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My Name Is Ian

Ian Syder

Ian Syder opens up about being coming to terms with being trans, his transition, and how he’s helping the transgender community.

(HOUSTON) — My name is Ian Syder. I’m a 34-year-old married man who plans to have kids one day. There isn’t much special about me.

Except that I was born female.

When I was a child, my sister and I used to play house, just like all kids do. Even then there were clues as to who I really was. I always introduced myself by male names and took on more masculine gender roles. My sister, who is now my brother (and they say it’s not genetic…) often did the same. Back then we had no idea what transgender even meant or that it was possible to do something so radical, so life-altering. As an adult, I look back with amusement. Knowing what I do now, I wish it could have happened differently. I have, however, no regrets.

We won’t go into the turmoil of my teenage years. It’s the typical unfortunate story. Self-medicating, drug abuse, promiscuity. Anything to drown out what my mind was screaming at me. I presented as a very butch female, so people assumed I was a lesbian. It was so much easier to go along with that. I let people sort me into this category and never allowed myself to think about what it really meant. But that’s a story for another day, so let’s skip ahead to the point when I really found myself.

When I was thirty, I was invited to an amateur drag show here in Houston. I had been to shows a few times in the past, but never really thought much of them. This one was different. It felt like I was watching real people onstage. My then-girlfriend told me I should try drag. I had the personality. So why not? The friend that had invited me said the same, which led me to make the decision to give it a whirl. A few weeks later, there I was with street clothes and a horrible makeup beard (I’ve gotten much better since). I introduced myself as Ian and the people there called me sir. The entire night I was in a daze. It just felt . . . right. I was hooked. I suppose I did all right that night, though I really don’t remember, to be honest. Still, I feel like that’s the moment that my life began to change.

It took a few months for me to start coming out to the people I had met in the drag community. I was met with joy and acceptance from all sides. I’m still amazed as to how accepting these people were. Once I started telling the people around me, I dove into research with a fervor I never knew I had. I watched every video, read every blog. I looked for information about how to do this venture down this path I’d been pondering. I found every tidbit you can imagine, positive and negative, but not quite what I was looking for.

I found myself lost again, even contemplating how to end my life. I felt alone and desperate, and had no idea where to turn. In my weakest moment, I went to Legacy Community Health. I knew nothing about what they did and continue to do, but I had a friend that worked there who I thought might be able to help me. I had done a benefit for them once and the person who helped me set up all of the details was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met. He was so open and kind. He explained that if I ever needed anything that I could look him up. So I found myself in his office, crying in his arms begging while for help I was sure he couldn’t give me.

But I was wrong.

He took me downstairs to talk to the people who would help him save my life. Some long months and an arduous process later, I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I feel like that was the first real day of the rest of my life. Legacy has since done a lot of work to improve the services they offer the trans community, and have been one of the greatest advocates for us of which I know. They have literally saved the lives of thousands of men and women, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for every single one of the people there.

Since then I have changed more than you can imagine. I am a completely different person. The parts of me that make me who I am are the same, but transitioning has allowed me to become confident in ways that I never thought possible. I learned to be happy, not just content with my life. The happiness applies to all aspects. From my clothing to my sexual preference, I am who I was always meant to be. I will, however, always be grateful to the woman I used to be.

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Ian Syder performing in Dessie’s Drag Race.

Valerie. Without her, I would not be the man I am today. Her experiences molded me, and I promise I will never forget that.

Transitioning allowed me the confidence to help others find what I couldn’t all those years ago. I still perform regularly, and use it as often as I’m asked for anything it can do. I’ve organized “top surgery” benefits for several trans men, all of which have been able to get the medical surgery they needed to live their lives happy and healthy. I use my drag performances as a platform to promote understanding and acceptance with people who may not have ever met another transgender person. I don’t shy away from any question, and make no secret of who I am. People sometimes find it easier to approach a personality than someone they meet on the street. I’m just glad I can be that guy.

