In Focus :The Journey of Trans Man Damien Montoya
(Photo credits : Aiden Faiella)
Today, we sat down with Damien Montoya for Transgender Awareness Week 2018 to chat about his journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance. We asked him about his story and the struggles he faced along the way, we asked him to help shed light about what it means to be a transgender, and for his advice for transgender individuals out there who may be struggling with their own journey.
Damien very graciously accepted our request for interview and we couldn’t be thankful enough. Before we give you Damien though, we would like to leave first this quote from his Huffington Post article which left a lasting impression on us, probably because it gave us a glimpse of the pain he kept deep inside him for a long, long time.
The quote reads: “It’s not that I was a little girl who just wanted to be a boy. Every single cell in my body was telling me that I was a boy. I would have vivid dreams that this were true, only to wake up and stare in the mirror in disbelief. It made me want to crawl out of my skin and cry. But I felt like I had no options, that no one would ever take me seriously. So, I repressed these feelings for a long time.”
Adam4Adam (A4A): Please tell us something about yourself. What you do, what are your hobbies, your dreams and passions in life?
Damien: My name is Damien “Phoenix” Montoya and I am a 26-year-old transgender male. I work full-time as a supervisor for an animal care facility. I have a passion for fitness; therefore, I work out at the gym 5-6 times a week. I meal prep and intermittently fast throughout the work week. On weekends however, I am a totally different person. I like to go out and be social in whatever form that may be. My activities range from day hiking, mini-golf, theme parks, to bar crawls, night clubs, and parties. My dream is to model full-time and travel all over the world doing photoshoots.
A4A: Do you have any dreams that have already been realized or accomplishments you are proud of that you would like to share with us?
Damien: While I have not quite reached my end goal of full-time modeling, I have accomplished a lot in the short amount of time that I have been pursuing it. This past year, I walked for Marco Marco Underwear during New York Fashion Week. That was probably the peak of my career so far. I was invited to participate in Mr. Trans USA, which is having its first run through next year in the Fall of 2019. I was recently featured in a Huffington Post article where I talked about my experience coming out at work. From that I scored a radio talk show interview with Radio Pride here in Worcester MA. It’s all been happening so fast, it is surreal, and I am beyond excited to see where it takes me next!
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Hopefully I can get a better video soon. But here’s my runway walk for @marcomarcounderwear ! Words cannot describe how amazing these past few days have been. I am beyond thankful for this incredible opportunity, and to have met such beautiful people along the way. This is definitely going to be a weekend I will never forget. Thank you to everyone who helped put this show together, and to Marco himself for representing the trans community in such an empowering way. And thank you to all my supporters and followers from the bottom of my heart. I never could have done this without all of you! 💙 Video Credit: @ravenjadeking 😘 . . . #nyfw #newyork #fashionweek #runway #runwaymodel #runwaywalk #catwalk #fashionshow #mensunderwear #underwearmodel #menswear #mensfashion #mensstyle #newyorkmodels #newenglandmodel #fitnessmodel #transmodel #ftmmodel #ftm #transgender #community #represent #thisiswhattranslookslike #transisbeautiful #transpride #mtf #lgbtq #lgbtpride #ftmfitness #grateful
A4A: What does transgender mean?
Damien: To be transgender means that the gender you identify with does not align with the sex you were given at birth. The pathway to transitioning however, is different for everyone. Some may deny their gender identity their entire lives and never live to see themselves transition. Others might pursue hormone replacement therapy, but not surgery, and vice-versa. It’s truly a personal journey, and not any two transitions are the same.
A4A: Please share with us the first moment you knew your gender didn’t match your body. How old were you then?
Damien: I was about five years old when I realized that something was wrong. I wouldn’t quite say that I knew my gender didn’t match my body, because I was too young to understand such a concept. But I identified more with the boys I interacted with; I played with dinosaurs and Legos as opposed to Barbies. I dressed masculine, usually in t-shirts and basketball shorts. I have a very specific memory from when I was about that age of telling my older half-brother that I wanted to be a boy. He then proceeded to tell our cousin who was there, and they both laughed at me.
A4A: What was your journey to becoming your authentic self like?
Damien: For years I repressed my feelings of being transgender. I would get ridiculed and made fun of whenever I would try to express them, so I learned to deny them instead. In high school I became severely depressed and still couldn’t come to terms with why. I knew the term “transgender,” but I did not fully understand the transition process until I met other transgender people in college, where I had moved onto an LGBTQIA+/Allies exclusive floor during my freshman year. There, I was educated about the process and less than a year later, I began the journey myself. It was scary and nerve-wracking, but I knew I had to do it to be my authentic self, and therefore be happy.
A4A: What are the struggles that you faced before and after your transition?
Damien: Before I transitioned, I struggled with depression a lot. There were days that I just could not get out of bed for the life of me. I would eat a lot and ended up gaining a lot of weight in high school. I was not motivated for sports or any kind of physical activity. It was a tough time in my life. After transitioning, I struggled with dysphoria, and getting misgendered a lot in the beginning. I was itching for the hormones to start taking effect, and to get top surgery done. I would say the first two years after starting my transition were the toughest. I just wanted to look in the mirror and be happy. Luckily, these feelings would dissipate as I started hormones 6 months after coming out at age 19, and got my top surgery done a year later.
A4A: What are the challenges that you face as a trans man?
