How a kid growing up in York and Lancaster found his voice as a transgender teen

At 5 years old, when most kids wished for more sweets and toys, Preston Heldibridle hoped he could be a boy.

He never felt comfortable being called a girl even though he was born female. And, he didn’t quite understand the internal conflict back then, so he brushed it off as a childish delusion.

As Heldibridle grew up in the rural areas of Lancaster and later southern York County, he understood why he didn’t find validity in what he was feeling.

On the rare occasion when transgender people were mentioned in conversations, Heldibridle remembers them being “villain-ized”. They were also referred to as “freaks” and “perverts”.

Heldibridle entered Dallastown Area High School in 2015 as a new student his junior year and he befriended someone who was transgender and others within the LGBT community. 

When he was 17 years old he realized he wasn’t a tomboy. He was “a boy-boy” and came out as transgender. 

He remembers saying to himself: My name is Preston. This is who I am and being myself is important and I don’t have to impede that for the ease of others.

Heldibridle told his dad and stepmom first, but admittedly, he “was really afraid of inconveniencing them and causing them pain.”

Luckily, his parents were supportive even if they didn’t understand. While juggling this pivotal point in his life, Heldibridle focused his support on advocating for the LGBT community.

Along with the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, Heldibridle helped defeat a state bill that would have excluded trans youth from being enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

Today, Heldibridle still advocates with PYC as the State Policy Associate and he has used his own experience to highlight health hazards that the transgender community faces. 

“For a lot of us, it feels like if we don’t do something to help ourselves, it feels like no one else is going to,” he said.

Opening up about binding

Binding is the practice of flattening the breast tissue and it’s a method used widely in the transgender and nonbinary communities. 

Heldibridle, 21, has been binding since he was 17 years old and says he is not himself when he’s in public without a binder. 

“In a day where I would not be wearing my binder, there is an acute sense of vulnerability and almost humiliation.” 

Improper binding can limit breathing and cause other health problems. 

Heldibridle has had positive and negative experiences with binding. And, he dives deep into the importance of providing healthy binding options for the people that need them in his essay Beyond Duct Tape: Binding for Transmasculine Youth.

The essay is part of an anthology called “Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health.”

A book release event is being held Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Rainbow Rose Center, in the I.D.E.A.S. Center at 15 N. Cherry Lane, York, Pennsylvania 17401.

Advice for LGBT youth 

Heldibridle said “making sure that you are safe” is one of the most important tidbits of advice that he has for transgender people.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people [were] fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2019.

He also understands that young people don’t always have an ideal support system and are left figuring things out on their own. But, he urges teens and young adults to stay true to who they are. And, to remember that their journey is not a sprint⁠—it’s a marathon. 

“Take your time. You don’t need to figure it all out at once. It’s always a process,” he said.