Living with Gender Dysphoria: Renee’ Vallejo shares their story.
Renee’ Vallejo, a junior at Tufts University, has always had a passion for modeling and for advocacy, tolerance, and acceptance. In April of 2014, Renee’ participated in the Tufts LUX Fashion Show and had the opportunity to model for the Dani & Danquell (D &D) Brand.
After the show, Renee’ sat down to talk with D & D founder and creator, Danquell Bradford, about the message and mission of the brand. Renee’ immediately felt connected with the brand and could relate to the appreciation of self-love that helped inspire its creation.
Renee’ also appreciated how D & D mission was to “promote a sense of communal support and inclusiveness while simultaneously calling forth every person’s uniqueness.” “I love how D & D encourages people to share their individuality and expressions of that individuality with a loving, open, and tolerant community that would accept them without question and love and embrace them for who they are and all that they are.” That really resonates with me, being a person that suffers from Gender Dysphoria (people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth) Gender Dysphoria is a nightmare I cannot fully give words to. Ever since I was 14 years old I hated the sight of having breasts. The feeling and sight of having something on my body that should not have been there in the first place is indescribable. I needed the surgery to continue living, to live comfortably in my skin and in my mind, to feel whole. To live in a body that is not yours is painful. I was in pain every single day emotionally and physically because of the dysphoria. I have binded since I was 17 years old. Wearing that thing literally takes your breath away; it hurts and is a pain to get on and off every day. However, the ironic thing about it is that all the pain that binding caused me was worth it if I could manage to look like I had a flat chest. After the surgery I was speechless, even 6 months later I cry because I am so happy to finally be in the body I was meant to. There are still things to work through and not all problems were solved, but knowing that my body now encompasses my personal identity is all I have ever wanted.
Speaking with Renee’ about being rejected by family members, Renee’ said “navigating life being raised by my mom for 12 years and then having her completely leave my life was really hard and hurtful, and it pained me to talk about the situation. At 17 I had finally reached a point in my life where I could tell my story and talk about it without crying”. Now, I have come to a place of feeling empowered rather than sad, so I use that story and that journey in my life to push through in the work that I do to touch peoples’ lives, just like Danquell does with her company (D & D). As opposed to the majority of Renee’s family, Renee’s father has been extremely supportive throughout Renee’s journey.
“There is still some hurt around the story and around the rejection, but I release the pain in different ways now. I use the pain, and I control it. It does not use or control me. I alone have power over my decisions as well as over my body and my life as a whole. I created this bubble around myself in which I have a world that I rule and I cherish myself, my empowerment, and my life and body,” Renee’ shared.
“What really resonated with me and just took me entirely by surprise was that Danquell accepted me without asking me any questions about myself”. Danquell just said “we like your style, we like your individuality, we like how you carry yourself, we like you and your confidence is out of this world. Would you like to work with us?” She showed complete acceptance without any questions about my background and upbringing, where I come from, or how I identify... I fell in love with how the brand brings together and celebrates individuality and inclusivity, as that is something I think every community needs a lot more of. The message behind D & D made me realize and know that I could do what I am passionate about, which is modeling, and be confident in my modeling and be accepted exactly as I am for who I am. What the brand does that is so moving and crucial is that it allows me to show and express to the world that I am my own version of me.
Renee’ was encouraged and inspired by the D&D brand because Renee’ appreciated “the way that the brand gives back to the community, and how it is truly about reaching people and moving them to love and accept others.” Renee’ said “I believe that if I touch the life of just one person, or move someone in any small way in this world in the span of my life, I will have done some good that fulfills a higher purpose, or that helps fulfill the purposes for which I exist here and now on this planet”. I say to others that suffer from Gender Dysphoria “Do it your way. There is not one box that you have to fit into. You are your own person and only you can define who you are. You have community in every corner of the world; people you know and people you don't know. You are so loved”.
A very special thank you to Renee' Vallejo for continue support and dedication to the D&D Brand. Blessings!!
By Carly Gutner - Davis
Photography by Shiyi Zhang