Living Transgender in Boulder County: Self-love is the easy part, but true alliance can be hard to find

From TYES of Colorado: TYES is grateful to Alex Burness at the Daily Camera for his well researched, sensitive and thoughtful article that featured adults, youth, parents, siblings, and allies of the Boulder trans* community, including TYES. Our outreach is statewide and our wonderful families support each other through the network of Colorado PFLAG chapters. For more information, conact your local PFLAG, or reach out to us by email ( or on our support line (720-443-7708). An excerpt from the article:

Shannon Axe, 14, left, laughs with her friend Emily Soder, 15, while shopping at the FlatIron Crossing mall in Broomfield on Tuesday.

Shannon Axe, 14, left, laughs with her friend Emily Soder, 15, while shopping at the FlatIron Crossing mall in Broomfield on Tuesday.

Before her third birthday, Shannon Axe already had an inkling that something was off.

She was born male but, even as a toddler, never felt comfortable with gendered clothing or toys, and didn’t like being called by her birth name.

The word “transgender” was still years away from entering her lexicon, but, by kindergarten, she was certain that’s what she was.

“People say, ‘Oh, that’s too young,” said Shannon, now 14 and midway through eighth grade at Boulder’s Horizons charter school. “But if you realize something this important, you know who you are. And I knew I was a girl.”

As Shannon’s self-awareness grew, so did her suffering, even if she couldn’t articulate it as such. She was angrier and hobbled by self-doubt. Her mother, Karen Axe, recalled those early elementary years as “a drowning.”

One day shortly after Shannon turned 7, her mother, who’d been researching gender identity and piecing together clues, turned to her on the ride home from gymnastics practice and asked point-blank, “Are you a girl?”

Shannon knew the answer to that one.

“I said, ‘Mommy, I am a girl!,’ It was in our minivan, and I was in my gymnastics uniform. I was 7 years old, and I’d known since I was 5.”

The two drove back to their home in Highlands Ranch, and a euphoric Shannon rushed upstairs to throw on one of her older sister’s dresses.

“I’ve been trying for seven years to try to put into words the experience of being in a room when a transgender child is permitted to be themselves for the first time,” Karen Axe said, “and I can’t do it because it is so overwhelmingly powerful. It’s like going to Disneyworld for a month, and amplifying it times a million.”

“It’s like fireworks,” Shannon added.

That feeling is one to which many transgender people say they can relate. However, the elation often precedes a period — and, for some, a lifetime — of struggling to fit into a society still barely warm to the idea that one’s gender identity and physical appearance do not always mesh.

Even in Boulder County and other progressive pockets of Colorado, where 2014 will be remembered as a year of enormous progress toward “L”, “G” and “B” equality — through same-sex marriages, most notably — many communities are still nowhere near ready to broach the matter of “T” with much literacy.

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