‘For my whole life, my existence has been invalidated’

As I was completing my Common App as a part of the university admissions process, I couldn’t help but glance at the message saying “Welcome, Fabiola.” I wish I could genuinely say I feel no connection to the name, but I would be lying. The truth is, I am and will be connected to it for a long time. When I see that name, however, I feel like I’m writing about someone I don’t know, or at least someone I don’t know anymore.

When I see the name Fabiola, I am filled with pain and shame. I am not ashamed of who I used to be, but the name brings back a plethora of memories I would rather forget. Memories of beatings, slurs, and insults, all in response to me simply living as myself.

I am transgender, and for my whole life, my existence has been invalidated.

Fabio sightseeing in the Netherlands. Courtesy of Fabio Solórzano Quesada / El Colectivo 506.

Every time I get on a plane, have a doctor’s appointment or go to a family dinner, I am reminded of someone I no longer am. It hurts to still feel a connection to my  birth name. Every time it is used, it still burns like a fresh cut.

When I was 12 years old I came out as transgender to my very Catholic family in Costa Rica,  a developing country where topics such as transgenderism are almost completely ignored. Of course, the outcome of this conversation was not a very positive one. Having to attend a Catholic School did not make my situation any better. I went from having a large group of friends to only having three, and talking to a nun so she could “fix” my problems. I was told by my own principal that I needed psychological help. I did get help, but not for the reasons the principal meant: not so that I could be “fixed,” but so that I could learn how to live happily in a world where I was consistently shamed for my existence.

After two years of living in this situation and feeling immensely sad, I realized I needed to be in an environment where I was accepted for who I am. I finally decided I deserved something better for myself, and I worked incredibly hard for it. I recognized that I deserved to be comfortable and feel accepted in my own home. Even though it was incredibly difficult for me, I decided to try to educate my parents and to have challenging but necessary conversations with them. After a long and rough process, my parents became my biggest supporters.

Students at the UWC Maastricht in the Netherlands rise the diversity flag at the campus. Courtesy of Fabio Solórzano Quesada / El Colectivo 506.

Although my parents accepted me, my school didn’t. As such, I applied to three different schools and was pleased to find out I was accepted into United World College Maastricht in the Netherlands. It felt as if after feeling like I was drowning for so long someone had finally grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the water, I was able to take a breath.

After arriving at UWC and being overwhelmed with acceptance and respect from my teachers and friends, I was finally able to understand that there is no shame in being who I am. I am done with feeling shame and pain for Fabiola, because it is thanks to their strength and resilience that I am where I am today. Every insult, every blow, every stare has only made me feel stronger. Whatever I do will not erase the fact that I carry a piece of Fabiola everywhere I go, but that does not make me her.

When I read “Welcome, Fabiola,” as I write my Common App, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Even though I have come very far from where I started, my identity still feels invalidated.  My name is Fabio. I hope that someday, when I log into an official platform, I will be welcomed that way.