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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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

Fabio Solórzano Quesada
Fabio Solórzano Quesada
Fabio Solórzano Quesada es un costarricense graduado de la United World College Maastricht, Holanda, en el año 2021. Fabio ha sido aceptado y becado para asistir al Connecticut College de Estados Unidos, donde cursará estudios en Biología Molecular. Él es un hombre trans. / Fabio Solórzano Quesada is a Costa Rican graduated from United World College Maastricht, Holland, in 2021. Fabio has been accepted and received a scholarship to attend Connecticut College in the United States, where he will study Molecular Biology. He is a trans man.

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.

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