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Poet-Rapper-Artist Mykki Blanco: I’m Living With HIV

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Mykki Blanco, the poet-rapper-performance-artist hyphenate, who alternately identifies as transgender and multigendered, revealed Saturday that he is living with HIV.

“I’ve been HIV Positive since 2011, my entire career,” he wrote on his Facebook account. “F— stigma and hiding in the dark, this is my real life.”

Blanco explained that he decided to come clean as a way of living up to his artistic and personal ideals. “I’m healthy I’ve toured the world 3 times but ive been living in the dark, its time to actually be as punk as i say I am,” he wrote. He added later in response to a fan, “I just cant be an image living in fear having people call me brave and it being a lie.”

Blanco, who grew up in Harlem and whose real name is Michael Quattlebaum Jr., considers his music to be a product of the Riot Grrl movement and counts among his influences diverse artists including Kathleen Hanna, Lauryn Hill, Marilyn Manson, and Lil’ Kim. He took his stage name from Lil’ Kim’s alter ego, Kimmy Blanco.

His confession was met with words of support from fans. “You make me so proud with everything you do,” one wrote. “You are a hero and a warrior,” another added.

Photos: Meet Transgender America

Laverne Cox Laverne Cox grew up in Mobile, Ala., a town where she recalls everybody being in everybody else’s business. In third grade, after a teacher saw Cox flitting a handheld fan like Scarlett O’Hara, she called Cox’s mother with a message: your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress. That moment, Cox says, was “profoundly shaming.” Cox later attempted suicide in sixth grade. Her lonely youth started to change when she went to an arts academy for high school and then on to New York City, where she became an actor, landing a featured role in Netflix’s hit Orange Is the New Black. “I absolutely have a lot of work that I still have to do around shame, lingering shame from childhood,” she says. “It’s a struggle every day, to stay present, not to become that, you know, eight-year-old who was bullied and chased home from school.” Gillian Laub for TIME
Laverne Cox Laverne Cox poses for a portrait while on her way to an event in New York City.Gillian Laub for TIME
Paisley Currah Paisley Currah made the decision to transition after he had already become a tenured political science professor at the Brooklyn College, City University of New York. “It’s hard to get fired when you have tenure, but even in that situation I was nervous about it,” Currah says. It went relatively smoothly, much like his childhood in the “gender-free culture” of the 1970s, when there were fewer rules about how young ladies were expected to act. Like many other trans men, he says that his path, though trying, has been an easier one than those trans women have to walk. “The culture tends to assign more authority and gravitas to men,” says Currah, noting that he gets fewer late papers now than when he appeared female. “It makes me think a lot about the pervasiveness of sexism.” Gillian Laub for TIME
Jamie Ewing Jamie Ewing served in the Army and then the National Guard for five years—until November 2013, when she says she was discharged for being transgender. (The military does not allow trans people to serve openly.) Ewing is now working as a defense contractor, getting paid much more for similar work. “I would trade my current job in a heartbeat for the Army if it meant I could wear a uniform again," she says. “It's all about that sense of serving my country.” In her current role, she interacts with many of the same commanders she worked with while in uniform. "They know me. They know my work ethic and skill sets, and they have no issues,” the 28-year-old says. “I'm still the same person." Gillian Laub for TIME
Cassidy Lynn Campbell Cassidy Lynn Campbell learned at a young age that she identified as a girl. But she was ostracized by her peers when she showed up in middle school wearing long hair and girl jeans. After pretending to be gay through most of school, a decision she says instantly made her friends, Campbell finally came out as transgender at the beginning of her senior year. Her classmates in the conservative California town of Huntington Beach turned around and elected the 17-year-old homecoming queen. Her father, who still introduces her as his son Lance, hasn’t been so accepting. “I wish he could see me as what I want him to see me,” she says.Gillian Laub for TIME
Cassidy Lynn Campbell Cassidy Lynn Campbell poses with her friend Victoria Avalos, 18, who has also transitioned from male to female. Gillian Laub for TIME
Ashton Lee After coming out to his family at the beginning of sophomore year at Manteca High School, Lee started collecting signatures to support a California bill that would ensure his right to use the boys’ bathroom and play on boys’ sports teams at his school. The measure, the first of its kind in the U.S., was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. “People used to shove me in the hallways and call me names,” he says. But that’s changed with the new law. “People have been standing down and backing off,” he says, “because they know they’ll get in trouble.”Gillian Laub for TIME
Rose Hayes Rose Hayes, a software engineering director at Google, quickly lost her wife of nearly 23 years when she came out a few years ago. But despite a painful divorce, she says her life is generally much happier. “There’s no comparison,” she says. “There are so few pictures of me smiling from before … and my ability to interact with people, I don’t have this veil in between me and them that used to be there.” Before identifying as transgender, Hayes went through phases of identifying as queer, bisexual and gay. She says that she isn’t a different person now than when she understood herself to be a male, just a more fully realized one. “Yes, my center of gravity moved from that tiny area it was trapped in, but that tiny area is still part of me.”Gillian Laub for TIME

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