On Nov. 2, Robles, a UIC ( University of Illinois at Chicago ) Honors College student, was recognized as a 2013 UIC Lincoln Academy student laureate; an honor given to an outstanding senior at each of the four year colleges and universities in Illinois. At the formal ceremony in the House of Representatives at the Old State Capitol and then at a luncheon at the Governor's Executive Mansion, Robles "queered the space up."
Surrounded by a chosen family of friends and supporters, Robles wore a woman's suit and a man's tie over a shirt that was lavendera color that holds a deeply, personal meaning to Robles. "I just felt like 'here I am; transgender, Latino, Christian and an urban student,'" Robles recalled. "I thought I would just take a chance and queer up."
The laureate was a part of an extensive list of awards and scholarships Robles has achieved in four years at UIC including the UIC Martin Luther King Scholarship, the Chancellor's Student Service and Leadership Award and the Mary Bialas Gender and Women Studies Award. All this while balancing studies, activism, leadership, an apartment and sometimes up to three on-campus administrative jobs at a time.
The fact that Robles has only been able to share many of these accomplishments with a family of friends and peers rather than parents or siblings is one of many challenges the 21-year-old future grad student in divinity studies has faced since high school. "I don't think I have any allies in my family," Robles said. "I think that, eventually, my dad will come to terms with it and be supportive but I am not expecting that at all from my mother."
Robles dropped the first name Fransely after discovering, like many transgender individuals, differences and discomfort when it came to a sense of physical and mental self. As a high school student at Steinmetz College Preparatory in Chicago, Robles battled depression by taking part in activities like track, cross country and the marathon team. Robles became senior class president, local school counsel student representative and engaged in activism that eventually brought a Gay Straight Alliance to the school.
According to Robles, then-high school peers insisted on applying the label "Soft-Butch Lesbian." But Robles has since pushed back, identifying simply as transgender, preferring the use of just a surname and the pronoun "they."
As a UIC freshman, Robles took gender and women's study classes. They proved to be an awakening to the way society uses labels as a means of gender conformity. "I never truly believed in the binary," Robles said. "Why do I need to accept what's male and what's female? Who gets to determine that?" Robles first began identifying as "other," then gender-queer and, today, has accepted transgender as an umbrella term for anyone who is gender-nonconforming.
This has already proved to be an issue at doctors' offices, the license branch or anywhere a form gives only two choices for identification: male or female. "When I go to my doctor for a general check up, the nurses all say 'she' or use my first name," Robles said. "So I tell them that I identify with my last name and ask them to use the correct pronoun. Then the doctor comes in and I have to repeat myself. Sometimes I get so tired of doing it that I just let the pronoun part slide."
Yet the greatest challenge Robles has faced was this past August. Robles came out, by phone, to their father. "I had been planning it out through the summer, trying to decide the perfect time," Robles said. "That moment when you just say it. But then I realized there would never be a perfect time. So I called him, when he was on his way to work, and said 'I have something I need to tell you.'"
Robles told him, in Spanish, "Soy gay [I am gay]." Robles explained that the family understands gay, lesbian and bisexual identification, but not trans*. "So I decided I was not ready [to explain] the Transgender piece yet. He asked me if I needed to go to the doctor," they said. Although plying Robles for two hours with an array of questions, and despite the yelling back and forth, Robles said that, ultimately, he expressed his support: "He told me that 'regardless of how you identify, you are still my daughter and I still love you.'"
Robles intends to speak to their mother after this semester but doesn't expect the conversation to go well.
Meanwhile, as an intern at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and as part of the Youth Leadership Council there, Robles is surrounded by a group of 16-to-22-year-oldspart of Robles' chosen family who transcend class, culture, gender and sexuality. "They are so ready to go out there and 'kill it.'" Robles said. "They are motivated and passionate about standing up for LGBTQ rights, sexual rights and sexual health rights."
Looking to the future, Robles hopes to bring about awareness of the "queerness of Christianity" and to, one day, see both the faith communities and the LGBTQ communities meshed. "I identify as LGBTQ and as a Christian," Robles said. "We need to create more alliances between the two communities."
Robles has a message for other trans* individuals about to begin their own journey. "Keep it real. It's going to be tough," Robles said. "It's going to be a dark tunnel that might have you spiraling in a lot of different directions. You will find your way through it. Just remember to love yourself regardless of what other people have to say."