Hi, I’m Erin Gallagher, Interim Executive Director of This is My Brave, and we’re so excited to present to you this season of Our Turn to Talk, a podcast series young people who are understand how importan tit is to talk about mental health. At This Is My Brave, we know that Storytelling Saves Lives. We hope that this podcast inspires you to Be Brave with us and to start brave conversations with your family and friends.
Anastasia: As a heads up, this episode contains explicit language and discussions of suicidal ideation and self harm. Please be advised.
Ryver: I remember when I was three, I would play dress up at my grandma's house cause you know, all the girls played dress up. And so I would always try to dress up as Cinderella and my grandma did not approve, uh, it made her mad.
[music fade in]
Ryver: Who I was outside did not match who I was on the inside.
Anastasia: Do *you* ever feel that way? Like you’re showing something on the outside but what’s really happening inside is something totally different? It’s like a mask - covering how we’re really feeling… how we’re really doing. I know I do.
This is Our Turn to Talk. A place for young people like me to have real conversations without filters
I'm Anastasia Vlasova, I'm 18 and a freshman in college.
[fade out music]
Anastasia: Today we hear from Ryver Evans. She’s 16. I had a chance to visit Ryver at her home in Nashville…which is not the Nashville you’re thinking of, not in Tennessee, it’s Nashville North Carolina, which, fun fact, is the original, first Nashville.
[fade in Nashville music]
Ryver: It is a very small town, um, very conservative.
Ryver: And there’s really not much to do here.
Anastasia: As she says, it’s pretty conservative...and I saw that for myself… on almost every lawn in her neighborhood, there are religious signs.. And I believe everyone should be able to follow whatever religion they want… but for Ryver, this has been an especially tough environment for her to grow up in.
Ryver: I hid it from my parents for a long time. I guess I was scared of what they were going to say. Thought they'd think I was faking.
Anastasia: What was Ryver hiding? She was hiding her true identity. She was hiding the fact that she didn’t identify as a boy. She didn’t want to be called by the boy name that was on her birth certificate. She didn’t want her dad to keep trying to get her to play football.
And, no, she wasn’t faking it. This is Ryver’s Turn to Talk.
Ryver: You know in third grade when I would go to art class, we had crayons and we had oil pastels. And the oil pastels would rub off on your skin. And I remember taking one out of the box, and this was a very unsafe thing to do. But I would rub in on my lips and act like it was lipstick. And one of my friends, we were talking about it and I said I just feel a lot better when I’m wearing make up and he said, “Oh, so you feel like you’re supposed to be a girl?” and I said yeah. And so he said “Oh, so you’re trans?” And I said, yeah, I guess I am.
Anastasia: Ryver is transgender. That's the "T" in LGBTQIA+. This acronym is an ever expanding representation of the queer community that stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and covers the spectrum of people who do not identify as heterosexual or within the gender binary.
Learning about this community opened the door to a whole new world for Ryver. But at the same time, this new world came with thoughts and feelings that were strange and unknown. Ryver now felt disconnected from everything she thought she knew and was taught growing up.
Ryver: When I was diagnosed with depression, nothing made sense. And then in eighth grade, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder type two, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD and gender dysphoria. And I guess around there was when everything kind of started to make sense.
Anastasia: Living with gender dysphoria along with all these mental health conditions took a huge toll on Ryver, and it brought her to some dark and heavy moments, which we’ll get into in just a bit. [music fade out]
But she does have a really important way of coping that helps her get through all of this.
[Ryver music in]
Ryver: Music is the biggest part of who i am
Ryver: I write my music to get out how I’m feeling, cuz you know, once you get it out on paper, it’s just, so much more real.
Anastasia: Having music as an outlet has been so important for Ryver because, as she said, she always felt different. It all started for her back when she was three, with that first memory of wanting to dress up as a princess. Who she was on the outside, didn’t match who she was on the inside. And then, there was school.
Ryver: I was bullied a lot and I apparently talked too much. I still get told I talk too much [laughs]. And nobody really liked me. So I just kinda...didn't like myself either.
Anastasia: Could you take me back to a specific moment where the light went off for you and you realized that you know who you're meant to be?
Ryver: I was probably eight and I was watching my older sister's body start changing and she got boobs and she got a bigger butt and I was wondering why mine wasn't coming in? And I was like, you know what? They'll come in later. And then I was told that I wasn't going to get that. And I guess that was sort of when it, um, when it hit.
[music fade in]
Ryver: I was looking at her and I wanted to be her. Like I wanted to be like her.
Ryver: Getting the diagnosis of gender dysphoria also made it 10 times easier to talk about it. I fell into the medical basis. I met the criteria of what was needed to transition. And so I guess, knowing that I had already gotten the diagnosis and I had already been confirmed to have fit the criteria to transition. It made everything a whole lot easier. And I finally knew for a fact that like, okay, I was right.
Anastasia: Now, what is gender dysphoria exactly? Without experiencing it myself, I know I can’t relate completely to Ryver’s personal journey, but I wanted to understand what she was going through, living in a body that didn’t feel like her own.
