Dmitri Nelson cut a strip from a roll of white duct tape with little curvy cartoon mustaches on it.
Carefully sticking the tape on his lips, he prepared for the long day ahead of him.
He glanced in the mirror and admired his handiwork. Even though his green and blue hair, cut in a fauxhawk fashion but not spiked, made him stand out, the duct tape stood out even more.
Today he could hear every whisper softly judging him. He could hear every demeaning and derogatory comment that was supposed to tear him down.
But today he would not respond.
No matter how much sweat would slowly drip and collect around his lips, he would not take the tape off.
For the next 24 hours, Nelson would not utter a sound. It was the Day of Silence, the annual day when students from across the country take a vow of silence to protest the bullying and harassment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, according to dayofsilence.org.
Nelson’s silence echoed the members of that community who had remained silent about their sexual orientation because they feared rejection from family, friends and society. But it also represented his own secret kept from his family.
Nelson, a 20-year-old Wesleyan biochemistry major, has decided that it would be best not tell his aunts and uncles he is transgender. The constant bickering, red faces and shouting matches would tear his family apart – something Nelson said he doesn’t want to experience.
And even though the 2,000-pound elephant in the room is obvious, “people like that are usually willing not to think about it or admit it,” he said. “They still ask me about boyfriends.”
Nelson said his father, whose name he did not want to disclose, does not accept him as transgender.
“It’s been a long road,” Lori Nelson, Nelson’s mother, said.
When his parents’ divorce was pending, Nelson thought he would live with his father. The two had been close for most of Nelson’s childhood. Then Nelson’s father questioned Nelson’s sexuality when he was 14, causing him to feel like his family “audited” him, and the gossip spread amongst his father’s family.
“It’s difficult when ‘faggot’ is their default word that they use about everything,” Nelson said as he described how his family would use derogatory language. “It’s their insult of choice. That’s the worse thing you could be.”
Lori Nelson’s describes the relationship between Nelson and his father as “heart-breaking.” Holding up crossed fingers, she reminisces about a time when Dmitri and his father were inseparable. She shakes her head in disbelief.
“I can’t imagine somebody walking away – not only just walking away from their child because of something like that, but I just can’t imagine anyone just walking away from any human being just because of that,” she said. “It’s painful. It’s painful to watch that.”
But despite the silence and pain, Nelson is making noise for the LGBT community at Lori Nelson’s church, First Christian Church in downtown Fort Worth, and the university.
He has become the president of Wesleyan’s Gay-Straight Alliance and advocates for the LGBT community among the members of the church.
“This is something very dear to him,” said Dr. Alison Simons, Wesleyan’s GSA adviser and an assistant professor of sociology. “It means a lot to him. The effort he is putting in is great.”
Nelson works to provide a safe place for Wesleyan students to talk about their own silent struggles, especially at a Methodist university. He became an officer of GSA to help transgender people have a place to be themselves on campus.
“People don’t have a lot of places to go [talk], even though we have a considerably more accepting society than we did 10 years ago,” he said. “I thought that transgender issues were not talked about in LGBT spaces, and even though we have a letter at the end, people don’t really like talking about [transgender issues].”
Nelson said that after graduation he wants to become a pediatric psychiatrist to help LGBT children. He said he does not want another child to be told that the reason he or she is depressed is because of his or her orientation.
While Nelson still remains silent in some aspects of his life, he doesn’t stop fighting for the LGBT community.
And even though the duct tape covers his mouth one day every year, he still voices his beliefs by carrying a sign that reads:
“My name is Dmitri Nelson, and I am breaking the silence by educating and being a part of my community.”