Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is visibility as a trans man within my role as a teacher. When I was in college, and I started transitioning, I began with a social transition – I lived my daily life as male (attempted to use male pronouns with everyone), but had not yet begun taking hormones. I sent emails to all of my professors and people who knew me on campus, coming out to them and asking them to use male pronouns for me. Before each course, I emailed my new professors and told them my preferred name and pronouns so I could ensure that there would be no slip-ups once classes started. I did this for over three years before deciding I wanted to take hormones, and during those pre-T years, I often had to fight to get people to call me he either because they didn’t read me as male or because they knew me “before” or because they actively resisted using them. At the time, I was very adamant that I didn’t want to go “stealth” and disappear from the trans community, because I knew how important it was to me to have transmasculine role models. Before college, the only trans people I knew of were trans women on Jerry Springer whose identities as trans were revealed in an illicit fashion (and a horribly degrading way!). In college, I met three trans men within my freshman year and recognized their stories as similar to my own. It was through seeing their journeys up close (and meeting more and more trans people) that I began to think this might be the path for me, and I wished I had those role models sooner!
In fall of 2008, I started working at an Early Childhood Center as part of my master’s in Child Development. I passed 90% of the time, but the K/1 class wasn’t sure what pronouns to use for me. They asked if I was a boy or a girl, and the lead teacher supported me in just answering that I was a boy. We didn’t discuss being trans, but I did write a children’s book (that I read aloud to them and they illustrated!) about things that are stereotypically boy’s or girl’s things being okay for kids of the other gender to like too (i.e. boys have short hair and girls have long hair, but this boy has long hair and this girl has short hair!).
I started taking hormones in January of 2009; in June, I began my teacher education program. That first summer, I mostly passed, and I rarely had to correct anyone’s pronouns. When I did my second student teaching placement in spring of 2010, it was at a pretty progressive public high school in NYC (where students called their teachers by first name), so there were some students (even in 9th and 10th grade) who knew what trans people were and asked my cooperating teacher if I was trans. I came out to those students individually, but I didn’t share with the whole class that I was trans.
My first year teaching in my own room though, I was still nervous about my ability to pass and how I could enact my masculinity. I felt like I barely knew how to be a man and suddenly I had middle school boys challenging me (calling me a woman and insulting me – probably more because I was somewhat effeminate and young looking and they didn’t respect me than an actual knowledge of me being trans). However, it made me nervous about disclosing to my students, as I was afraid it could be turned around into an attack on me, and there weren’t a lot of public figures who were trans yet, so I hid it.
When I switched schools the following year, I was finally able to grow significant facial hair, and my ability to pass was secured. I felt relieved, and it became less common for me to disclose that I was trans – notice, my verb has changed from “come out” to “disclose.” In my mind, before I transitioned, I needed to come out to people as who I felt like I truly was, but that they might not fully see. Whereas now that I’ve hormonally and surgically transitioned in the ways that felt right to me, I pass on a daily basis and I consider my transition to be a part of my past/history, so I disclose to new people about something that existed in my past. But I live my daily life as a man, and I don’t consider my daily experience to be different than any other man.
However, this has meant that I’ve become invisible. Two years ago, I had a transgender student who wasn’t quite out (he decided by the end of the year to go by a shortened version of his birth name that was more masculine and to start using male pronouns, but it was an on-going decision all year). Another one of my students was trying to hint that there was something going on with this student (which I was already aware of because the ELA teacher and I had discussed it), and she had no idea I was trans and was like, “You wouldn’t understand what’s going on with <student>.” It was awkward and a bit funny, and I didn’t know how to react.
Even weirder was that I had a colleague who I’ve collaborated with at network PDs for several years. He thinks quite highly of me and I of him. We met one summer to plan for the implementation of CMP 3 and we’ve corresponded quite a bit digitally. Last summer, we were in a week-long PD together and we were eating lunch in the park with a group of other teachers and discussing the upcoming school year. He started sharing about a challenge his school was facing for the fall: they were going to have a transgender student and they were discussing the bathroom that he should use. He said he had never known a transgender person, so he didn’t know what to expect, and I laughed. I disclosed and told him he did know someone – me! I shared with him some suggestions (the simplest of which was “Why don’t you ask the student what they prefer?”). But then I realized that the majority of my colleagues at work at my own school didn’t know that I was trans.
And that brings me to the crux of this post: it’s not easy to disclose being trans, especially when you’re a math teacher (which is a career where it doesn’t come up often). It’s not something that comes up in daily conversation, and it’s not something that I can usually naturally work into conversation. The only opener I’ve ever really found is discussing where I went to high school because it’s an all-girl’s Catholic High School – but that only works if the other person knows that school. I haven’t figured out a way to work it into general conversation.
Now, I’ve just been hired to work for another school, so come September, I’m transferring to a different middle school in the same district (but totally different neighborhood). I know a few of my colleagues already, as I’ve met with the math department this summer to discuss content. However, I have no idea when or how to come out to them. I think I’m the youngest math team member by at least 5 – 10 years, and I have no idea what previous experiences they have with trans people. It’s terrifying in a way, because you don’t know how people will react to your disclosing. I’ve actually had people who have such little experience with trans people (especially trans men), that when I’ve disclosed they asked me if that meant I wanted to be a woman! I laughed and told them I’d tried that and it didn’t work out for me! Even now, with more prolific people coming out as trans, it’s still predominantly trans women who come out; there are very few famous out trans men that the general public outside the LGBT community know. I think that’s another reason why it’s important to me to be visible as a trans educator.
Every year, I make a post during October where I come out as trans because I believe it’s important for me to be visible. I know some people are gonna hate on me because of it, but at this point in my life, I’m secure enough in myself and my masculinity to write those people off the way I write off any bully. I also think it’s important to understand the way our histories and our experiences create ourselves: if you don’t know that I went to a small, all girl’s Catholic high school, you won’t fully understand the type of environment in which I learned all of the topics I learned about in HS.
Now I just wish I could figure out how to come out more to coworkers – when and how do I bring it up in conversation?