Profile: Tiq Milan, Transgendered “IKON”

By Jorteh Senah

Tiq Milan discusses his transition to a transgendered man, giving the LGBT community a larger presence in mainstream media.

Milan spoke to COLLIDE about his transition from female to male.
Photo: Tiq Milan.

The editor-in-chief of the online lesbian lifestyle magazine IKONS isn’t a lesbian. Yet Tiq Milan has made it his duty to promote the empowerment and propitious portrayal of lesbians of color. Milan, 27, is dedicated to this cause because he has had several gender and sexual identities over the course of his life—woman, lesbian and now a straight transgendered male—and consequently, the societal scrutiny that goes with them.

Milan views his work with IKONS as his way of fighting the discrimination of his day by educating the public about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. When he began the process of becoming a man, Milan quit his job at a public relations firm and worked at a law firm that specialized in gay rights cases.

“I had to be in a safe place during the change,” he said. “I had to step away from those awkward moments that would have definitely transpired at any other job.”

It was at the law firm that Milan witnessed firsthand the inequality faced by many of his peers. He recounted a story about a lesbian couple, one of whom was involved in a car crash. The hospital wouldn’t recognize their union or consider them family. The other woman wasn’t allowed to accompany her severely injured partner to the emergency room, who died alone.

The case inspired Milan to become a journalist in order to bring attention to injustices like the ones he saw at the law firm. He said, in general, he doesn’t consider the issues affecting the LGBT community to be covered sufficiently by the media. At IKONS he routinely sheds light on these subjects, from a lesbian couple in Iowa whose wedding cake order was terminated after the baker discovered the clients were a same sex couple to the exile of a transgendered woman, who used to be a nanny for Pres. Obama during his childhood. Milan’s own experiences as a transgendered male makes for a compelling story.

He recalls his transition to manhood with humor and embarrassment. Four years ago, he began the transition from Tiqa to Tiq with the help of hormone replacement therapy. Now his broad shoulders, thick biceps and sparse facial hair disguise the fact that, biologically, he is still a woman. But that’s just a technicality to Milan. Though he blends in with other men, his inexperience with his new sexual identity became clear when he acted vulnerably on a train home to Buffalo, N.Y.

Bogged down by several bags of clothes and books, he asked another male traveler for help as he boarded the train at Penn Station. The man was disgusted by Milan’s apparent lack of masculinity.

“He looked me up and down and said ‘How you gon’ ask me to help lift your bags, man?’” Milan said. “That was the first time I realized I was a man. And it spoke to a greater sentiment to not ask for help.”

The sentiment is one he accepts as part of the male experience, but he vehemently disagrees with it. He remembers his father Clarence, an auto mechanic and former Vietnam veteran and Black Panther, never being afraid to ask for help or express fear or sadness. Milan remembers vividly the first time he saw his father cry. It happened when Milan was in the first grade at St. Benedict’s, a predominantly white elementary school in Amherst, the most populated section of Buffalo. He said he was routinely bullied during recess because of his race. He was slapped, kicked, spit on and called a nigger.

“I was too scared to tell my mom because she would be mad at me for not standing up for myself,” Milan said. “When I finally told her, she broke down and when she told my dad, he cried. For a kid to see your dad cry…it’s just like…wow. I remember he told me, ‘If I want to cry, I cry…and that’s cool.’”

The University of Buffalo graduate said his father is very progressive and accepted Milan’s transgendered lifestyle sooner than his mother, Mary, a retired high school teacher. Milan’s parents divorced when he was three. He lived mostly with his mother and saw his father every other weekend growing up, but said he shares an equal bond with both of them.

But when he tells the story of his transition, it’s Clarence who moves to the forefront of the conversation. He said it was his father’s balanced identity as a man that helped Milan develop his own manhood. Unlike many of his transgendered friends, who Milan believes act like caricatures of men as they assimilate their new gender roles, he doesn’t feel pressured to suppress his emotions or pretend he’s fearless.

“I don’t indulge in male stereotypes,” Milan said. “I know a lot of transgendered men who overcompensate.”

Many stereotypes originate from some bit of truth and Milan knows that. In their two years together, Milan has never had to physically protect his girlfriend, Victoria, from anyone, but it’s something that is perpetually on his mind.

“Oh my God, I think about that everyday,” Milan said. “I’m not used to violence. God forbid it ever comes to that, but I know I will have to step up if it does. I go to the gym five times a week to look like I can fight.”

He is convincing when he struts around like a prizefighter with his chin high and chest out, with one eyebrow raised significantly above the other. However, Milan admits that he still has some female tendencies. He sometimes finds himself “overcompensating” the same way his other transgendered male friends have.

In a way, he can’t escape “overcompensating.” It’s natural that Milan would want to show off his masculinity, since he was socialized as a female for half of his life. He modeled in high school fashion shows and was on the cheerleading squad. Resorting to clichéd male traits seems like a natural way to prevent himself from reverting to some of his ingrained feminine qualities.

“I lived as a woman for so many years, those feelings don’t just vanish,” he said. “I actually embrace it, ‘cause it has it advantages. Vicky would tell you having a trans man is the best of both worlds. She can have her man, but with the sensitivity of a woman.”

There are aspects of femininity that Milan was happy to shed, however. He’s no longer scared to walk home from the subway station at 3 a.m., something he never did before he added 15 pounds of muscle to his now 180-pound frame. Back when he was a butch—a lesbian that dresses and behaves in a masculine way—he still felt sexually vulnerable.

“Even as a butch, guys have jerked off in front of me on the train and tried to touch me,” Milan said.

Though Milan no longer worries about a man violating him sexually, he still worries about “The Man” violating his rights.  Tiq is perceived not only as a male, but also as a black male, which presents the difficulties of discrimination. Since his transition to a transgendered black man, Milan has been stopped and frisked by the cops three times, something that never happened when he was a woman.

“I’m scared of the cops,” Milan said. “God forbid I get arrested, I’ll have to whisper to the cop that I’ll need to be segregated if I’m going to be put in jail. I exchanged one vulnerability for another.”

His father’s ties to the Black Panthers has fueled his distrust in the police. He said his dad experienced extreme racism when he returned home from serving in Vietnam. Clarence serviced elevators after his tour and faced discrimination from his employers. He received lower wages than his white coworkers, even though he performed the same tasks, and unpaid overtime shifts.

Milan’s mother also faced racism in her hometown state of Georgia. Kids would kick and throw rocks at Mary while she waited for the school bus. Consequently, Milan’s parents taught him to embrace his African-American heritage. He often calls himself “Pan African,” referring to a movement that seeks to unite all African people into one community.

“He gets his whole black power thing from his parents,” Victoria said. “He’s totally a reflection of them in that way.”

Milan brings a similar advocacy to his work as a journalist.

“I understand the importance of someone like me being a journalist,” he said. “There’s a nuance to the lifestyle that someone who is part of the community can translate to the mainstream.”

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