Miley Cyrus launched InstaPride, her campaign to celebrate transgender and gender expansive individuals, on Monday, and has since been sharing photos and stories of young people who identify this way. A partnership with Instagram and the Happy Hippie Foundation, InstaPride has introduced Cyrus’ fans to 19-year-old film student Leo Sheng, YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous and Tyler Ford, who she brought as her date to the amFAR awards. Now, EW is proud to introduce the newest star of InstaPride, recent Massachusetts high school graduate, AJ.
“A.J. was the first person I shot in the InstaPride series and actually the first person I’ve shot in a real studio with real lights, real cameras, real set,” Cyrus tells EW. “The first thing I asked AJ was if he wanted to wear a yellow shirt, and he took off his shirt and said it took a lot to look like this and I want to show it off! So much confidence! Two minutes in there was confetti everywhere and AJ had started the party!”
A.J. says he left his junior year of high school as a female and came back as a senior as a male. “I think my biggest enemy was time,” he says. “Once I established the fact that I needed to transition for my own happiness I felt as though I needed it all immediately. And when I initially told my parents they sort of shrugged it off and I felt like it would never happen. And that lead to my suicide attempt. That’s when they relished I really needed their help, and fast.”
“My classmates didn’t even question how or why or when or any of it,” he says. “I come from such a small town and I by no means expected so much acceptance and support from my educators and peers. I felt really free to be myself when I first got my job it was the first time I ever got to walk into a situation without anyone knowing I was born female. Everyone looked at me and knew I was a boy and it changed my life and finally opened the window to hope.”
A.J. was also excited to be part of Cyrus’ InstaPride campaign where he says he felt “an insane sense of community.”
“Before the shoot I had met two other transgender people in my life, so to suddenly be in a room full of people who understood what I went through was beautiful,” he says.” It was sort of like being home.”
All photos credited to Miley Cyrus.