By Basil Soper
On Monday, October 24, 2016, an 18-year-old transgender girl said she experienced a feeling of "nothing but love and support" when her North Carolina high school announced that she was homecoming queen. Selena Milian had recently won the popular vote for the school award at Overhills High School in Spring Lake, NC the previous week—on Friday, October 21st.
It’s believed that Selena, who is also Native American, is the first transgender homecoming queen to be crowned in the state of North Carolina. Selena acquired the crown in the face of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s H.B. 2—the infamous bill that dismisses transgender individuals from using public bathrooms within the state. The law has generated a gust of lawsuits involving the state, which have been the site of national news for the past several months. Major repercussions have also come in from the NCAA, large corporations, and a bevy of civil rights groups who have condemned the law as blatantly transphobic.
During her four years of high school, Selena has fallen into the role of educator. She explained, “When I first came out as a freshman, I was not allowed to wear dresses. I’ve had to stand up for myself everyday and correct people in every part of my school.” And for all that emotional energy, Selena still describes herself as a “social butterfly,” which she attributes to her transition, and which she also believes gave her the power to change hearts and minds. “I was really depressed and had to go to therapy but transitioning gave me more confidence and then I became more involved in school activities, like plays and the modeling troupe I was in,” she went on to say, “This is a military-based town so it’s not always the most welcoming for trans people, but that hasn’t stopped me from being myself.”
Selena’s work has helped her form allies at school but she still faces discrimination in other areas. She recently had to leave her job due to discriminatory practices, “My co-workers regularly outed me in front of customers and used my wrong name and pronouns. I couldn’t deal with the negativity anymore.”
According to a recent report, the number of transgender killings in the U.S. has hit a record high. Lead members of Congress have had to respond to the pattern of heartbreak with a forum on transgender violence. Unsurprisingly, trans women of color are most impacted by the violence. In light of the nationally-reported struggles that so many transgender people face each day, Selena was surprised the local media in her town didn’t report on her becoming homecoming queen: “I felt like this should be more publicized. Trans people exist and we are people. We are not recognized enough. They just think the typical Jerry Springer story—they think negative things. We are more than those stereotypes.”
Selena is confident that her triumphs will be helpful to those struggling with being trans in their hometowns. “After I was crowned someone at my school came up to me and came out as a trans man. He said that what I did was really going to open up doors. “Selena’s victory has occurred only a few years after the suicide of NC’s first transgender prom king Blake Brockington. Politically, North Carolina as a whole is divided and a landmine for civil rights issues including racial justice and the full spectrum of rights for LGBT people. Blake was from Charlotte, NC which was a city that kick-started the HB2 legislation and recently has been the center for the movement of black lives due to the murder of Keith Lamont Scott. With all of the challenges a transgender person faces, especially one of color, in North Carolina, Selena’s win is a triumph for transgender youth throughout the state but also throughout the nation.
When the homecoming queen is not thinking about being trans and the issues surrounding how the world treats her or the bigotry she faces, Selena focuses on your typical teenage stuff. Next year, she plans to get on hormones, go to school for cosmetology, and to do tutorials online for other trans women. Selena credits YouTube as a source for helping her figure out who she is. “I had never hung out with another trans person in real life so I got a lot of help and support by watching videos on YouTube.”
More than anything, she wants to be given an opportunity to advocate for transgender people. “Being crowned homecoming queen was just the first step. I want to help my community and continue to make a difference.”
Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is the founder of the traveling trans documentary project Transilient. He’s also an astrology enthusiast who lives in Brooklyn, NY (surprising!) with his partner, Jo, and pets. Basil’s life goals are to write a memoir and to meet Beyonce.