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Xion Unique Lopez, 20, was born a boy. Her name was Ronnie Lopez Taylor. Raised in a huge family where family members often called her a drama queen to tease her about her aspirations of being a pop star, Xion often felt like the black sheep.
"I come from a very wealthy, big unsupportive family," says Taylor. "I felt like I didn't belong. I felt like it was me against the world."
Lopez had no one to talk to. She describes her early childhood as cold and unwelcoming — a place where she was left to her thoughts on who she really was.
"I knew I was living my life as a lie," she says. "I remember at times just waking up and crying because I just felt like I was a part of a horrible nightmare in which I just wanted to wake up from. I knew for myself it either had to be changed or I was going to take my own life."
So she decided to leave. The days of being forced to change her "Ronnie" clothes to "Xion" clothes outside her family's home in Hyattsville, Md. were long gone. She wanted to be free to live her life as who she truly was: a woman. She made the decision to leave her family at the age of 14.
"You want to be free in your mind, but there [are] so many things that you are faced with: vulnerability, a feeling of neglect, a feeling of just wanting to be wanted," she says. "You feel free, but there's still just always that something missing."
Living as Xion
Unfortunately, that freedom came with a price. A friend introduced her to the Stroll, D.C.'s prostitution zone. Lopez says that it was a job that she didn't think much of. "It was a quick and easy way to make money," she says. The work was not ideal, however, she was able to freely cross dress and practice how to be the woman she wanted to be.
With no family and no home, she gradually began to form a life. She went to high school in Laurel, Md. from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., worked a full-time at Potbelly's, and then worked on the Stroll at night. Lopez says she was "determined to do the things that [people] told her she wouldn't be able to do."
"I was determined to finish school," she says.
Even though she was creating structure for herself, an event that took place forced her to make a change.
One night she went out partying. She was addicted to cocaine in that point in her life so she had taken some during the night. Later on, she woke up from a date rape in a hotel. Lopez says that she remembers thinking that she would change her life around if only she could get up from the bed. She called her counselor, who is also the keeper of the Wanda Alston house, a non-profit owned by the Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc. located in the District, and she began her drug treatment and housing process.
These days, Lopez is focused on two things: completing her medical transition that began in December 2011 and working toward improving the living conditions of LGBTQ youth, especially transgendered youth, who are without a home in D.C.
She also hopes to one day get married and formalize a non-profit — one located in Baltimore and another in Philadelphia to reach out to homeless youth who are trying to live unconventional lives in a conventional world.
Lopez has overcome obstacles that most people 20 years her senior would have not been able to overcome. She feels hopeful about the future and that, most importantly, she has purpose. Even with this new found hope, at times, some sadness creeps in when she thinks about what her life could have been if her family was supportive.
"I look at my younger sister," she says. "She has the attention and love from my mother. I do feel that I missed out on that. I tell people all the time now that I live life with no regrets. Everything I've done, I've had to go through. It was a lesson for a reason."
Lopez's hardships in her childhood: homelessness, addiction, and prostitution were all, according to her, lessons in disguise. She has used her experiences to empower transgendered youth who are without homes. Lopez says that strides must be taken to ensure that children have a safe place to live no matter how they identify themselves.
[Music: "Row Remix" by Jon Brion from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind / "I Know Who You Are But What Am I" by Mogwai from Happy Songs for Happy People / "The Winner Is" by DeVotchKa from Little Miss Sunshine]
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a rare bi-partisan effort. The bill is meant to speed the development of lifesaving treatments, but critics warn it may also allow ineffective or even harmful drugs onto the market.