Currently, I facilitate two different support groups here in Houston. One meets on Monday nights at Grace Lutheran Church. I’ll open the doors at 7:15, so maybe one day I’ll get to meet you. This group allows people of all types to come, so don’t hesitate if you aren’t like me. As long as you come with an open mind and a kind heart, you’ll be welcome. The second group meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at the Montrose Center. We start at 7:30, and it’s only for transgender men. We also need a space to be ourselves, so please don’t feel left out! I know I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the ability to live my truth. I’m lucky, and that allows me to give other people hope. I don’t feel that I deserve the breaks I’ve been given, so I do what I can to give back to those that aren’t as lucky as me.

In January I was able to get my name and gender marker changed legally, with the court system in Travis County. It took months, and was not the easiest process at the time. No one I spoke to could tell me how to get this done, because in Texas there wasn’t a way to change your gender marker. There just isn’t a law specifically saying you can. It’s left up to the judge’s discretion. Usually that means that it was denied for almost everyone. I wouldn’t take no for an answer though, and made sure to do everything I could to get this done right the first time. My husband had his name changed years ago, but that was all the courts in Harris County allowed. So I did what I do best, and started researching.

What I found first was that Travis County was the most likely place to get the approval for the gender marker change. I also found a document that was written by a law student as part of a class. It had never been tested. I took the leap and started editing the petition to match my information. A few friends found out what I was doing and asked if they could tag along. I couldn’t say no, which led to the petition for me and my husband turning into one for a group of eight. I was terrified that this wouldn’t work and that the trip would have been made for nothing.

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Ian Syder married husband Shane Townsley on Oct. 22nd, 2017.

That day in court, one of those friends was asked by the judge who was responsible for the petitions and the editing. I was pointed out of course. The judge thanked me, told me that everything looked good, and asked that we call ahead next time we were bringing such a large group. That day, eight people walked in with a name they never chose and left knowing that they would never have to hear it again. They would never again be questioned when showing their ID. They could live exactly as they always knew they should. We all cried that day, and they were finally tears of joy.

To date I have given this information to 147 transgender people. Felons, minors, foreign nationals, even a few lawyers who wanted to help but didn’t know how. Not one has been denied. The clerks in Austin took my calls and emails in the beginning, and we have worked out a system that makes the process much easier – especially for the judges! I’m still getting the requests, but so far it has been word of mouth, and word is slow to spread. I’ve held several “clinics” for various groups and look forward to hosting as many as I can. This information just isn’t available in a Google search. If you know someone who might need this, please find me. I would welcome the ability to get every one of us taken care of. Without proper identification, we face discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and many other ways. There is no situation that can’t be worked around, so please don’t think that you can’t get this done too.

When I realized that I was transgender, I felt like there was no hope for me, that something was broken inside and could never be fixed. I know now how wrong I was. We have a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day that we go out into the world is a triumph. Every conversation that we have is a victory. I was able to find out who I am, and I know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with me. There are so many others out there who do what I do, but they stay in the shadows. There are more of us than you might think. So the next time you see someone who looks a little different, don’t turn your head and whisper behind our backs, just say hello. We are more like you than you can imagine.

If you would like to reach out to Ian for assistance with changing your name or gender marker in the state of Texas, you can email him at ianmichaellarive@yahoo.com.

Homo for the Holidays

Holiday Family Queer LGBTQ Homo Holidays

A guide to surviving the holidays with your mildly-homophobic family.

For LGBTQIA folks, spending the holidays with your family can be … awkward. Still, I’ll be up-front about one thing: those of us who can spend the holidays with our families are already immensely more fortunate that those of us in the community who cannot. Innumerable LGBTQIA people spend the holidays alone after being outcast from their families simply for the fact that they are queer. We shouldn’t take for granted being invited to have dinner with our families.

Although, that doesn’t mean that those of us who do have the privilege always have a comfortable experience. Our families may accept or handle our queerness, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% tolerant all the time. Some of them were raised in religion; some stand on the right-side of the political spectrum; and some just are too ignorant to understand. Whatever their reasons, the conversations of getting married, having kids, finding god, and growing up can nevertheless be exhausting.

But the holidays are supposed to be a time of love and laughter and kindness and giving. Sure, they can be stressful and incongruent with those values, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed to some degree. I know that for me, coming from a family that’s half-Jewish and half-Southern Baptist, the conversation always rears its ugly head at some point. This Thanksgiving for instance, my mother spared no time whatsoever asking me about why I’m not a “warrior for God.” And many of you are in similar situations.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts on how to make it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday (if any) you celebrate with the people who have to be reminded that they are supposed to love you unconditionally.

