For This Transgender 18-Year-Old, Queerness Is Synonymous With Happiness

Kaysen Ford and Jennifer Sumner

Kaysen Ford, right, reflects during a StoryCorps conversation with their mother, Jennifer Sumner, on years of milestones — and struggles — while growing up transgender.

Kaysen Ford, who is transgender and now identifies as nonbinary, is a newly minted high school graduate.

Ford returned to StoryCorps this month with their mother to reflect on their conversation from 2015.

Back then, Ford told their mom, Jennifer Sumner, about the happiest moment of their life: the day Sumner bought Ford boy’s boxer shorts.

The memory now makes the 18-year-old cringe just a little.

“I remember being like, woo-hoo! And then, looking back and being like, ‘Ugh, I told everyone what time I got underwear?’ ” Ford said.

“I’ve definitely become more mature, but that’s bound to happen when you go from 12 to almost 19.”

Ford has since moved with their family from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Birmingham because of access to local services that empower transgender people to live more authentically, like Point of Pride — an international network of gender-affirming support programs — and Magic City Acceptance Center, a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth and their allies.

Sumner might be Ford’s most supportive ally. She’s excited for their future, she said.

“I sometimes want you to be a little baby again so I could just hold you and rock you. But I’m very glad that you have reached some milestones that, to be quite honest, I was afraid we weren’t going to reach — you weren’t going to reach,” she said.

In recent years, Ford has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation.

“You were up against so many challenges and yet you stood strong and you were still brave,” Sumner said.

For Ford, staying strong wasn’t a matter of choice: “I kind of had to be.”

It’s important for them to show others that they are happiest when they are simply being themselves.

“One thing that’s really, like, sad is that media tends to focus around queer tragedy,” said Ford. “I think that’s why parents have such a hard time accepting.”

“That stuff is real and it happens, but another real thing is being queer and happy. Like, that is normal. That is the expectation you should hold yourself to. Being happy is not in spite of being queer. It is a part of it.”

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kerrie Hillman. NPR’s Emma Bowman adapted it for the web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at

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