Call him Leon.  Only seventeen years old and having just graduated from Desert Hot Springs High School in early June, 2015, Leon Arthur Garcia is living his truth in a profound way.  Like many, he had childhood hopes and dreams for his future, considering he might like to grow up to be an attorney because it would be a very lucrative career.  But to the rest of the world, Leon was perceived as a little girl and not the boy who would grow up to become the young man he is today.

An only child raised by a single mom, Leon has spent his entire life in the Coachella Valley.  He thinks he was no older than eight when he last saw his father, and says he not had powerful male role models in his life, and believes quite strongly that his masculine identity has come from within.

“Did you feel different as a kid,” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he responded.  “To begin with, I think I knew too much.  I wasn’t interested in being a normal girl playing with a Barbie.  I wasn’t afraid of things other girls were afraid of….  At my elementary school I would tell teachers and other kids, ‘I am me but I will change.’”  He would say, “There is too much testosterone in my body,” and now asks himself, “How did I know that at the age of six without anyone telling me?”

“Before I knew Trans (being transgender) was a thing, I was attracted to women and identified as a lesbian,” he says.  “I didn’t need to come out as lesbian because, for the most part, everyone knew I was attracted to women, and I was much too tomboyish for your average middle-school girl.”

His aha moment (which defines as “a point in time, event, or experience in which one has a sudden insight or realization”) came when he stumbled across and viewed on a social network a short documentary about “a male to female transgender little girl.”  He thought, “Wow. There’s actually a name for what I feel.”

This was less than four years ago when he was just 14.  How would he talk about this with his single, conservative, Latina mom?

“I never really said ‘I’m Trans’ because my mother is Mexican and doesn’t really know anything about LGBT,” says Leon.  He recounted a conversation in which his mom would ask, “Why are you always in your room shirtless?”

He wanted to do what boys do, and his mom wanted him to do what girls do.  At age 15, he explains, “I basically told my mom, ‘I’m not a girl,” and he ultimately said something like, “If you can’t get on board with my transition you will be left in the dust.”

Who in Leon’s family has been supportive?

“Is it bad that I can’t answer that question?  I really don’t know anyone.”  After some thought, he named his Aunt Claudia, and explains his mom has come a long way as well.  “My mom’s great. I admire her too. She’s been my mom and my dad, but she can’t really wrap her head around this Trans thing.”

Did he come out as transgender at school, and if so, how?

“One day I showed up to school with shorter hair, and the next month, even shorter hair.  People still called me by my birth name, but I stopped answering.  Adult wise,” he adds, “a lot of people said, ‘you’re too young to decide’ or ‘You don’t really know what you want’ or ‘you’re too pretty to cut your hair.’ Basically, from zero to 100, I showed up at school with short hair and said, ‘Hey, I’m Leo,’” which he later adapted to his preferred name.  Call him Leon, not Leo.

Call him Leon, not Leo.

One of my favorite sayings is “And more shall be revealed” as was the case for Leon when he came to be mentored by local transgender activist Thomi Clinton.  There was a time when Leon was feeling suicidal, and he was connected to Thomi by someone he confided in.  About finally having a personal mentor and role model, Leon says, “I definitely felt less alone.  I think of all the people in my life, Thomi is one of the best all-around people I know.”

Leon and his Sheroe, Thomi Clinton, follow Madonna's advice and “Strike a pose!”

Leon says, “PS I love you because…”

  1. …you’re sunny, and I love how full of life you are, with the Street Fair on Thursdays, and so many other attractions.
  2. …of the open LGBT spaces and all the drag queen shows.
  3. …I love to eat at Lulu’s.  I love the atmosphere, how friendly everyone is, the ambience, and of course, the good food.
  4. …because you’re hot and sexy.  I love the heat, and going to eat ice cream and frozen yogurt because of it.

Not unlike the little girl he was perceived to be, the young man Leon is has hopes and dreams as well.

“I want to be the parent who is willing to say, ‘Yes. I’m okay with having a Trans kid.’  If I were my mom and my kid was Trans, I would take them to therapy…  I want to be everything I never had…”

Leon poses with his high school counselor, Vera, at his June 2015 graduation ceremony.

He also simply wants to be himself, which is the dilemma in this writer’s opinion, for transgender individuals.  In order to raise consciousness, many transgender individuals are choosing to come out publicly and to reveal their deepest selves, as is Leon.  He’s never done an interview like this before.  But he’s clear this (publicly identifying as transgender) is just a phase.  He is willingly expressing this truth, he explains, “to put a face and a name to it now, but in the future I would rather be presented as just a regular ol’ young man.”

“I think this whole Bruce/Caitlyn thing is definitely the best thing I have going for myself in terms of social media,” says Leon.  “The Kardashians are huge icons in society and online, so for someone that big to come out as Trans is like shining the best light on giving us visibility and raising awareness.”

In conclusion, Leon says, “I think people need to always remember that I didn’t choose to be transgender, and no one chooses to be transgender.  They just are.  I would not have chosen the hurdles, struggles, stigma,” adding with a laugh, “the smaller dating pool.  This is not a choice.  It just is.”

To all parents, Leon says, “I think there’s a million things worse that your kid could be.  It’s not a punishment from God or from any sort of higher power.  In fact, we’re kind of like a lesson about the human body.  For instance, my mom, it took her a lot of time to be where she’s at with my transition.  She has grown as a person.  She has learned the world will not end because I’m not her little girl.  I am a lesson for her.  Having a transgender person in your life is a gift and a lesson about how to be a better person all around.”

I am incredibly moved by the opportunity to have interviewed Leon, and I am sure I can say wholeheartedly on behalf of our entire community, that we love Leon as well—and celebrate everyone in our community working tirelessly (and successfully so) to transform humanity.

The good news as evidenced in so many profound ways—especially at this point in history—is that like Leon and all current and past champions of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, we are expressing our truth more than ever, humanity is evolving, and we are beginning to know what it is like to truly and simply just be.

The #MyVanityFairCover images were created on behalf of Leon by the gracious Paulina Angel.

To every other transgender person out there, to all the transgender and LGBTQ-questioning youth anywhere, and to all LGBTQ allies and champions—past, present and future—I celebrate all of you.

Oh, the final reason Leon loves Palm Springs, he says…  “You transformed me into the man I am today.”


Check out the Coachella Valley-based Transgender Community Coalition (formerly Transgender Day of Remembrance-Palm Springs), devoting its energy to passionately advocate for the Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Gender Non-Conforming, and socially and politically underrepresented members of our community.

And if you read this before June 28, 2015, celebrate with the community at the inaugural Trans-Pride Picnic, a potluck at Ruth Hardy Park from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Want to be featured in the “PS I l love you because…” column?

To be considered, email me (Nicholas Snow, your top five answers (they can be short or long) to the statement, “PS I love you because…” and/or “PS I love you because I enjoy…”, along with two or three biographical paragraphs.  Also, send some photos of things you love about the area including, ideally, you doing something you love in the area. Your submission does not guarantee publication.  Thanks!