DON’T waste time trying to explain your love life if you don’t want to. 

Whether you’re in a relationship that’s new, not in one at all, have an occasional fuck buddy, or you’re just not that interested in being in a relationship, the question of your love life is bound to come up. This question is a great chance to be extremely passive-aggressive. Fight that urge. It’s only going to cause tension, and you still want to stick around long enough to eat pie.

Answer honestly, but do so in a way that does not leave room for questions you don’t want to answer. Some of us may be excited to tell our parent(s) about the person we’re seeing, and that’s great. But if you’re anything like me (a sex columnist), talking about your love life can be awkward. A simple, “Yes, I’m seeing someone, but it’s still new,” or “Yes, I’m seeing someone, but he/she/they is/are with his/her/their family/friends” will suffice.

The real inquisition can begin when you reveal that you’re not seeing anyone. Maybe your brother has brought his significant other home and mother dearest is badgering you about why you never bring anyone around. The easy answer is always, “Ha! Because you’re kind of a homophobe.” Resist. It’s much easier to smile and say, “I’m working a lot/enjoying the friendships I already have lately. I don’t have a lot of time for dating right now.” This more than likely won’t prevent the family from expressing their opinions on the matter, which can be the annoying part. If that’s the case, it is okay to say that you simply don’t want to talk about it.

DO engage with the people you’re there to spend time with.

Yes, I know, they can be insufferable at times. But the better attitude that you come in with, the better the entire day is going to go. And fuck! It’s a free meal. I’m in my early twenties. I never say no to a free meal. I mean, I don’t ever say no to a meal at all. But I digress.

Ask your siblings how school or work is. Remind your mother or father how grateful you are that you get to spend the day with them. Offer to help cook. Take out the trash. These little gestures will diffuse any tension and show that even though God slapped you with the queer stamp, that you’re still a good kid at heart.

DON’T get overheated in discussions about religion or politics. 

Look, this one is hard for me, too. I get told constantly that I’m being prayed for due to my faggotry. It’s difficult for me not to go off. I have learned, however, that there’s a quiet and calm way to make your point and state your opinions without initiating World War III.

I’m a staunch believer in the fact that we should always share our political and religious beliefs if they’re called into question. I am not a subscriber to the school of thought that states we have to explain our beliefs to anyone. That’s up to you. I often choose to do so.

As previously mentioned, my mother started early with the talk of God – asking me when I stopped believing in God. Mostly for her own sake, I calmly explained that I do believe in a higher power, but that I don’t subscribe to organized religion due to its typically intolerant and homophobic nature. When she went into the spiel of how not all Christians were this way, I promptly and mellowly reminded her that she raised me in a Southern Baptist church. I added that knowing I was gay from a young age and being told that I would rot in hell had been traumatizing and that it drove me away from the church.

She seemed to accept this and we moved on.

Politics are a bit different, especially when it intermingles with religion (literally the exact opposite of how the two should be in the United States, but whatever). Talking politics falls on deaf ears. For more liberal-minded people (as most queer people are), we’re equally guilty. The fact is that we know that we’re right about everything (or so we think) and often are so busy preaching that we don’t hear what the other side has to say (sound familiar?). Granted, that’s usually because what’s coming from conservatives is nonsense, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that we don’t hear them and engage in insightful and introspective conversation.

It’s not worth it at the dinner table over the holidays. There are much more pleasant topics to discuss. Your nephew’s piano recital. Your new job. Your dad’s retirement party. Find something – ANYTHING – and spark a conversation that you can bond over rather than fight about. And if politics come up, state your opinion, hear theirs, agree to disagree, and change the subject. If they become aggressive or loud, politely inform them that you don’t want to argue and walk away (preferably toward the wine).

Which brings me to my next point:

DON’T get fucked up.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. If you get fucked up, you are more likely to become sensitive to every little thing that’s said. You’re also more likely to run your goddamn mouth. Again, I’m a fan of running my mouth, but I also know how to shut down bullshit. If you’re not well-versed in that, it may not be helpful.
  2. If you get fucked up, you’re not going to be able to drive. And do you really want to spend more time with these people that have caused you to drink so heavily?

