Yoseñio Lewis was born in October 1959 in Newport, Rhode Island. A transgender man and Latino of African descent, he is also a trans rights activist, educator and musician.
From the age of five, Yoseñio was sexually abused by five relatives, resulting in him becoming pregnant at age 13. He only found out about the pregnancy when he started haemorrhaging blood in his school’s Science class. Sadly, his daughter was delivered stillborn. This traumatic event had a profound impact on Yoseñio and he continues to commemorate his daughter to this day.
One of Yoseñio’s early experiences as both an activist and writer came when he was asked to write a poem for Earth Day 1975 at the age of fifteen. As a teenager, he also wrote a letter to the governor of Providence when a fellow student was being bullied. These experiences planted the seeds for Yoseñio’s future as an activist and artist.
It wasn’t until he was 33 that Yoseñio came out as FTM (female-to-male) after a friend told him, “You’re trans.” Yoseñio denied it at the time but eventually realized that his friend was correct after attending support meetings and reading the FTM Newsletter. He was so overjoyed about finally having language for his experience that he told everyone, including strangers on the bus.
Yoseñio became involved in trans activism when his support group started producing conferences. His first focus was on policy changes in San Francisco to allow trans people to receive insurance without restrictions on transgender care. This was inspired by a significant medical issue of his own: Yoseñio’s body had been producing both too much testosterone and too much estrogen. After suffering from constant bleeding for a year and a half, being accused of faking his illness, and being passed from doctor to doctor, he was diagnosed with stage two uterine cancer, which he was initially unable to get insurance for. He got a friend to give him a job at a drug treatment program for three months before he could qualify for insurance and undergo a hysterectomy. Following his surgery, he underwent testosterone hormone replacement therapy and later had a mastectomy for breast cancer.
Amidst the trauma he has faced in his life, Yoseñio remains a powerful voice for transgender rights. He has been recognized for his activism and contributions to the community, including being one of the inaugural members of the Trans 100 List. He is a founding member of “The TransAms,” an all-transgender barbershop quartet, and helps to train medical professionals on how to treat trans people. He also set up an HIV/AIDS education group at a halfway house for federal offenders.
Yoseñio has struggled to reconcile his body with his religious upbringing, initially believing that he was an “abomination unto the Lord.” However, he now accepts that he was born exactly as he was so that he could use his experience to be a mentor and help others: “If I am a representation of God, how dare I say I can’t shine, I can’t show my light, I can’t be in the world, I can’t take up space? That is the abomination unto the Lord, when I don’t use the gifts that I’ve been given.”