[music fade out]
To learn more, I talked to Rae Sweet. Rae is the education coordinator for It Gets Better, a non-profit that believes in storytelling as much as I do… and their focus is on the young LGBTQ+ community.
Rae: It can be very devastating. it's obviously going to be different for everyone, but it's devastating. And it can bring folks to suicidal ideation. Like that's the ultimate consequence of it. Feeling not right in your body, and not right in the world, and in the way that the world sees you. That's the worst feeling to have, like what do you do from there? Where do you go from there?
Anastasia: Rae identifies as gender non-conforming, meaning they don’t identify as male or female and uses they/them pronouns. They described what it felt like before they found this identity, that they would look in the mirror and not recognize themself.
Rae: I've seen gender dysphoria become a very physical reaction too, of just like your skin is burning, like that kind of thing. Like, this is not right. I don't feel right. And I don't want to be here. And like, I can't handle it, especially as a kid, but I think again, like I said, the important thing to also note is that not only can trans and gender nonconforming people, there's options to find ways to help themselves out of that. just having a supportive family can help bring you out of that, but just if you don’t have that that can make it even worse and it can just be a downward spiral from there.
Anastasia: As Rae was saying, living with gender dysphoria can be devastating, but having a supportive family can of course make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for Ryver when she came out to her parents.
Ryver: I didn't tell them till I was 13, that I was trans. I knew they wouldn’t be supportive. And they were not supportive at all up until the beginning of 2020.
Anastasia: Wow. So for three years. That’s a lot of time to be living under the same roof with all that tension, wow. How did that make you feel, knowing that your parents wouldn't support you?
Ryver: Terrible. I felt very alone in my own house.
Ryver: When I first came out to my dad, he would call me things like, faggot, fairy. We would always get into like fights and we'd like yell and scream. And then we started getting into fist fights and I remember the cops ended up being called twice.
Ryver: Yeah, we were always fighting, always arguing. It just didn't end the greatest
Anastasia: It’s hard to imagine how awful this must have felt for Ryver, being harassed and bullied by her own family when she was already going through so much and battling several mental disorders. But unfortunately, this sort of dynamic with parents or caretakers is not uncommon for young transgender people.
Rae: So sexuality is who you love, right?
Anastasia: Rae, from It Gets Better, works a lot with trans teenagers through the coming out process, and says it's trickier than coming out as gay, lesbian or queer.
Rae: And so who you love only comes up when you’re talking about relationships. And you’re not always talking about relationships with people, maybe this doesn’t relate so much with family members because you want your family to know who you’re dating or who you’re in love with or who you’re seeing or whatever. but t, it’s going to be very different with friends, teachers, uh eventually coworkers, you don’t always talk about relationships in those circumstances. But coming out as transgender, that's who you are, not who you love. And who you are comes up in every single space that you are in.
Anastasia: It sounds like, when you’re coming out as transgender, it’s sort of this constant process. As Rae said, it affects everything.
And for parents, it's a constant process for them too.
Rae: When you come out as gay or lesbian, your parents do have to mourn a little bit of a loss of who they thought you would marry and what kind of life you might live. But when you're transgender, they have to mourn the loss of their daughter or their son, because that's what they were expecting. And that's what they were planning this whole time. Coming out as transgender, you're still the same person, but there's so much that might have to shift around you. You know, if you want to physically transition, that can be really emotional for the parents to have to grapple with. Changing your name or your pronouns. That's a whole process that other people have to do for you. And that can be really hard on parents and guardians
But although it may be challenging for parents/guaridans, it is even harder on the transgender & gendernonconforming kids, and they need their parents support
[fade in music]
Anastasia: We’ll talk more about the coming out process, and dive deeper into Ryver’s family dynamics after a quick word from our partners at This is My Brave.
Hi, Erin Gallagher from This Is My Brave again.
Whenever I meet young people who are sharing their stories, I feel even more empowered to do the work that I do.
If this inspires you, too, I want to tell you how you can get involved with us at This is My Brave.
Are you a college student? Our Brave Ambassador program is a student-led movement to create a safe space for yourself and your peers to talk about mental health and to break down barriers on your campus.
Are teens, if you’re feeling like this is your turn to talk, check out our website for opportunities to share your story… including how to participate in our next National Teen Show: Go to Thisismybrave.org for more information.
Anastasia: As we learned from Ryver's experience, and more clinically from Rae, gender dysphoria is extremely tricky to navigate, and so much of this journey depends on family support, which Ryver didn’t have when she first came out at 13. But over time, she said things calmed down, and her parents actually came around to try to understand what she was going through. Especially her dad, Anthony.
Anthony: While we want to be there and while we want to support and while we want to love and, and nurture, it's really hard when we don't understand the journey that they're going on, you know, and we don't want, you know, you always try to protect children.
Anastasia: That’s Anthony Evans, Ryver’s dad. We asked him what it was like for him, when Ryver became his daughter, and she stopped being his son.
Anthony: I mean that was a difficult moment. I reckon maybe even more so for me than other people, because I remember how hard I had to fight for the name. And I made sure that I wanted a name that was unique and wasn't used for, you know, anyone that I knew in our family and our collective family so it would be unique.