Save the drinking for afterwards, when you’re home or with your friends. Unless you’re there to stay for a while, lay off the bottle. A couple of drinks won’t hurt you, Loose Lips, but nothing more. I know drinking feels necessary to be around them (fuck, I’m drinking right now), but keep it under control.

DON’T dignify stupid questions with responses.

My mother always told me there was no such thing as a stupid question.

She was wrong. So fucking wrong.

Especially so if you have a partner you’re bringing home, there are bound to be some really dumb fucking questions tossed your way.

“Who’s the guy and who’s the girl in the relationship?” We’re both men/women/genderfluid/non-binary (pick one that applies).

“Are you a top or a bottom?” Do I ask you about your butthole?

“Do you two touch your penises together?” or the lesbian variant: “Do you two scissor?” Do you have sex at all? 

“What made you decide to be gay/bi/trans/pan/asexual/intersex?” What made you decide to be such a fucking cunt?

“Aren’t you sad you won’t be able to have kids of your own?” I’ll cry about it from the third floor of my downtown town home thanks to my disposable gay income.

The list goes on and on. You’ll want to be sassy. But just remember, you don’t have to see them again once you’re gone for an entire year. It’s completely okay to smile and politely remind your family that their questions are inappropriate. Then go for the wine.

DO invite your LGBTQIA friends who can’t spend the holidays with their families/friends and DO warn them that your family is a little ignorant. 

Remember, not everyone is as fortunate as some of us. Help your friends enjoy the holidays and create fond, even if subpar, memories.

DO host or attend a Friendsgiving/Holiday Party.

This is really just for your own good. Pretty much one person in every friend group hosts a Thanksgiving/Christmas after-party for the friends to get together and blow off the family steam (in my friend group, this person is me. We have Friendsgiving for Thanksgiving, and Single Bells for Christmas because we’re all sad and alone). These people compose your real family, and you need to be with them to feel better. Go to them. Drink with them. Eat with them. Laugh with them. Get to the part of the holidays you’re really going to look back on with keen fondness.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Op-Ed: Beacon of Hope for Trans Community

(Houston) — Identity, or gender, sexual orientation or the connection to one’s own race or ethnicity — plays a pivotal role in all our lives today. It is especially crucial to those who have earned the right to express it.

The right to one’s own identity is something still being fought for in many marginalized communities, and when something so precious as one’s identity is reduced to something solely desired for sexual pleasure, it can be painful. This is what can happen when a transgender person encounters a “chaser” — someone who has a “fetish” for transgender bodies.

Those who fetishize transgender bodies are participating in a culture of transphobia that deems our bodies as important solely when they’re sexualized.

The act of “chasing” is, indeed, rooted in a cultural assumption that the only reason someone would want to be with a trans person is that of a sexual fetish. When cisgender male celebrities like rapper Tyga and NFL player Hank Baskett have been “caught” with trans people, it’s been treated as a “scandal,” with the media and public assuming it must be because they have a “thing” for trans bodies.

When Houston native, Valentina Mia, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Houston finally came to terms with being trans, she set out to show that being trans was not a fetish or something to be feared and belittled. Coming from a family of mixed political views, Valentina says she has received nothing but love from her family and friends. This is not always the case for many transgender people.

Not only does Valentina have a BS in Economics with a Mathematics minor and a MA in Applied Economics, she is also an up and coming entertainer in the adult film industry. Valentina says she first decided to start webcamming in October of 2015. She then went on to do her first real porn shoot in early 2016.

Since then Valentina’s career in the adult film industry has been on the rise. She has taken being trans and shown the world that they no longer get to define what it means to be trans or treat being transgender as just a fetish.

Because of fetishes, in general, have a long history of being demonized, it may be tempting to view conversations surrounding this fetishizing as just another crusade against non-traditional sexual preferences. But this accusation couldn’t be further from the truth. Sexual fetishes cover a broad spectrum — from foot worshipping to spanking to sploshing — but when someone says they prefer men, they say they are straight, not that they have a “fetish” for men.

