims, a member of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Montrose, has been an ally of the LGBTQ community for over four decades. She worked for Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire in the 1980s, writing HIV/AIDS policy at a time when the virus was just beginning to unfold.
Lily Pando, 17
Pando was Sims’ miracle child. Following a bout with cancer in her 20s, Sims was told she could not bear children. But at 42, she finally gave birth. Sims thinks her mother and grandmother would be pleased. “They always told me they had wanted a girl. It turns out they got one!”
Mature beyond her 17 years, Pando is a member of mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board. She strives to educate people about what it means to be trans, and to make her community safer for everyone.
Pando quips that she won “the Gay Bingo” because she has identified at one time as a member of each of the four major subgroups in the community: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. She also explains that the phrase “born in the wrong body” is just a trans narrative to simplify complexities. “In truth, we were born in the right bodies, and we shouldn’t hate our bodies,” she says.
Looking back, Pando ponders her days in a boys’ choir. “There was always something I hated about it,” she says, adding that she now realizes she was being forced to play a gender role with which she had no connection. Coming to the realization she was trans was “a slow burn,” she says. Over time, her comprehension of trans people developed to the point where she could say that is how she identifies.
Pando loves to sing, and will be one of the leads in her high-school musical for the fourth consecutive year.
Jason recalls his last-ditch attempt to escape his fears of gender identity by going “ultra-femme.”
“It just didn’t work,” he says, adding that he had a 3.92 grade point average in his junior year but had to drop out of school because of severe depression.
Jason began to transition at school when he was 17. He lauds the Houston Independent School District for its support and protection of trans students.
Still, he felt alone and was hospitalized several times due to depression and suicidal tendencies. Sims’ home provided the acceptance and stability he had been denied so often. After earning his GED, Jason is enrolled in the University of Houston’s Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program. He would like to specialize in research on the link between trans youth and depression.
He joined HATCH after hearing about the group at Houston’s annual Gender Infinity Conference. After Vinny later joined HATCH, he and Jason began dating.
Vinny was born in Pasadena and remembers that he always liked to do “boy” stuff like jump into mud puddles. He owned a lot of jeans and bib overalls.
Vinny remembers a low point of his life at 11 when he was asked to be a bridesmaid for his stepmother. He says the frilly gown felt awful. There was lots of hair spray, but he balked at the makeup.
“The one thing that kept me from taking my own life was the fear of my gravestone having the wrong name on it,” Vinny says.
Vinny moved in with Pando and Sims when it became apparent that he needed to leave a “toxic environment.” Jason now lives in the dorms at UH during the week, but joins Vinny on weekends at Sims’ home.
Early last month, Vinny went to Austin to legally change his name and gender marker. “I was ecstatic,” he recalls.
He is studying at Houston Community College, majoring in liberal arts. He says he is “looking forward to this Christmas more than he has in years,” and he is “thankful for the people who surround me.”
Cass remembers an early life of just “going on autopilot.”
“I felt invisible,” she says, adding that she would wear a gray hoodie to avoid attracting attention.
She had a lot of “unplaced discomfort,” but had no idea it was her gender identity. When she met another trans person online, “it all started to click.”
Cass works at Starbucks, and will have only a brief Christmas Day celebration with her chosen family because her store will be open. “It’s okay, I used to work at pet hotels so I’m used to not having Christmas off.”
Cass recently began hormone therapy, which has left her very happy. “Life is good. Things are going up,” she says. She has found a place to live in Montrose. She has a girlfriend, and they consider themselves to be a lesbian couple.
Cass says she believes “it just takes conversation” for others to feel comfortable with trans people.
This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.