I live in the county but I run a mental health wellness and recovery center, Heart and Ears, in the heart of Mt. Vernon. Ultimately, I like to think of myself as an activist and I take great personal interest in the status and rights of transgender individuals in both Baltimore and Maryland in general. One of my greatest challenges has been dealing with my own gender transition and the impact it has had on my social, family, and professional life. Since coming to terms with my gender identity, I’ve attempted to help other trans people achieve their goals as well.
When I am not working, I like to relax by traveling with my girlfriend both locally and around town. I also like popular film, though I don’t get to go to the movies nearly as often as I would like to. Like a lot of other people, I am sort of an internet addict probably due to starting out in a career in computing. When all else fails, I enjoy frequenting local Baltimore restaurants and trying some of the numerous local cuisines the area has to offer. Meeting new and interesting people for personal and professional networking has also always been a passion of mine.
I would say that self-acceptance was one of my greatest challenges. I struggled with this for many years, although I did learn a lot about myself along the way. One of the major things I learned was that if I did not love myself for who I was, it was nearly impossible to show love and affection for those that I loved and cared deeply about. In learning this basic principle, I finally came to a place of self-acceptance in my late 40s and began my transition.
I have lived in the northeastern suburbs of Baltimore all my life. I don’t think that I could ever move from here. I like the changing seasons, the bay, and all that this area has to offer. There are those times when I just need to get away from all the noise around me; that’s when I head for my sailboat. There is such peace and solitude out on the water, whether I need time alone with my thoughts to sort things out or I am out with friends, it is always relaxing and fun. I also enjoy trail running. From where I live I can be deep in the woods running, out on my boat, or downtown hanging out with friends in just a matter of 15 to 20 minutes.
Giving back to our community brings me great joy. I now moderate the Tranquility support group for MtF transgender persons at The GLCCB on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month at 8pm. I strongly urge anyone struggling with being transgender to come. You do not have to struggle alone as many of us have. You will be welcomed no matter where you are in your struggle or how you present.
By Querin Brown
Maryland native and transgender woman Bryanna Jenkins recognized a need for leadership and innovation within the LGBT community and began to organize and contribute to various non-profit efforts designed to give trans people informative and connected community outreach programs. Jenkins, who is earning her master’s degree in legal and ethical studies at University of Baltimore, has worked regularly with retired teacher and transgender advocate, Monica Stevens. Stevens’ group, Sistas of the “T,” holds meetings where attendees discuss discrimination, housing, substance use, mental health, life after surgery, re-emerging in a new social role, and life skills. Jenkins has also been a facilitator/speaker at the Transgender Health Conference.
“Some transgenders I have encountered think they will die young and that society will not accept them,” explained Jenkins. “Some are conditioned not to want more for themselves. Folks have trouble finding and keeping jobs, connecting with others in similar life situations and seeing it may be easy for them to change their names, but an adjustment in attitude may be more difficult.”
Jenkins is in the planning stages of a program called YouCan BMore, a five-part seminar with a focus on workplace training and HIV resources. Bryanna plans on completing her degree and continuing her advocacy through public speaking and continuing to create community outreach programs.
By Paige Hunter
“My play opened up earlier this week,” Kayla Jones’ voice is excited over the phone. It’s around midterms in University of Baltimore’s academic calendar, and Jones is busy with studies and taking part in plays and the arts—and loving it. She’s excited about the support she’s getting from directors and producers in the theater department and the academic atmosphere in general. It is only her second semester, and she is already interested in psychology.
“I was the designated advice friend, so thought I’d train for it as a job,” Jones explained. “But I found out through my classes that I may not be suited for one-on-one sessions: plus, I want to reach more people.”
She plans on combining her interests in writing with her interest in what motivates people’s behaviors, and is excited about that prospect. Her possibilities are broader than she even expected, and she was expecting a lot to begin with. She wants change and understanding, for herself and others.
It’s a far cry, she said, from what many trans women of color in Baltimore seem to be locked into: prostitution, discrimination, violence and danger and streets that seem to be empty of promise.
“Many areas, many people, there’s this assumption that that’s all there is: that all they’re going to do in life is be a whore. Or, if they’re not on the streets, that the only jobs they can get are minimum wage, flipping burgers or hanging up clothes, they’ll be stuck there, that’s all there is, if they can get [those jobs] at all. And we get stuck thinking that too—trans ladies, especially trans ladies of color, we buy into all those fears, all that hopelessness.”
Jones describes breaking out of that thinking as “getting new eyes.” Priorities change, and once she turned 25 she started thinking about her future.
The GLCCB’s Sistas of the “T” group helped her with that, she said. Many groups throughout other cities and towns that dealt with transgender populations often did not have leaders that were transgender: partly because of that, there were misunderstandings. Some groups just focused on getting people in the door and in the seats—some just focused on HIV/AIDS, as if that were the only issue. With the Sistas of the T, it was a group for trans ladies—specifically trans ladies of color—run by a T-lady of color who had gone through transition, who understood the importance of addressing STIs and HIV and addictions, but also other issues such as negotiating work and resumes and disclosures. Every day was a new day. Focus was on change and empowerment, not disease and fear.