Damien: As a “passing” white-appearing transman, I feel like I honestly don’t face many challenges in my day-to-day life, which I am very fortunate to be able to say. Most people look at me and don’t think twice about my gender and assume that I am cisgendered. I don’t really experience dysphoria very often, but when I do, it usually has to do with the bathroom. I don’t really get nervous using the men’s room anymore, unless it is in a place that is particularly crowded. In those cases, I’ll experience stress wondering if stalls will be available, since I am unable to urinate standing up, or if other men question why I go into the stalls just to urinate. But this is a very small fraction of my time. Other challenges might include overhearing people talking badly about transgender people or other members of the LGBTQIA+ community and wondering if I should speak up. Along those lines I also get a lot of hate through social media. I have never had anything bad said to my face but feeling safer to do so from the anonymity of the internet, people say some hateful things towards me. I just brush it off because I know that most of the hate is from a place of their own personal insecurities and possibly even jealousy. It says more about them, than it does about me.
A4A: Did you ever experience bullying at work or at school?
Damien: In high school I was bullied because of my masculine appearance and my sexual orientation. It was usually when I was walking to and from the buses. People would yell things at the window. I was intimidating, so I was rarely bullied to my face. I have never been bullied at work.
A4A: When did you come out and what was it like coming out to friends and family?
Damien: I officially came out as transgender to my friends and family when I was 19 years old, a sophomore in college. Coming out to my friends was easy as most of them saw it coming anyway. I went to school at UMass Amherst and luckily everyone there was really accepting. My mom was surprisingly shocked at first. She said that she didn’t see it coming, but I think a lot of that has to do with denial. The only thing that really changed at first was how people addressed me. I was already as masculine-appearing as I could be without the intervention of hormone therapy. I got a lot of resistance from my father at first. It took him at least 2-3 years to start using the proper pronouns and my chosen name. If anyone else in my family had an issue with it, they kept it to themselves and I have never had a confliction with anyone about it. My younger siblings were probably the easiest to tell, surprisingly. My little sister was 9 years old at the time, and she said, “Oh, Damien was always my brother. I am happy that now I get to call him that.” It was sweet. I feel like children that young have not learned to discriminate yet, and they take your word at face value. They believed me and accepted it almost instantly.
A4A: Are you dating someone right now?
Damien: I am currently single. About a month ago I came out of a two-year engagement. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, but it was for the best. Luckily, I am at a point in my life where I am more confident and comfortable in my body than I have ever been. I have also recently come to terms with my attraction to people of all genders, so I consider myself pansexual (someone who is sexually attracted to someone’s soul, regardless of their genitalia, or gender identity). I am excited to explore this side of myself and enjoy the bachelor life while it lasts!
A4A: What are the dating struggles that you face as a trans man? If you have one dating advice, what would it be?
Damien: Before I was so open about my transition, the toughest part about dating was deciding when to tell the other person that I am, in fact, transgender. I was always afraid to tell people right off the bat because I did not want them to dismiss me right away. I wanted to give them a chance to get to know who I was as a person before I dropped that bomb. But now I put it right out there on my social media and dating profiles so that it cannot be missed. So far it has not seemed to deter anyone, which I am pleased to say. Any advice I would give is to just hold off on the transition-related questions for a little while. Ask us questions that you would ask any cisgendered person first, get to know us. Then, if the person is comfortable, you can start to ask questions about the transition process if you’re curious. But please do not ask about our genitals first thing either. We will most likely tell you that situation on our own if we feel the need. Be considerate, gentle, and never press the issue. If we don’t want to answer, we do not have to.
A4A: What is it like to live as a trans man in the LGBTQ+ community?
Damien: Being a trans man in the LGBTQ+ community has its ups and downs. I get a lot of messages from people all over the world letting me know how much of an inspiration I have been to them, or that I’ve helped them come to terms with certain things. And that is always wonderful to hear. I have recently surrounded myself with a new brotherhood of other trans men who have similar struggles. It’s great to feel like I belong somewhere with like-minded people. But then I also get a lot of criticism from within the LGBTQ+ community. People say that I conform too much, that I pressure other trans men to look like me, that I am just looking for attention, that I give in to heteronormative ideals, and a whole plethora of other things. Again, I think a lot of that comes from a place of personal insecurity, so I try not to take it personally. I don’t look the way I do to conform to anything. I take pride in my physique, as it comes from a lot of hard work, and I like to look manicured, it’s just a personal preference. When I look good, I feel good, and that is huge coming from someone who literally used to hate looking in the mirror. I don’t want to be judged just as much as the next LGBTQIA-identifying person. I am just out here trying to pay it forward, to represent and advocate for the community that has given me so much.
A4A: What advice would you give to transgender people out there who are struggling with self-acceptance?
Damien: My advice to other transgender individuals out there who may be struggling is just to keep pushing. I know that there are going to be days that you don’t want to leave your house, or even your bed. It may feel like the world is on your shoulders and it will never let up, but I promise you it will. It’s tough to give advice because I know that when you are struggling, you just don’t want to hear it. But I have been through it, and I made it out on the other side stronger and a better man than I ever would have been if I was born cisgendered. Don’t think of being trans as a curse, because it is in fact, a gift. Being able to defy adversity and be your authentic self in this world is an amazing feat of bravery and strength. If I can do it, you can too. Not only can you survive, but you can thrive in this life. Stay true to yourself and keep moving forward.
A4A: Do you have a message for the LGBT community?
Damien: My message for the LGBTQIA+ community is to stand collected. We are all in this together and there truly is strength in numbers. We need to stop nitpicking at each other and band together as a group, no matter what letter we identify with. Remember, just because you identify as an LBGTQIA+ person does not mean you are immune to discrimination. Be kind, have an open mind, and stand up when you see bigotry in action. You never know when you could literally be saving someone’s life.
Very well said, Damien, we couldn’t agree with you more! To know more about Damien, visit him on his Instagram @phoenix_montoya and don’t forget to swing by at Adam4Adam’s official Instagram account @adam4adamofficial while you are at it.