Anastasia: Anthony is referring to Ryver’s male birth name, which we didn’t include because, Ryver doesn't want people to know it.
Anthony: I reckon it is just the name, but it was the name of my child. You know, it's the name that I've always associated with that unconditional love that you have for your child. It was hard, you know, cause it really felt like he was rejecting me at the time. And he really went into this, this deep depression.
He started cutting and it really started to go down into this dark place and he really did his best to try to hide it. And, you know, there were times where, you know, things would come out and he'd be like I don't think I want to be here anymore. I don't think I want to do this anymore.
[cries, breathes deeply] sorry, it’s difficult
Even though, you know, we feel like we're past that point, it's still hard to talk about, you know? You know, as you try to talk about your child telling you they don't want to live anymore.
I would have to go sleep with him at night because we were afraid that he was going to get out of bed at night and do something
Anastasia: So, pausing here for a minute.
It’s clear how much Anthony loves Ryver, his daughter. Yet/and you’ll notice he doesn’t always refer to Ryver with the correct pronouns, which are she/her. But as we learned from Rae, it’s pretty common for parents and other loved ones of transgender teens to struggle with this. It can be a really hard psychological shift for them to make. But, it’s so, so important for them to do so, because of the devastating impact that being misgendered has on transgender people.
Ryver: All I wanted was to know that they were trying, and it seemed like nobody was trying. You know, everyone in my house calls me Ryver now, but some things don’t change like my mom doesn’t say she. It is what it is. You know, I can’t change other people, I can only change how I respond to them.
Anastasia: And even though there is clearly still some tension in the house around Ryver’s gender identity, her parents seem pretty supportive of her transition now. And Anthony is clearly really proud of her.
[Music fade in]
Anastasia: What are your biggest hopes for Ryver’s life, for her future?
Anthony: I reckon I want him to be like a doctor or a lawyer or something like that, but you know, or and I could go for a musician [ laughs] But my greatest hopes, you know, He become a --- she becomes -- a healthy, happy, productive individual that is respected and is respectful but I mean, to grow up and just be happy.
[fade in “LET GO” ]
Ryver: It does definitely help me as a person and as a songwriter to know that I can help other people, like just like that.
[Let Go up]
Anastasia: Now that Ryver is living by her true gender identity, she says she feels the need to be an advocate for others going through a similar struggle. A huge part of that is her music. I love all her original songs - especially this one. It’s called “Let Go.”
[fade up Let it Go]
Ryver: I haven’t really played it for very many people. I kinda just started writing it like it just felt like there was something in my head that I had to get out, like I couldn’t put words to it. I just started writing and let go just came out.
[fade up Let Go]
[fade out Let iGo]
Anastasia: Ok Ryver, this is something I ask a lot of our guests, but for you, I feel like this question is even more fitting given this super courageous journey you’ve been on. What does the word brave mean to you?
Ryver: The word brave doesn't mean not being afraid. It means having the courage to face your fears. You know, you grab your fear by your face and your head butt it, actually don't do that. Cause that hurts your head. But you know what I mean?
[Nashville song up]
Anastasia: Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. And thank you, so, so much to Ryver Evans for sharing her story.
At the beginning of the episode, Ryver talked about feeling like, what’s on the inside doesn’t match who she is on the outside. This is especially relevant for our next guest. he’s a member of the Wampanoag Tribe, who was paralyzed in a dirtbike accident at 14. He’s had anxiety attacks ever since, but he tells us how he’s tapped into his native lore to manage them.
MADARRIUS: I got a story though, it's a native American story. It's about two wolves, and one Wolf, the good Wolf, which is like happiness. Love. The next Wolf is the bad Wolf, which is like anger and like depression and jealousy. And the grandson asks his grandfather: well, which one is stronger? And the grandfather's response is, the one you feed,
Anastasia: If you’re a young person, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? You can go to ourturntotalk.com to share.
Ok, so maybe you're not ready to share your story, but maybe you have a question for us. We will be answering your questions in an upcoming Our Turn to Talk episode. No filters, no shame here. Submit your question on our website ourturntotalk.com
Our Turn to Talk is a production of Principle Pictures. We believe in the power and impact of storytelling through podcasts and films to build empathy and inspire change. Season One is a partnership with This is My Brave, an organization using performing arts to fight the stigma around mental health challenges and addiction. I’ve been very proud to intern there for the past two years. A very special thanks to Executive Director Erin Gallagher and Program Manager Katie Grana. Check out This Is My Brave at thisismybrave.org.
This episode includes content courtesy of the WETA WellBeings Youth Mental Health Project. Learn more at WellBeings.org and join the conversation with #WellBeings.
This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Megan Botel. Mixing by Mitch Hanley.
Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Patrice Howard, Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.
Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence FUND, The Hershey Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Rose-Marie van Otterloo and the Risa Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova and I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
[fade out Nashville music]
Hello everyone, Erin Gallagheragain. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. Are you inspired by what you heard today? Are you ready to share your own story about your mental health journey? If yes, here’s how you can do it.
Go to ThisisMyBrave.org and select Share Your Story. We can’t wait to hear your Brave!