Lennon Torres didn't quietly start a new chapter: She strutted out to center stage so everyone watching could feel seen and heard by her journey.
Back in a May 2021 TikTok, the Dance Moms alum shared with her followers that she had begun transitioning. "I came out as gay when I was 15 years old," she later told E! News. "I was training and working so much that I just didn't have time to sit and think about who I was becoming." In college, she watched as her friends discovered their true selves, noting, "'I have some growing to do.' That's when I realized that the he/him pronouns and the identifying as a male was certainly not happening for me, and I came out as non-binary."
Soon, she began her medical transition, and today, she is, simply put, thriving. "I'm not hiding any part of me anymore," she told E!. "I'm showing up as my full self."
Here, a year in, the 23-year-old pens a personal essay on what she's learned—and what's to come...
It's a weird feeling to sit down and write something you know a lot of people are going to read. If I am being honest, I procrastinated because of the pressure I feel to use this as a megaphone to share a well-crafted, yet authentic message.
I keep thinking of the times I eagerly waited to see what a journalist decided to write about me after a 30-minute Zoom or the parts of a video interview they decided to show. Oftentimes it was about Dance Moms or my experience transitioning as a dancer. While these are important chapters, they don't always share exactly what I would. That's why I'm grateful for this opportunity to say what hasn't made it into the narrative before.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to describe a place in my childhood that always felt safe. I thought about the many activities that made me smile—playing outside in my Nana and Tata's backyard and climbing the trees that are not as tall as I remembered. I thought about the places I dragged my dad to, like the trampoline parks, mini golf courses, ice skating rinks or literally just the McDonald's drive-thru. Then there were the hugs from my mom, settling in between her arms when I had nowhere to travel to after or no place to be.
But the safest place of all was behind the closed door of my playroom, listening to Hannah Montana—or Miley Cyrus—with my sister. We spent a lot of time together playing Barbies, making barns out of blocks and jumping on the trampoline. But what was also the norm were the sharp outbursts I had toward her when she didn't deserve it. Sometimes that ended in a shove, a slap on the arm or a sudden end to my two-act Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus concert.
I did not realize until recently that I had a lot of anger as a child. It was hiding in what I thought were normal obsessions with getting perfect grades, a constant need to be doing something or a longing to be validated.
These were easy to hide behind until the pandemic hit and we were all forced inside. As the days got longer and I had no to-do lists to check off, I had no choice but to realize what was really going on. And don't worry about this being solely a coming out story: I had three coming outs, so I will jump right out and say, in simplest terms, that I realized I was transgender and that my life was going to change a lot.
That was no exaggeration. Today, I'm not dancing as much, and I have jobs I never thought I would. But, I also don't wake up with a heavy feeling in my chest anymore. I don't feel afraid of the quiet, and in fact, I really enjoy my own company. It has been a lot of fun getting to know Lennon.
Lennon was introduced to the world about a year ago. I thought a lot would change all at once, and it would feel vastly different walking in shoes that were my own. But honestly, life doesn't feel so different as much as it just feels right. I wake up to the same friends I knew at 10 years old, I drag my dad to nights out with me and my friends, I still find time for the hugs with my mom (even though lately there are places to be after), and my sister and I still find time for our concerts, although they are usually in the car.
At this point, you may have noticed I haven't said anything exciting about being trans or how we should all gear up to celebrate Pride Month. But there's a reason for that. June for the LGBTQ+ community is just a time where we get to feel a little extra love from those around us. Don't get me wrong, I love Pride Month. But it goes without saying that we need to be doing more than celebrating and speaking out just one month out of the a year.
If anything has become apparent these last few months, it's that the livelihood of young queer kids is at stake. Every day, trans kids in the U.S. turn on the news and feel a punch to the gut. If you stumble upon this, I want you to know you need to find time to decompress. It is important to find time to recharge your battery and do things that make you feel loved. For me, that's making breakfast with my family and spending a day with my phone on Do Not Disturb. I do it so that I can step up to fight the battles that need to be fought. I have privilege, and I am ready to use it when I can.
What has come up a lot for me lately is that I am not Lennon, the transgender dancer from Dance Moms. Rather, I am Lennon, a person living life, fighting for gender equality, who just also happens to be transgender. I am a person first. My ask for everyone this Pride Month is to remember that we are all people first.
I have seen a lot of people open up their worlds to me, not only by respecting my "choice" and treating me with respect, but also by standing eye-to-eye with me as a human being. Understanding what it means to be in my shoes as best they can. Understanding that I am and always was Lennon. My mom goes out of her way to correct people when they misuse pronouns and my dad introduces me as his daughter.
I've opened their eyes, but I still see people with theirs closed. They tell me they respect me and love me, but also praise new laws that say trans healthcare is child abuse. It is not...in case that was ever up for debate.
I've learned that sometimes all it takes is for one person to help someone break through what they've been taught. So that's why I happily show up for interviews, take photos of myself and post them on the internet, and accept an offer to write a personal essay for E!
I hope that with my presence, my candor I can be everyone's friend, the one that can open their eyes a little more, hopefully enough to stop debating our identities.
If you made it this far, I am glad you are here. I was asked to write about who I was a year ago when my coming out hit the news cycle, who I am now and who I hope to be. I don't really have answers for those, but I do know that at each of those phases, I was making sure to be as true to myself as I could. Right now, that means consulting ballet companies on gender equity, playing with my new style with brands I always dreamed of working with and fighting for fair maps and voting rights at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
I can do all this because I have carefully crafted my spaces to feel like my playroom as a kid. Those spaces are filled with people that make me feel as safe and celebrated as my sister did when I made her sit and cheer me on while I sang "The Climb" and "Nobody's Perfect."
Now, I want people to consider how they can make safer spaces for not only queer kids but all kids everywhere. These spaces encourage them to be their best selves. These spaces will save lives. Kids are our future, and we must invest in our future.
Until then, I will be busy working my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the NDRC and a few other projects along the way. I look forward to popping back up in your news cycle down the line.
Thank you for your time,
Lennon Monroe Torres
P.S.: After the tragedy in Texas at Robb Elementary School, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be standing and surrounded by family. It makes me sick to think of the number of deaths we could avoid by implementing gun safety laws. If you want to join me in learning more about how you can get involved in stopping gun violence, here is a link with resources for how to make an impact.