When I was in the 10th grade, a friend of mine got pregnant. Once she was unable to hide her growing child with bulky clothes anymore, her parents pulled her out of school and sent he off to stay with family two states away until the baby was born. When my friend returned to school, she and I had a long talk about what happened. She shared with me that while already feeling guilty enough about having a teen pregnancy, her parents added to her shame by “hiding” her until she could appear normal to everyone that knew them after the baby was born.
I know that my friend’s experience and my experience are different, but its the closest thing I can think of to compare to how I am feeling right now…and have felt at various points on my journey.
As I have shared here before, my brother died while deployed overseas with the military. I believe I have also shared he and I were both fortunate enough to attend this amazing boarding school not far from our hometown. Well…those two things tie in together to bring us to how I am feeling today.
After my brother’s death, the school and his classmates did a lot to help ensure my brother is always remembered there. A plaque was placed in the school’s chapel honoring my brother’s service. His picture was placed in one of the academic buildings alongside the alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWI and WWII. An award was created to go to one graduating senior who was going into the military. Lastly, a scholarship was created to to help provide a full ride to this school for a kid who had a parent who served or was actively serving in the military.
They all did a great deal to ensure both that my brother’s name lived on and that his memory could help inspire future generations through education and service to our fellow man. It has also been a great honor of mine to be heavily involved in the fund raising for the scholarship and to be able to return to campus every spring to give out the award in my brother’s name.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with the school’s headmaster to discuss the scholarship and how to increase the endowment so that the scholarship can help more children from lower income military families to attend the school. A lot of good has come out of this work. Having come from a lower income background at that time in my life, the work has really helped me to live by the idea of paying it forward and giving other teens the opportunities my brother and I had.
Oh. One other important fact about the boarding school he and I attended that I don’t think I have mentioned before. Its an all male school with a lot of “conservative Old South” heritage…
I knew when I went up for this meeting I was also going to need to talk with the headmaster about my transition. Graduation is only two and half months away and with the changes in my physical appearance, the issue needed to be discussed so no one was caught off guard by me at graduation.
Now, I will give the headmaster a great deal of credit. The questions he asked me about my transition were respectful and genuinely great questions. There were the standard questions of how long have I known, what lead me to finally take the steps to acknowledge the real me, how was my support system, how was my family handling the news and things of that nature. He also asked some questions that surprised me but showed he truly wanted to understand what I had and was still going through. He asked how I managed the social experience when I was a student there and why I would have chosen an all male school considering the conflict that was going on in my head. Like I said…he asked great questions.
Despite all of that, I received some news that while expected, was still hard to hear. I was told that he would prefer I not attend this year’s ceremony due to the changes in my physical appearance and not return to present the award at least until I am presenting full time. His exact words to me were:
“I need to time to think about this and talk with the Board of Trustees. I think it’s best if you don’t present the award until you are living full time. At that time, I will work with the Board to figure out how to move you back in to presenting the award.”
Like I said…it was the answer I was expecting but certainly didn’t want to hear. It also leaves the door open for the fact that they my ask me to not be involved in this work anymore due to me being me.
As I shared with some friends last night, I am not mad with the headmaster himself. His job is to both promote and protect the school and the students. That’s what he was hired to do. Additionally, overall he showed me a level of respect that many in my real life do not show me when I disclose. I could also tell from his words, tone of voice and body language that he doesn’t know what to do at this point. I could see the conflict within him as he tried to figure out how to both respect me and my brother’s name while also doing what’s best for the school.
As I left the meeting though, I was left with this feeling similar to what my friend described following her teen pregnancy. I’m being tucked away…hidden in some sense…from people so as not to raise questions. I’m being treated differently because I am choosing to honor and respect who I am so that others don’t feel uncomfortable. While I realize that those who do not feel congruent are a very small percentage of the overall population, how will our existence ever be normalized to the world if we are tucked away in some corner, hidden from site, so as not to make the rest of the world uncomfortable?
Its actions such as these that feed the shame that so many of us experience in our transitions. It only adds to the feeling that so many in the world see us as some sort of abomination to society. It contributes to the multitude of other factors that leave individuals like myself staying housebound most of the time so that we can save ourselves the embarrassment of making someone else uncomfortable.
I don’t know. Its been an emotional 24 hours with the events of yesterday. I know the world is changing for the better so far as accepting people like me…but I also believe there need to be more people willing to step up and speak out for myself and others on this journey.
Maybe its selfish of me but I had hoped, though knew it was unlikely, that the headmaster would say that he still wanted me to present the award this year because of all the work I did to make it a reality. I had hoped he would say that I should present it because that would actually honor the man my brother was, a man who gave his life fighting to ensure all human beings were granted basic rights and treated fairly. I know his position is difficult, but I hoped he would step up and be an example to a bunch of impressionable young men and their families by saying, “Our school will be tolerant of differences, no matter what they may be.”
While I know what I am doing is a radical change and is only now starting to truly be accepted by society, I had hoped that this institution that I have taken so much pride in and worked so hard to support would stand up and say, “You are one of our children. You have stood up for us. Now let us stand up for you.”
I guess that’s wishful thinking, huh?
See it on Flickr.
Foxcity – Stay In Bed 1m