Alex Meadows is careful about her appearance. Her makeup is neatly applied, her hair silky and straight, her ensembles just so.
She puts thought into the image she projects to the world because she's spent a lifetime trying to fit in.
"I happened to be that little boy who wanted to play with dolls and girls," said Meadows, who grew up mostly in Lexington as a male and has started the medical process to become a biological woman.
As early as elementary school she was called names, she said. When she was younger she didn't really understand why kids were so mean. As she got older, she realized the hatred behind the words and it caused her to withdraw. "I've always been a bookworm. I stayed to myself and had few friends. The ones I did have were mostly girls," she said.
Her family life was complicated, she said. She found little support at home; her parents didn't really know how to help her.
Middle school was kind of the best and worst time. By then, she said, she was openly identifying as gay. As a joke, a group of girls sent a love letter to a popular football player, signing it with her name. The boy's reaction was to threaten and try to intimidate her. Meadows remembers that he said he would kill her.
A counselor at her school listened to the problem and did what she could by talking to the students involved and explaining to them why it was wrong, she said.
"She was very understanding and very supportive," Meadows said.
But the damage was done. Although a bright student, Meadows wanted to go to school less and less. The stress often made her sick, so she missed a lot of days.
High school was a little better, in part because she grew to be more than 6 feet tall, and that made some potential bullies think twice about baiting her, she said. But, the overall atmosphere was less than welcoming, so she ultimately graduated through a home-school program. In a few weeks, she's heading back for her second year at Northern Kentucky University.
The complications of her gender status continue. Because she is transgender but not biologically female, she can't stay in a girls' dorm. Because she lives in the world as a woman, she can't bunk with the guys.
But, she said, she's happy to be part of Project Speak Out, the anti-bullying campaign by Lexington Fairness, a non-profit devoted to providing education about gay rights and welfare issues.
"Every bullied child thinks no one can understand what they've been through," she said, in the Lexington Fairness video.
Meadows, 19, wants her story to be told because she knows in many ways it reflects the stories of many other kids who don't fit in for whatever reason.
"I just want to be able to help one person," she said. "Kids shouldn't be trying to handle this on their own."
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261.Twitter: @bgmoms.Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.