From where he spoke, the then-teenager recognized his tormentors in the audience: fellow classmates at Christopher High School in Gilroy. As Maxx D’Elia recounted the times he was referred to as, “He-she,” “It,” and “She-male,” he saw his peers sinking ever lower in their seats, as if weighted by their guilt and shame.
D’Elia, who now lives in Hollister, shared with BenitoLink his journey as a transgender male and the signifance of Pride Month, the yearly celebration of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning community that has occurred every June in the United States since 1970.
D’Elia was eight years old when he realized that the female body he was born into was not the one he felt comfortable in.
“My class was told to line up, with boys on one side and girls on the other,” he said.
Naturally, he gravitated towards the boys’ group, but was told repeatedly by the teacher that’s not where he belonged.
So began a decades-long road to self-discovery.
In middle school, D’Elia told his parents that he was transgender, a term that he learned online in a community that he befriended in chat rooms. His parents dismissed their son’s description of himself, casting blame on the internet for the masculine mannerisms D’Elia began openly exhibiting.
Classmates ridiculed the transgender youth’s behavior. Lacking parental and peer support, he began suffering from depression and engaging in self-harm, common mental health issues among transgender youth.
“It’s like you’re stuck in this hole,” the 25-year-old D’elia said when describing his bout with mental illness. “Each time you try to climb the ladder you just fall back down.”
The taunting, bullying and harassment only intensified when D’Elia stepped foot on the Christopher High campus. But the offensive remarks and rolling eyes were blunted by D’Elia’s friendship with other LGBTQ classmates, his membership in the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club, a collection of supportive teachers, and a growing sense of self-confidence which enabled him to speak at public events about his gender identity.
After high school, D’Elia put off college and delved deeper into his sense of self, eventually changing his name and gender on legal documents and physically transitioning to male by undergoing testosterone treatment and top-half surgery.
Now at ease with the reflection he saw in the mirror, D’Elia enrolled in Gavilan College and began looking forward to the future, something his younger self didn’t believe was possible.
He recently completed his Associates of Arts degree and is now making plans to attend university where he will major in both special education and psychology, two disciplines close to his heart.
D’Elia is currently the special education paraeducator for the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, working one-on-one with special needs students at San Juan School. He hopes someday to be a special education teacher. And with plans for a psychology degree, D’Elia wants to start a nonprofit to allow those in need of mental health treatment to receive it for free.
In addition to his work with the school district, D’Elia has served as a mentor at the county’s LGBTQ Youth Resource Center for the past year, where he draws on his experiences to help those navigating the often turbulent waters of identity.
Asked what advice he would give to today’s LGBTQ teens, he said, “There’s more to life than what you’re doing in middle school or high school. And the challenges you face today are only stepping stones to a greater understanding of yourself.”
He lamented that the county’s shelter-in-place order has added an extra layer of isolation for these youth, as the resource center, often the only safe space for them, has been closed for months. D’Elia is currently collaborating with Safe Space—an extension of the LGBTQ Youth Space of Santa Clara County that meets at the Gilroy Library—to provide LGBTQ youth in San Benito County an opportunity to connect with others through teleconferencing.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pride Month, a period marked by celebration and recognition of the LGBTQ community’s history and experiences in the U.S. Parades in large cities such as San Francisco, the unfurling of rainbow colored flags, television specials highlighting LGBTQ contributions, and LGBTQ-friendly marketing campaigns by much of corporate America have come to define Pride Month.
While he strongly supports Pride Month, D’Elia believes that 30 days is not enough.
“It’s nice to have acknowledgment, but we in the LGBTQ community don’t go away when the month is over. We’re still here and deserve the same respect as everyone else,” he said.
On more than one occasion, D’Elia has come face-to-face with a former high school classmate whose daily taunts nearly broke an already fragile adolescent. These awkward reunions usually begin with an apology from the one-time harasser and end with a warm embrace initiated by the one who endured the disparaging comments and ridicule.
“It’s important to show kindness, compassion and love,” D’Elia explained.
And reflecting on his life, he added: “Things are great now. I’m very proud of who I am and take pride in my journey.”
LGBTQ resources provided by Maxx D’Elia:
Human Rights Campaign, “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality.”
The Trevor Project—“The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.” 1-866-488-7386
It Gets Better Project—“A nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth around the globe.”
Brown Boi Project—“A community of people working across race and gender to eradicate sexism, homophobia and transphobia and create healthy frameworks of masculinity and change.”
To Write Love On Her Arms—“A non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”
Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center of San Jose—“This group is striving to become the community’s premier resource hub and a recognized leader in promoting health, strength, diversity and inclusiveness.”
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