For a long time, Blossom Brown hid.
She was pulled toward dolls as a child. Her parents did not approve. So she would wait until no one was around, pull out a doll, and play, alone.
In her teenage years, she wanted to wear women’s clothing. They felt right. She knew her parents would not approve. So when she went out, she would leave home in men’s clothes and change into women’s in her car. Before returning, she would change back.
Around the time she turned 20, though, and was living on her own in a Jackson apartment, Brown stopped hiding. She embraced who she was. She always identified as a woman, and began living the life she wanted. That was eight years ago.
Today, Brown is a 28-year-old junior at Mississippi University for Women. She is a transgender woman. A transgender person is someone designated one gender at birth, but who identifies as the other.
Brown, though, does not like labeling. It feels like reducing someone to words. No one is defined that easily.
One day last week, while sitting in the Hogarth Student Union on MUW’s campus, Brown said, “I just live my life.”
Part of her life is being an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community.
For the last six months, Brown has volunteered with the Human Rights Campaign. It is a national advocacy organization that focuses on issues of LGBT Americans through education and political activities.
Late last month, at the HRC dinner in Washington, D.C., the list of speakers included former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Blossom Brown.
To get there, Brown, who was born in the Delta and grew up around Jackson, flew on an airplane for the first time.
What she told the 3,500-plus crowd about was her struggle with gender identity.
What she hopes is that her involvement with HRC can somehow help other transgender people not face the difficulties she has experienced. And still experiences.
People can say hurtful things.
“So many people are afraid of the unknown,” Brown said.
Just walking a sidewalk can be hard. Some people stare. Sometimes she tells herself it’s because of her height. (Brown is 6 foot, 3 inches tall.) But no matter the reason, she just keeps moving forward, both literally and figuratively.
“You can’t stop it from stinging,” she said, “but you can not allow it to hurt.”
At MUW, Brown lives in Columbus Hall, works most nights as a desk assistant in Jones Hall and spends most of her time studying. To Brown’s knowledge, she is the only transgender woman attending MUW. (University officials say they have “no way of knowing” how many transgender students are enrolled.) The University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, which studies gender identity law and public policy, estimates that 0.3 percent of the U.S. population, or 700,000 people, are transgender.
No one really knows, though, how many transgender men and women there are in America. The Census Bureau does not ask. Neither does the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kerith Conron, a scientist at the Fenway Institute, a research center specializing in LGBT health, told fivethirtyeight.com, a polling and analytical website, earlier this year that, “If you’re overlooked, you’re at greater risk of being underserved.”
Brown is aware of how that affects the transgender population and wants to help.
She is on pace to become a senior at MUW next semester. She is majoring in public health. What she hopes to do with her life is somehow serve those people — the uncounted, unseen LGBT community — in the healthcare field.
Last week, Brown recorded a commercial in Columbus. It will air across Mississippi in coming weeks as part of a statewide HRC campaign called “All God’s Children.” The campaign — which HRC organizers said is costing $310,000 — is part of an initiative aimed at advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi for LGBT residents.
Hubert Tate, press secretary with HRC, said Brown’s commercial will constitute the first time “in the history of public education campaigns in the South” that the story of a transgender woman from Mississippi will be highlighted.
Details of when and where the ad will run are still being worked out, Tate added.
“The campaign is intended to change hearts and minds, improve the public perception and overall awareness of LGBT people, begin to reduce the painful stigma that many face in their daily lives and help future efforts to enact pro-equality legislation,” Tate said.
Brown is proud to be a part of it.
“Love is love,” she said. “It has nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity.”
She praises MUW for what it has offered her and described it as “very LGBT friendly.”
“You are able to be yourself here,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about being cool, or fitting in. It is very welcoming.”
Looking at her life as a whole, she is no longer hiding. And never plans to again.