Kaysen Ford had just finished 5th grade in Tuscaloosa, AL, when they started to tell friends and family that they were transgender.

Their mother, Jennifer Sumner worried that Kaysen would face bullying as a transgender kid growing up in the South. In 2015, when Kaysen was 12, they came to StoryCorps to talk about being comfortable in their own skin.

During that conversation Jennifer shared how proud she was of Kaysen for being courageous and true to themself. Kaysen explained that, “It shouldn’t be scary to be who you are.” 

Kaysen has since moved with their family from Tuscaloosa, AL, to Birmingham for access to local services that empower transgender people to live more authentically, like Point of Pride — an international network of gender-affirming support programs — and Magic City Acceptance Center a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth and their allies.

Six years later, Kaysen, who now identifies as nonbinary, has graduated high school. They came back to StoryCorps to mark the occasion — and to reflect on their first conversation.

Top Photo: Jennifer Sumner and Kaysen Ford during their road trip celebrating Kaysen’s graduation June, 2021. Courtesy of the family.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or just needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally aired June 25, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.