Mr. Love had just been forced into an ambulance and taken to a mental health center in Fresno after writing a suicide note to a few friends.
A therapist called for an involuntary psychiatric hold. When the 21-year-old student arrived at the institution in July, he was scared. People were screaming and “seeing things.”
But it wasn’t until he looked down at the plastic medical bracelet that had been wrapped around his wrist that he broke down.
“They were like, ‘I’m sorry but we have to put your birth name on this.’ And I just started crying,” he said. “In the institution, I kept having to defend my name. I said, ‘You need to call me this – not that. You don’t get it.’ ”
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The name on the bracelet wasn’t his anymore. It was a long Aztec name given to him by his parents that means “goddess of music and dance” in Nahuatl. It was the name he used to see written on his desk in school growing up in conservative Clovis. It was the name he went by at Folklorico dance lessons his parents signed him up for, where he wore big ruffled dresses and curled his hair.
It was the name given to him when he was welcomed into the world as a little girl.
What’s in a name?
“You have to realize every time you say it, it’s going to be like knives to the heart,” Love says of his birth name. He asked for it not to be printed.
In the transgender community, it’s known as a “dead name” and is tied to a person’s life before they transitioned or came out of the closet. It’s meant to be left behind.
Now, he most often introduces himself as “Mr. Love” or simply, “Love.” At Starbucks, he’s usually “Alex” in order to avoid a conversation about his unusual name.
“Alex is gender neutral,” he says. “And Love doesn’t have a gender.”
While changing his name may seem like a struggle in itself, he says it helps him avoid feeling dehumanized when people struggle to use the right pronoun or do not call him by the right name.
“I get upset because a lot of people try to say that I’m a ‘they, them, they’re.’ And I’m not,” he said. “I’m a he/him/his.”
Love says for him and his transitioning process, it’s the little things that mean the most – like not being questioned at the barbershop or a waitress calling him, “sir.”
I didn’t ask for this life. I didn’t choose it. I really didn’t.
Mr. Love, Fresno State student
With the help of Fresno State’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center, Love was able to get his student ID remade with his new name for free. For most students, a swipe of the plastic card doesn’t mean much more than access to meals or grades or events. But for Love, it’s a big step in the right direction.
“I feel so much better. I’m finally completely switching over,” he said. “What this card means now is that at least on campus, the name I hear and see – the name that shows up on the roster – is the name I go by.”
Jessica Adams, coordinator of LGBT services at the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, has been working with Love for two years. She has helped students like him gain access to the bathrooms of their choice, pushing the university to install more gender neutral stalls across campus in the past year.
“I’m trying to make this campus more aware.” Adams said. “I’m asking most people to unlearn this concept of gender that they have been taught for years. And it’s not an easy task.”
I’m asking most people to unlearn this concept of gender that they have been taught for years. And it’s not an easy task.
Jessica Adams, Fresno State
Adams helped Love become one of the first transgender students to change his name on his student ID card – a seemingly small gesture that she called “a huge victory.” She said some transgender students were avoiding events or class work that would require them to use their ID cards at Fresno State in order to prevent being called by their dead name.
“They were not able to participate holistically as a student because the university wasn’t recognizing them. You feel fraudulent as a person, yet no one is allowing you to be who you are,” she said. “If you can imagine being called the wrong name for the rest of your life, or even for a day. … If you kept telling them and they refused to acknowledge that, that’s painful.”
In his annual address, Fresno State President Joseph Castro focused on LGBT inclusion, touching on transgender student needs.
“The call on our LGBTQ community for the freedom to designate individual students’ name preference was heard, and we put that into action,” he said. “There had been a difference in maybe their name preference and what our official roll said in our system, and out of respect for them, we learned from that and made those adjustments. I think it will make a big difference for these students who have been experiencing pain because it made them feel like they didn’t belong.”
Love is in the process of transitioning from female to male. He is taking natural supplements and avoiding testosterone injections. He is open about the process and many other personal aspects of his life: his bisexuality, anxiety and depression.
When he contemplated suicide earlier this year, it had been less than a month since 49 people were gunned down at an Orlando gay club, the deadliest act of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history.
“It was all just too much. I just couldn’t. I wanted to die,” he said. “I felt not good enough for my family or anyone. They just wanted me to be quiet – it’s safer for me to be quiet. But I’m not going to.”
According to a survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. Transgender people also report higher rates of physical assault and sexual violence.
Love is thin and petite and resents having to buy clothes in the boy’s section instead of the men’s department. He often wears a cross around his neck. “I’m still a Christian,” he says. “I feel like I need protection.”
He came out as bisexual in 2013 when he was a freshman at Fresno State. He didn’t come out as transgender until 2015. Since then, he has become an advocate on the school’s campus.
“Coming out as bi is one thing. But I had to come out all over again. It was really stressful,” he said. “The reason I came out so publicly was that I had so many friends in the closet because they were scared. When I came out, I posted a video about it on Facebook and the next thing I knew, I had become a resource.”
The reason I came out so publicly was that I had so many friends in the closet because they were scared.
When Love experienced opposition at Fresno State, he fought back by giving back. He plans to do the same for Clovis Unified, the school district he graduated high school from that has been embroiled in controversies for policies that have been viewed as anti-transgender.
A group of Clovis Unified parents is pushing the school board to separate transgender students from the general student body in bathrooms and locker rooms, despite federal and state laws that protect those students’ rights.
Earlier this year, the Clovis Unified school board made national headlines when it refused to adopt a gender-neutral dress code despite concerns that the policy harmed transgender students and others. Then, boys and girls in the district swapped clothes in a protest to defy gender norms. “Students are now doing what I was always scared to do,” he said.
Throughout the controversies, Love was there through it all, shaking with emotion as he took the podium to tell the school board what it was like for him to grow up in the school district. But since then, he has met with Clovis Unified leaders about LGBT student concerns. As a music education major, he hopes to one day work for Clovis Unified as a choir director and give back to the district that at times excluded him.
Love hopes that by transitioning naturally, his voice won’t change: a part of the old him he actually would like to keep. He is a mezzo-soprano, among the highest female singing voice types. He likes performing in musicals, taking on different roles and playing different characters.
“I’ve come to terms with my voice. My voice is everything, it’s all I have,” he said. “And I do a lot of roles where I play a boy, so I’m playing myself.”