SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – A local nonprofit is looking to empower and inform transgender youth, families and communities across KELOLAND.

15-year-old Aerin Geary has wrestled with a lot throughout life.

“I’m a wrestler, so my dad and I were getting back from a wrestling practice. The guy who ran the practices, one of the coaches has just called me ‘girl’ or ‘she’ or something like that and it was like you know they say, ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back,'” non-binary transgender person Aerin Geary said.

It was a car ride that would change both of their lives forever.

“So I just broke down in the car and my dad thought it was about wrestling,’ he was pretty concerned… and, so, we like… I had to say what was wrong – we weren’t going to go until I said what was wrong,” Aerin Geary said.

Aerin came out to their father Mark as transgender. It was a road that Aerin was traveling down alone for quite some time.

“I remember crying in the locker room, I…. I remember talking about it to a friend, I remember struggling to find the words,” Aerin Geary said.

…And that word is non-binary. People who are non-binary do not identify as either male or female.

“It’s not quite the same as realizing you’re gay or bi or like that. Realizing you’re trans, there’s a lot less representation,” Aerin Geary said.

At first, Geary’s father Mark was confused by the news.

“I think, as parents you kind of have, you know; here are some likely scenarios for your kid’s future and so those were kind of rattled a bit,” Father of Aerin Mark Geary said.

A lot of that uncertainty was rooted in fear for Aerin’s safety.

“I mean, you know there’s… there’s a transgender day of remembrance for all the transgender people that get killed each year, and so we’re concerned for Aerin’s safety and what’s going to happen that way,” Mark Geary said.

After talking with close friend, Mark and Aerin were connected with Susan Williams. She is the founder of the nonprofit The Transformation Project – a group dedicated to educating and connecting transgender youth and their families. She formed the foundation after going through a similar event in her own home.

“I read 20 books and thousands of articles. I was like, ‘I got to learn everything I can about this because I had no prior knowledge at all,” Founder of the Transformation Project Susan Williams said.

Now her mission is connecting parents and transgender youth in similar situations with those resources.

“And also to educate South Dakota and the surrounding community on gender identity and expression,” Williams said.

It started with monthly meetings in William’s basement. The project also hosts online support groups. Now the nonprofit has grown to include over 40 families across the state. In October, they published a magazine titled Transforming South Dakota. It shares photographs and stories of 14 trans gender youths.

“A lot of the stories do contain things that are hard to hear: suicide attempts, self harm, depression, anxiety, but we think that by opening it up and sharing about each kid, people’s hearts can be transformed,” Williams said.

“It has a lot of terms of definitions people don’t know, so that helps get rid of some of the unknown,” Transformation Project Board Member Samson Mettler said.

One of those stories includes Transformation Project Board Member Samson Mettler.

“I just felt like there was something missing for a very long time. I was very sad once puberty hit and I was depressed for 8 years; I didn’t know why. Then I finally figured out that I was trans,” Mettler said.

He’s currently in college and has made the full transition from woman to man. Susan recruited him last year.

“The amount of families that have gotten this magazine and reached out to us and said, ‘I have a kid that’s exactly like page 13,” Mettler said.

“There’s a 10-year-old young trans woman who is just trying to fit in middle school. It just gives a face to people they didn’t understand,” Mettler said.

“With more education will come more acceptance and with more support will come more love,” Williams said.

Love for your fellow person – whether it’s a total stranger…

“We’re going to be here whether or not you understand us and whether or not you want us to be, and it’s just best to support and love each other no matter what,” Mettler said.

…or your own family.

“I feel closer to Aerin in the sense that, as a parent, you can say to your kids that, ‘I got your back,’ but I think through the last couple of years we’ve been able to say, ‘You can see that we have your back,’ and we want what’s best for you,” Mark Geary said.

And for those who are still wrestling with their own identity,
Aerin has this piece of advice.

“Hold on… hold on. There’s even, if you don’t know people who are supportive right now, there are people out there. There are people like Susan who are doing these wonderful things for us and if you haven’t found your family yet… we’ll find you,” Aerin Geary said.

If you would like to get in contact with someone with the project you can visit the Transformation Project website.