This is because we typically understand general sexual orientation as an attraction that can encompass a desire to know and love that person beyond the realm of the physical. Chasing, by reducing an individual’s gender identity to sexual fixation, doesn’t move beyond the purely physical realm. And it is, as such, dehumanizing. Yet, sadly — because of how much transphobia permeates our culture — trans women are often made to feel as if they should be grateful for any kind of attention they receive, even if it’s as reductive as this.

Until we decide to have a real conversation about the fetishization of trans bodies, stories like Mia Isabell’s will continue to make headlines as a “scandal,” and trans women like Valentina will keep encountering people who try to tell them that they should be grateful for the leftover libido of chasers — as though that paradigm could ever be equal to a loving relationship built on mutual respect.

To our trans community both near and far, remember that you are more than a gender, sexual orientation or fetish. You are a human being who deserves to be loved. You are our mothers and fathers. You are our brothers and sisters. You are our classmates and teachers. We love all of you and are fighting with you.

Editor’s Note: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month LGBTQIA #MeToo #TimesUp

About will be supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with a focus on how it pertains to the LGBTQIA community

(HOUSTON) — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a topic that is neither new nor relevant, and one to which that many in the LGBTQIA community are not strangers. In fact, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a person is sexually assaulted every 8 seconds in America. Those statistics are startlingly high. More shocking is that according the Center for Disease Control (CDC), queer people often are sexually assailed at similar or higher rates than heterosexual and cis-gender people.

What’s frightening about these numbers is that they are based solely on the information available. They’re nothing more than estimations. Much of RAINN’s information comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which selects 150,000 Americans each year and gathers information based on that group. Unfortunately, there is a large and unaccounted for number of sexual assault victims who do not come forward—a fact that should not be used to place blame upon the victims. While there are several potential reasons for each individual’s decision not to come forward (fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear of being fired, and many more), the one thing that is certain is that the longer that this sort of behavior continues to be perpetuated by sexual assailants and rapists, the longer more people will be victimized and that fear will perpetuate, as well.

Recently, America has seen in influx in the publicity of survivors who have stepped forward. With well-covered movements such as #MeToo (founded over ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke) and #TimesUp, to celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Rapp, Oprah Winfrey and many more that have stepped forward to share their stories and to talk about their experiences in the hopes to encourage and empower other people (namely women, people of color, and LGBTQIA folks) to step forward.

While this could have come at a better time (or maybe I should say that people could have been this tuned into the fact that sexual assault is prevalent sooner), it is nonetheless a remark to the bravery of women, the LGTBQIA community (with an emphasis on the trans community), people of color, and all others who are now stepping out and firing back. Men in power, from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. and countless in between are being brought to their knees, which should be scaring men of lesser recognition all over the world. Because, famous or not, their time is coming, too. Unfortunately, RAINN also reports that most sexual assailants and rapists in the nation will not be imprisoned or be held accountable for their crimes. This is no surprise, considering that we currently live in a country run by a sexual predator (yes, Donald Trump is just as guilty).

But through these movements, through the media, and through solidarity for one another, we can begin to hold as many of these men accountable as possible. In fact, it wasn’t until just recently that I myself was comfortable discussing the story of the man who raped me when I was 19-years-old in my Less Than Butterflies column. It’s a terrifying feeling thinking that no one will believe you. It’s a terrifying feeling to wonder if the person will retaliate or what they’ll tell your loved ones about you. And no one can blame the victims who choose not to share their stories with the world. With that said, however, we—especially in the LGBTQIA community—must continue to be resilient, supportive, and engaged with our brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings. Because until we get there, until there comes a time when there is no tolerance for sexual assault and when victims do not feel they have to hide in the shadows, no one is safe.

And of many other things, the LGBTQIA community should be able to rely on each and every member for safety.

This month, About Magazine will be running a series of stories from victims of sexual assault, as well as informative articles about the prevalence of sexual assault, why the LGBTQIA community is so desensitized to it, why among gay men the lines seem to be more blurred (hint: they’re not and shouldn’t be), and much more. And this won’t be a one-off sort of thing. As long as there is sexual assault happening around the world, we will continue to talk about it, because time really is up for the disgusting men of the world who have led so many of us to a place where we can say (or where we’re too afraid to say), “Yeah. Me, too.”

Anthony Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief

You can donate to RAINN and learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month here.