More

I went skydiving twice — in two genders. Here's what it taught me.

This transgender woman is on a mission to repeat all the things she did before coming out.

I am living as a woman the second time I prepare to leap out of an airplane, 7,000 feet above Florida, the world filled with the drone of the plane like the rumble of some metal giant’s stomach.

The plane has one seat for the pilot, and my back is pressed against it. I’m facing the man I will be strapped to when we step into the space beneath the clouds. I am not as nervous this time as he checks the harness.

The door of the plane cranks open, and it’s like the rush of a storm has entered the plane. I imagine I am being pulled out of the plane as my partner tells me to crawl toward the open door. Instinctively, I begin grabbing at the controls because I want something to hold on to, until I realize that the pilot is yelling at me over the twin roar of wind and plane to let go.


Me during skydive #2. All photos here are mine.

“Let go.”

I have skydived in two genders.

The first time I’d gone on a tandem dive was years before I came out as queer in any sense. I jumped out of the same plane over the same patch of Quincy, Florida, but I was living as a male then. From what I remember, it felt like a strange nightmare. I was partly to blame, as I had gotten the idea of skydiving for the first time after a bad romantic breakup so as to briefly stop hearing, through sheer adrenaline, the station in my head that kept playing unhappy music.

But now, I can tell you that the other reason I didn’t enjoy that first jump was my sense that I had to act masculine during the whole process, lest the girl in me become too visible, lest I seem queer — the thing I feared so much. I felt I had to move and answer my dive partner’s questions in a certain masculine way, or he would suspect something. And, to be honest, I was also just scared. During that first jump, I had to practically be pushed out of the plane because I was too afraid to step out the door by myself. We rolled through the free fall rather than falling in a controlled way — it was awkward from plane to parachute.

As silly as it seems, I remember that during my first dive, I wanted to look like the girls — any of them — in the photos the dive shop published on social media.

It was superficial, in a way, caring about the photo more than the experience itself; but when you have no photos of you, but countless of someone people think is you, even something as pedestrian as a picture takes on an outsize significance.

I had no idea I would dive again, years later, as one of those girls both on and off the camera.

These dives are part of a project I’ve embarked upon to correct the contours of my life since coming out.

I try to do the big things I’ve done as a "male" as a woman, letting myself feel free to write my future by remixing my past — not erasing it under the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, but making it right. Doing it better.

Months later, when I would snowboard at Breckenridge, Colorado, for the first time, I feel exhilarated, not just at fulfilling a dream from a largely snowless upbringing but because I’m doing so as a woman, as a person who my fellow snowboarders — all strangers — call she. My womanhood feels visible in this way, both small and vast at once.

Before I get on the plane to skydive a second time, I’m nervous again, but not for the obvious reason. This time, the fear comes from visibility.

Everything about this experience is flipped from the first time. Now, I want no sense of my past life’s masculinity present. The night before the dive, I worry for hours about whether I can "pass" if I tie my hair back, revealing the profile of my face. I seriously consider whether to wear makeup simply to mask any trace of visual masculinity.

Incredibly, there’s a tutorial on YouTube for skydiving makeup. The compass of myself is spinning madly. I watch the tutorial twice. I decide I’ll test the durability of a BB cream by Tarte at thousands of feet in the air, then feel ashamed at worrying so much about how I look. Then I feel the dread again that all this might go completely wrong — not because I’ll fall to my death, but because I’ll be reduced to my past.

I don’t want to be called "sir," to have that old ghost summoned by a word. I don’t want to be non-gendered — that neutrality that, sometimes, is a form of transphobia, a way of denying even the gender you present as because people cannot bring themselves to name you as such.

I just want to let go and be myself.

On the day of the second dive, all seems well, I think.

It is clear to me during that second dive how much visibility and trans-ness matters. I don’t tell anyone at the small skydiving school that I am transgender; I just want to go as a woman, with no other specific nonvisual label applied.

When I lean back to fall off the plane’s edge this time, I grin like it is the best day of my life.


After the dive, I return to the skydiving office with Cindy, the woman who runs the place, and another woman who is filling out the paperwork for her first dive.

“It’s all girls today,” Cindy says. “No guys signed up.”

I feel elated.

The other woman steps out for a moment, and Cindy turns to me. She smiles and tells me she read an essay I wrote about being a trans woman before the dive, after I’d added the skydiving school as a friend on Facebook.

“I say, go girl!” she exclaims, chuckling and putting a fist in the air. She says that voice must be difficult, but that because I am from the Caribbean, I can perhaps compensate for it slightly by my accent.

At first, I feel deflated. Sad. I’d thought no one there knew.

Then, as I consider it more through the day, I realize that whether or not Cindy and my dive partner knew I was trans, they treated me in such a way that I had no way of knowing what they thought.

To my dive partner, I was simply a woman, undefined as any category of that term; and to be a trans woman, after all, is to simply be a woman in its own category, just as it is a category to be a Dominican woman, a tall woman, any woman at all — and categories often intersect.

My dive partner had neither explicitly looked down on me for being a trans woman nor congratulated me for it, either; he had just called me "girl" and "girlie" in a way that seemed natural to him. I was simply female to him.

And wasn’t that, I wondered, the best possible outcome? Where, "read" as transgender or not, you are treated as the person you are in such a way that you wouldn’t know if anyone else had read the book of your history in your face, your body, or somewhere else?

I stood in front my bathroom mirror one night after the dive, staring at myself.

A faint orange-yellow lamp shined in the background, the sink was in shadow, and I looked like a figure in a chiaroscuro. For a while, I just stood there. I smiled, but I was sad. The sex I had been born with seemed, in that moment, a kind of secular curse.

But it was not a curse. I would not have been me, really, had I been born like so many cisgender women. This pleasant-pedestrian-painful reminder happens every so often, reminding me that I was always a woman, but I would have been a different woman had I been born cis.

This is as obvious as can be, but so easy to forget and so important: We are who we are, and we would not be that person if we had been otherwise. If we wish to celebrate ourselves and others, we must start by banishing the desire, if we have one, to have been born something else.

Now, I remember the rush of the fall through the air and how, this time, all I felt was bliss as the air rushed into my face like a vast waterfall in reverse.

I remember the moment when the parachute opened, and the roar of the wind stopped, replaced by a beautiful, calm stillness as we descended on the wind to where we had set off from.

Let’s celebrate the future by taking from the past — and making it better in the present.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Your weekly roundup of internet sunshine.

Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

The scarf, a simple accessory that some find an essential fashion piece. Both fashionable and function with the warmth they provide, scarves can be a valuable gift for any occasion or person. Here, we've selected our best selling scarves from our store. At Upworthy Market, when you purchase a product, you directly support the artisans who craft their own products, so with every purchase, you're doing good. These scarves are not only unique, but they are hand-made by local artisans and all under $30.

1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

cdn11.bigcommerce.com

Keep Reading Show less

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


Keep Reading Show less