Tony Ferraiolo knew from a young age that he was born into the wrong body. It would be years before he was comfortable enough to transition from a female to male transgender person.
Ferraiolo's story is told in the award-winning documentary, "A Self-Made Man." The film's screening is sold out on Saturday, June 21 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.
Before he transitioned in 2005, Ferraiolo said he never felt like he fit in anywhere. The life-changing moment for him was when a friend brought over a documentary about transgender people. He said that's when he realized he was trans and it led him to begin working with transgender youth through the group, True Colors.
Ferraiolo said, "People don't realize that you probably know someone who is trans. That's why I said yes to the documentary -- let's educate people."
Today, Ferraiolo is a leading advocate for transgender young people, and is co-founder of the Jim Collins Foundation, a group that provides financial assistance for gender confirming surgery.
Ferraiolo on transitioning:
"Transitioning is not a one size fits all. And for those of us who need surgeries and procedures for a healthy transition and we can't have access to them, sometimes you'd rather die than live. That's one of the reasons why I co-founded the Jim Collins Foundation. I know what it feels like to look in the mirror and have that sense of wholeness after years of years of not being able to handle looking at yourself. You know, covering your body and that uncomfortableness, was horrible. So if we can give people that gift. I'm getting emotional just talking about it. It's that deep. It's still that deep after all these years."
On mentoring young people:
"I would love to see every transgender child consider being trans like I consider being Italian. You know what I mean? I know I am but it's somewhere in the back of my brain. It's not always there in front of me. Allow them just to be boys and girls because that's who they are."
On why he started support groups for trans-youth and their parents:
"It's amazing to me when a parent comes up to me and says, 'My kid has anxiety issues, they have depression.' They're going down the list. As soon as you allow them to be who they are, most of that goes away. We had one kid in group, parents weren't on board. I try not to candy coat things because that's a waste of time. Truly you say to them 'Listen, if you don't acknowledge who they are, you're going to lose them and I mean lose them. You have to mourn your daughter to celebrate your son and if you don't do it, you're going to lose them both."
On the inner struggles felt by transgender youth:
"I know how it feels when you know who you are and every single person around you is saying, 'No, you're not, that's not who you are.' We can't do that to them. They're not doing this for attention or to hurt anybody. They're not doing it to embarrass the family.They are coming out because they can't hold it in anymore. This struggle, the internal struggle of being transgender will never change. It doesn't matter if you transition twenty years ago or if you're going to transition tomorrow. There are a lot more resources out there, I'm not denying that. But the internal struggle never changes. It's not easy for a kid to say, 'I'm trans.' They know what they can lose. They know so many people in this world get murdered everyday for being transgender. They know kids are thrown out of their houses because they're transgender, that don't get love from their parents. But they still have the courage to say, 'This is who I am.' We need to recognize that."
Listen to more of Ferraiolo's story in his own words: