Luster Singleton is 57 and identifies as non-binary. Growing up in the Midwest, Singleton struggled to meet a role model to look up to.
Singleton recently found that mentor in Ginger Boyd, when they met at a gathering of transgender people of color in Columbus. Boyd is 70 years old, transgender and an Ohio native.
As part of StoryCorp COLUMBUS, Boyd and Singleton talked about the importance of role models – having one and being one.
Singleton didn't know many older, gender non-conforming people who grew up in the Midwest, and was fascinated by Boyd's story of transitioning in the '70. Singleton asked Boyd, "When did you first realize that you might be something other than just straight-up male?"
Boyd said that by 10, she had showed an interest in women's clothing, baby dolls and playing with the girls.
"I didn't play with the boys, but still, I didn't feel like I wanted to be a female. I just knew I was different in that the boys," she said.
Singleton was also curious about how Boyd's family reacted.
"Most people would say that the black community is horribly non-receptive of anything that's different," Singleton said. "We don't get to hear too many stories about black families accepting their transgender, gender non-conforming or non-binary children."
Boyd said that her father was not accepting, but was never disrespectful. Her mom and siblings were more understanding.
"I think with the love came some understanding. You know, I think they were open to learn, open to accept me as a person. I think that's what they did," Boyd said.
Boyd did distance herself from her family, however, but not because they rejected her - she didn't want to embarrass them.
"I didn't make the best choices during that time," she said, alluding to a darker period in her life.
"I don't think that it's unusual at all for those of us that are transgender – have a transgender identity – to experience homelessness, to experience poor choices based on trying to fit in, and experience having to make some hard decisions about how we're going to survive," Singleton said.
Boyd and Singleton also reflected on living their lives in Ohio rather than some of the more liberal parts of the country.
"To stay here in the Midwest and live your life... It's something to be celebrated, Miss Ginger," Singleton said.
"I think so too," Boyd said. "When I was younger, I felt like, God, if I'd only grown up in California, even in New York, you know, somewhere where things were just a little more accepting."
"But look," Singleton interjected, "if you'd done that, we probably wouldn't have met."
When asked what message she wanted to leave people with, Boyd said, "I'm not finished yet. I want to leave here with a bang. I want to leave here being an inspiration to others."
Luster Singleton and Ginger Boyd were recorded in the StoryCorps booth during its recent trip to Columbus.