Building Rome: Navigating Trans Identity with Natalie Day

Activism, Outreach and Education

How do you build Rome? Certainly not in a day, and for YouTube educator Natalie Day, it’s one video at a time. From 4 years old, Day knew her Rome: her identity as a transgender woman. Her path to self-acceptance has been long and storied, and as she struggled personally, Day documented her transition journey through her YouTube channel, grl bydesign. Being in the public eye hasn’t always been easy, but Day is dedicated to spreading messages of love. “What I hope that people take away from my channel, from my life, from my avenues of communication, is that we’re all human beings,” Day says. “Simply validating people, loving people, accepting people for who they are will take us further than anything else. Never give up on hope.”

Building Rome took time. Even after Day’s medical transition, societal pressure led to struggles that ranged from mental health to professional and economic issues. As the anxiety grew too much to bear, Day began detransitioning, reversing the gender-affirming surgeries and hormone therapy she had undergone.

In this dark time, Day’s video journey began on Facebook with a video she posted explaining how transitioning had been the worst mistake of her life. Despite the portrayal of regret, somewhere, Day knew detransitioning wasn’t a step toward connecting with who she really was. One safe space changed everything. Day says, “My therapist was like, ‘you’re a transgender woman. You can choose to be that, to find peace with yourself and finally grow in that way, or eventually, you’re probably going to be a suicide statistic.’ The more I thought about it, I just realized I don’t want to be a statistic. I do want to be happy; I deserve to be happy.”

As Day found herself, she also began to acknowledge her unique position to use her story for good. In response to the previous Facebook video, Day posted a YouTube video called, “Detransitioning– The BIGGEST MISTAKE of My Life!!” “I made that video with the intention of helping someone who was struggling, because I know detransitioning is something a lot of people consider,” she says. “You could try and be a different person, but at the end of the day, who you are is who you are. It’s an intrinsic nature that you cannot fight day in and day out … your entire life.”

“The more I thought about it, I just realized I don’t want to be a statistic. I do want to be happy; I deserve to be happy.”

Views racked up fast. As much as she wanted to help others, Day soon realized that her own mental health had to take a priority. With the video gaining more than 1.4 million views, Day received hate like she had never before. The backlash didn’t stop her, though. Instead, she says the hate has given her “rhino skin,” allowing her to stand up no matter the cruelty. “I am a transgender woman. There’s nothing I can do that will ever change that, and we need to look introspectively more and truly be the people who we are,” she says. “That’s more important than anything because if you can be authentic to yourself, then you can find authentic love.”

Anxiety has kept Day from uploading consistently, but as she works through the struggles, Day hopes to post more videos and create a space where differences are valued, uplifted and held as something beautiful. “My belief is that sometimes people just need to see a glimmer of hope to keep moving forward, so I try to do things that hope can build upon in order to move forward,” Day says. “As far as my YouTube goes, eventually, I would like to just be a positive voice, an influential voice of teaching, love and support.”

Although Day’s faced challenges, it was overcoming those challenges that have made her who she is. “Even though my journey was unconventional and it was different than any story I’ve ever heard, I had to go through all of those experiences to be able to grow in the ways that I needed to because honestly, had I not detransitioned, I never would have come to a place of acceptance,” Day says.

“My belief is that sometimes people just need to see a glimmer of hope to keep moving forward.”

And no matter how far she’s come, Day says she will always be a vessel for lessons. What keeps her going in the face of bigotry and ostracization? Another simple mantra: “It has to get better; it’s going to get better,” Day says. “That’s something that’s just played in the back of my mind like a recorder every step of the way. This may not be perfect right now—this may not be easy right now—but eventually, things will get better.”

Things really did get better. Finally, Day is happy in the Rome she’s built. Her story is not finished, and neither is Day’s endeavor to inspire others on their own journeys, both trans and cis alike. “When I say it gets better and life can come full circle, it’s true; it can,” Day says. “I didn’t know what my life would look like at the end of it all, but peace, happiness, authenticity and self-love are more important than anything else. The rest will find you.”

You can follow Natalie Day’s story through her YouTube at grl bydesign and her Twitter @grlbydesign.