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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Come As You Are
by Alyssa Kelly - Char-Koosta News

Josh Crumley's journey of self-discovery as 'transgender' means being true to his identity

Aside from his dreams of becoming a lawyer specializing in LBGT rights, Josh has been playing the guitar in his free time for several years. (Alyssa Kelly Photo)

Polson, MT — Although he was told it was “just a phase,” Josh Crumley said he never felt comfortable wearing girl’s clothes. As he grew older, Crumley said being called a girl started to feel like an insult. “I never felt like I was meant to dress like a girl,” he said. “It just never felt comfortable to me. I felt like who I was on the outside wasn’t who I was on the inside.”

For Crumley, coming of age has meant coming to terms with his gender identity. The 15-year-old identifies as transgender, which is an umbrella term that describes individuals whose internal gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. “There’s more to who we are as people than the sex we were born with. Our sex is just what’s in our pants,” Crumley said.

Although he said he always knew he was different, Crumley’s first major step in his transition from female to male was receiving a shorter than usual haircut in sixth grade. “I think for everyone else it was just a haircut. But for me, it felt like I was starting to look how I felt,” he said.

Josh has recently become politically active in the LBGT community. One of his favorite gatherings is attending pride parades and rallies. “It feels good to be around people who are like me,” he said. “I’ve even met elders in the LBGT community who have given me a lot of advice.” (Courtesy Photo)

By seventh grade, Crumley felt comfortable enough with his identity as a male to share it with his mother Mary Charlo. “I was really nervous when I told my mom that I was transgender,” Crumley recalled. “She was really understanding. She said that she would love me no matter what and that made me feel better.”

Although Charlo said she noticed a difference in Crumley as early as first grade, she said Josh’s transition has been a process of learning as a parent. “When he first came out as transgender, I struggled some with the loss of my daughter,” she said. “We will never prom dress shop. I’ll never go wedding dress shopping with him… While it’s a loss, I’m also gaining a son, who is amazing. He’s talented and brave. We will just go shopping for tuxes instead.”

“She’s been really supportive of me and has been correcting people on the pronouns of who I am now,” Josh said of his twin sister Hailee. “I used to dress as a boy when I was younger so I understand Josh in that way. I made him artwork to show him I love and support him,” Hailee said. (Alyssa Kelly Photo)

Having gained the support of his mother and twin sister Hailee, Crumley “came out” to the rest of world by creating an Internet video. “There were a lot of people in my life that didn’t understand my transition,” he said. “Some people knew and some didn’t and I didn’t want to keep explaining myself. I saw that there were trans people making Youtube videos as a way to make the announcement and I thought the platform would be cool.”

Since coming out, Charlo said her son’s transition has had its trials. Crumley started getting bullied and harassed at school–being shoved into lockers, elbowed, and told he “would never be a real man.” He even faced discrimination from longtime friends and peers.

Josh has been creating artwork to express his pride in being a young transgender man. (Alyssa Kelly Photo)

“There were parents that didn’t want their kids around Josh or to be his friend,” she said. “Like they openly told their child they couldn’t be friends with him anymore because he is transgender. I was disappointed by several of Josh’s friends’ parents when I found out they were discriminating against him for his choice of gender.”

Bullying had become so severe Crumley was hospitalized twice last fall for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. “It’s been a fight to be who I am but I won’t stop being who I am,” Crumley said. “I’ve learned that people who have a problem with other people being who they are, really have a problem with themselves.”

Crumley is not alone. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that 75 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. The Human Rights Campaign reports that transgender youth are twice as likely to be physically assaulted than their peers. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that transgender youth are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than their peers.

“I don’t like old photos,” Josh said of his baby photos depicting him as a female. “I feel like that person is dead to me. That’s not who I am anymore.” (Alyssa Kelly Photo)

Charlo’s experience caring for Crumley during his darkest time inspired her to share some words of advice: “I would encourage people who have someone in their family who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to be open to their orientation,” she said. “Treat them how you would want to be treated as a straight person, with respect. Even if you don’t agree with their choices, don’t belittle them, or tell them there is something wrong with them. This can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Just love them, support them, and accept them for who they really are.”

Counseling, transgender support groups, attending pride rallies, and seeking transgender mentors has helped Crumley overcome discrimination. The teen also made the decision to transfer to Two Eagle River School. The tribal charter high school had four transgender students and welcomed Crumley with open arms.

In a broadcast interview with KPAX, Two Eagle River School Superintendent Rodney Bird said acceptance is a Native American custom: “I think Native values, we don’t judge people, we take them as they are,” he said. “We get students from every school on every reservation across the state, some from different tribes. Some have gender issues. We treat them like family, everyone’s accepted.”

Josh’s grandfather Vic Charlo showed his support by attending a court hearing in Tribal Court where Josh legally changed his name. (Courtesy Photo)
Anti-transgender bill fails in Montana Legislature

The political focus on transgender restroom rights extended beyond Washington DC recently as a bill entitled “The Montana Locker Room Privacy Act,” failed the Montana Legislative Committee 11-7 on Monday.

HB 609 would have allowed individuals to sue public government agencies if it didn’t take reasonable measures to prohibit members of the opposite sex from using restroom and locker room facilities.

“We’re supporting transgender rights,” said Cathy Billie of the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition. “We hope the legislator continues to strike down any bill that would restrict the rights of transgender people.”

Montana Family Foundation president Jeff Laszloffy says his organization will now look to put the issue before voters as a 2018 ballot initiative.

Crumley took legal action in his transition recently by changing his name in the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Court. “It felt great to have my name changed legally,” he said. “I knew I wanted something with the letter ‘J’ and Josh is a better fit for who I am. I was glad that my grandpa (Vic Charlo) came to support me.”

Attending rallies has inspired Crumley to get active in Transgender issues. In February, the Trump administration withdrew federal protections that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity in public schools. Crumley said this political form of discrimination had an impact.

“Trump’s decision took trans kids’ rights away,” Crumley said. “Trans people are more likely to be killed or sexually assaulted and I was afraid Trump’s decision was going to make hateful people feel like it was okay to hurt people like me. I almost considered ‘going back in’ but my aunt Claire said: ‘if you go back in, you’re saying people like Trump have power. No one should be able to change who you are.’”

Crumley’s political activism and experience as a young transgender man has inspired him to study law following high school in order to protect the rights of the Lesbian, Bi, Gay, and Transgender (LBGT) community. He would also like to work in photography to help bring an understanding. “I hope people will learn that trans people are human,” he said. “We just want to live a happy life like anyone else.”

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