“Blood is blood. We love you for who you are and all that matters is that you have a good life,” my mom told me.

With six siblings and a large Pacific Islander family, I was raised in a culture that is all about family.

Blood is blood.

With six siblings and a large Pacific Islander family, I was raised in a culture that is all about family. To this day, I still dream about our big Islander meals and can’t wait to come home to see what mom is making – learning my next recipe from her.

Briana and her brother, one of her 6 siblings.

Briana and her brother, one of her 6 siblings.

Despite all these treasured memories, the biggest lesson I’ve taken to heart has been that it doesn’t matter what you have, it matters that you love your family and stick together no matter what. That is why my community, and the life I am building here, are so important to me.

I have always dreamed of settling down and I am starting to do that here in Lakewood. Building this life fills me with pride. When I am not looking for new ways to decorate my apartment, I’m grabbing some phở at a nearby restaurant with my roommates or my boyfriend. I’ve even gotten a promotion and am now working as a manager at the local gas station where co-workers and customers fill my days with jokes.

These may seem like simple things to some, but I’ve worked hard for them. I’ve had to watch how people react when I speak. They sense there is something different and I have to defend myself against their judgments. During those times, I feel thrust into the spotlight and have had to steal my spine to fight for who I am.

I am she. I am her. I will be respected as myself.

I got that confidence from my mom. After I had turned 14, I went to a Pride event and learned about transgender people for the first time. Something in my head clicked and I knew I couldn’t hide who I was anymore — especially from my mother.

Mom is the glue that holds our family together and she is my inspiration. No matter what is happening, the entire family knows that we have to go to mom first, listen to her advice and take it into consideration.

Telling her about myself was the most nerve wracking experience of my life. But it shouldn’t have been, because she repeated the same lesson I’ve been taught a hundred times before.

“Blood is blood. We love you for who you are and all that matters is that you have a good life,” my mom told me.

Soon after, I bought my own pair of five-inch heels and never looked back. I felt centered in myself. At 16, I reflected back and knew I was fabulous.

To say life has always been perfect or easy would be a lie. Being transgender is a day to day battle. It is really frustrating to see people devalue the life I have built and belittle who transgender people are. However, my family’s guidance and values have helped me shoulder that burden. There may be rough moments, but that is what makes us shine.