Hometown Heroes: A Love Story
Queerport will be profiling a number of trans+ people, kicking off March 31 with Trans Day of Visibility. TDoV is all about celebrating trans and gender non-conforming+ people and raising awareness, and we want to highlight these folks. This is the fourth in a five-part series. Art and story by S. M. Prescott with contributions by Derick Stevens-Jones.
RAYMOND PANINI & SEBASTIAN WEINELL
Ages: 24, 25 (respectively) Shreveport, Louisiana
“It’s been really interesting for me to watch someone else transition,” said Sebastian Weinell.
Sebastian and his partner, Raymond Panini, are a pretty typical couple. They met on a popular dating app, and are currently in the third year of their relationship. Sebastian enjoys gardening and Ray is an artist who plays The Sims. The newly engaged couple live in Shreveport with their animals and are in the process of renovating their first home together. The transition is a big one, but that's not the one Sebastian is talking about. He means the journey for his partner, a trans man like himself.
Sebastian, who is originally from the New Orleans area, has lived in northwest Louisiana for a good part of the last 10 years. When he was younger, one of the first people he came out to was a health care professional; he said they berated him with a religious rant while denying his identity.
Health care resources are few and far between for trans people in Louisiana. He said his experiences in health care, as well as his interests in social justice and mental health, led him to pursue a career in social work. This past year he graduated from the University of North Carolina Social Work with a master’s degree in his field and came back to practice. He said even though he is trans and works in health care, there are still many barriers for trans people, including himself.
Sebastian said coming to know himself as trans was a process. He didn’t meet a trans person until a friend of his came out in high school. It wasn’t until he saw someone transition that he knew it could be a possibility for himself.
“Being in the south, I think it’s a really different perspective than you would get if you were raised in NYC or something,” he said. “There’s a lack of access to resources, representation, and community.”
He says the term queer “encapsulates his identity,” allowing him to talk about his identities more clearly while also leaving room for fluidity. Queer, for many people, is a reclaimed term, but for some it’s still hard to use. Sebastian said he knew himself as trans before he knew he was queer, and for his partner Ray, it was the opposite.
Ray grew up in a conservative setting and attended a Catholic high school. His church and school did not offer much space for exploration of identity. Ray had seen documentaries about trans people but never considered it to be a possibility for himself. In college, some probing questions from his parents prompted him to reexamine how he knew himself.
Ray’s experiences in health care have also been rocky; often finding it difficult to find a therapist who was actually on his side. He said he had to visit multiple therapists to find someone who would allow him access to hormones. He stated most therapists have made transphobic comments to both he and his family.
Family is important to both of them, including the one they’re creating for themselves as a newly engaged couple. As they are both trans and at different points in their lives, many of their experiences overlap, but there are quite a few differences in their narratives.
When they first began dating, Ray experienced some jealousy for Sebastian’s place in his transition. Ray wasn’t allowed to have hormones because of the many hoops trans people have to go through in order to access resources. Sebastian, on the other hand, had already medically transitioned.
“It was all I wanted and I couldn’t get it yet,” said Ray.
As their relationship progressed, they have come to appreciate the nuances in watching each other grow. Being trans isn't specifically what holds the two together, it's the acceptance of each other fully. Sebastian says he’s been able to show up in this relationship a better person than before.
“Being able to be more comfortable with myself, my body, and my identity with Ray has made it easier to care for him because I can care more for myself.”