Bravery comes in all forms, but most often the strength to be brave comes from within. This month as we Celebrate Locals, we visited with two individuals who have taken huge leaps in continuing to become who they are meant to be. While their journey has brought them far from the bayous of their youth, adventure calls and they have bravely answered.
Los Angeles - December 2016: A young Houma-native undergoes an extensive life-altering surgery. Besides being under the needle for hours, the then 21-year-old college junior had to go through a year of strenuous preparation—doing various lab tests, physical conditioning and more—prior to his procedure. After his surgery, he went through a grueling 12-day recovery process; however, you won’t hear him complain, as this always-positive young man bravely went through with this surgery—not to fight any illness or physical disability—but to physically transition into who he truly was all along.
Growing up, Bonnie “Bon” Wells felt like he might have been different from others around him at a very young age. Bon noticed he had masculine tendencies whenever he was in kindergarten. He would often play field games with the boys instead of playing more “traditional” feminine games with the girls and would dress up in a boy’s uniform.
“All through grade school, I knew within myself what was going on. I definitely knew I had different feelings than everyone else around me,” he explains. “But my whole thing with my life was just like, ‘I will always try to have a really positive outlook on everything.’”
Although he says middle school was his hardest time in terms of finding his own identity, Bon was fortunate enough to not encounter much bullying throughout his time there. Not quite knowing yet what being transgender was, Bon declared himself as gay during his time at middle school and throughout high school. Luckily, his excellent support system consisting of his family, friends, teachers and classmates made his journey of self-discovery easier.
He describes his high school experience as very “high functioning.” He was involved in student council and was the school’s mascot, all while remaining himself. Although he was widely accepted, he noticed other gay or trans people being picked on, and with his true good-natured heart, decided become an advocate for them.
“I always tried to spread acceptance and love to everyone,” says the Terrebonne High School graduate. “If you’re going to treat me this way, I’m not the exception to the rule. These people are just like me; they deserve just as much love and respect.”
Bon went on to attend LSU. It was during a sociology class his freshman year that he learned what it meant to be transgender. “I immediately was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s me,’” he remembers.
After going home and telling his girlfriend Shelby Paine, who Bon has been dating since he was 16 years old, he began researching. Before he talked to his parents about his decision, he researched sources and doctors, talked to experts at school and talked to two other already transitioned men. Fully certain he wanted to transition, he told his family, who as always, supported his decision. The devoted at-the-time 20-year-old started hormonally transiting and physically conditioning, as the doctor instructed, on December 12, 2015—his birthday.
Bon couldn’t have felt happier about the results after his successful surgery a year later. “I'm a positive person. I'm always going to try to live my life to the fullest, but it was so hard the way I was feeling before—like just being trapped in your head and feeling like your external appearance doesn't align with that is so incredibly hard on your heart,” he shares. “Honestly, it's been very incredibly life changing. You don't realize the level of confidence that comes after that…I had actually had all of those things done on my birthday on purpose because it was kind of like a rebirth.”
Feeling relieved and reborn, Bon returned to LSU to finish his education. He was highly involved in campus life—being in involved in a numerous amount of student organizations. His charismatic personality gave him the opportunity to MC a yearly LSU festival. His commitment to the university led him to be voted to LSU’s Homecoming Court his senior year—making him the first transgender person ever to receive this honor.
This past summer, the mass-communication-graduate was chosen out of thousands of applicants for an internship with the Television Academy Foundation, which placed him with Getty Images. This allowed him to be honored, along with nine other interns, at the 2018 Emmys. The industry-hopefuls go to walk the gold carpet and were placed center stage in front of a celebrity audience and millions of other viewers around the world.
Today, Bon still lives in L.A. with Shelby and his older sister Hillary—who has been making a name for herself in the Los Angeles comedy scene. Like his sister, Bon is thriving in the L.A. entertainment world—doing freelance videography and photography while also making documentary shorts on his YouTube channel.
“People will definitely recognize hardworking and heartfelt people, no matter what you look like, where you come from or what your life struggles are,” the inspiring trailblazer says.
Although Bon is as many of today’s youth might say, “living his best life”, he still knows he has the challenge of breaking down stereotypes many might have of people in the trans community, the main one being that it is a mental illness. He also acknowledges that many other trans people might not have had the tremendous support system he had growing up and might be going through troubling times. He urges those individuals to call the official Transgender Suicide Hotline at (877) 565-8860.
“You have to be able to look within yourself and know that you are fine; you're not crazy;” Bon says to anyone looking to freely be themselves. “You know what you want and need to have a good quality of life.”