“Coming out” - over and over and over.

There are approximately 15 students in my Adolescent Development class. Earlier today my professor would ask the class about our adolescent experiences in relation to whatever topics popped up. For example, we were asked us to describe our best friend during grade school, middle school, high school, and now - and to think of similarities, themes, and differences as we’ve developed and changed throughout time (with the disclaimer that there are people out and aboot there who have consistently had the same best friend throughout).

After some other students answered, I remembered a guy who I was friends with in grade school. He lived nearby and we bonded over our mutual interest in throwing dirt balls and kicking balls. In middle school, my best friend was a girl who I bonded with over our mutual disinterest in school - and I would spend hours listening to her talk about sex and boys. Then she moved to another state.

Then, in high school, my peer group changed a bit. And throughout, I felt increasingly isolated from my peers. While I ended up meeting some amazing people, I had no idea how to conceptualize or communicate about 95% of the stuff I was experiencing. I spent most of my time with my immediate family who I could be my genuine self with. But I was also able to find other trans/queer youth online. I remember feeling incredibly lucky to have access to youth beyond the borders of my high school or Salt Lake City, Utah. Even though my friends were all wonderful, I was afraid to open up about my experience. But through the Internet, I had a tool I could utilize to reach out to other youth all over the world in a way that felt safe.

I remember experiencing more fear about the adults in my school - the teachers, staff, and faculty who seemed to share in the prejudice and discrimination. Further, most of my interactions with faculty resulted in my feeling like an unwanted delinquent. It was my distinct impression that many of the adults at my school made it extremely clear that they believed the targets of bullying or the minority students were the problems - instead of utilizing situations like that as learning tools for teaching diversity, understanding, and acceptance.



I relayed to class a compressed version of the above - that my friends and I, throughout that period of time, had different interests and activities. And how my friendship priorities have changed throughout that time.

Even though I thought a great deal about the question and had more to share, I relayed a very impersonal and guarded response in class. I never once alluded to my having been perceived as “female” in high school, even when our professor asked if we were mostly friends with the same or opposite sex. I wanted to answer, “I was friends with boys, for the most part.”, but froze up and resisted, as it would require more explanation - as in, “oh, by the way, I was female in high school.”

Our professor relayed that during adolescence, in general, boys start to spend less time with family and more time alone whereas girls spend less time with family and more time with friends. I didn’t mention that during my adolescence I began to spend less time with peers and more time with my immediate family.

She talked about gender differences in adolescent friendships (again, in general), females show more intimacy via affective exchanges, personal confidences, etc., whereas males exhibit bonding via side-by-side activities. I didn’t mention how during my “female” adolescence the only time I spent with peers were with my male friends doing side-by-side activities.

When she stated Carol Gilligan’s theory that girls are socialized to be nurturing and so on - I didn’t mention how I had been societally socialized and pressured into female-typical behavior and intrinsically preferred programming games on to our fancy TI-85 calculators with my friend, Sean - which, by the way, were really, really cool in the early 1990s. So was my Rio PMP300 mp3 player! It was released in 1998, had 32 entire MB on it (whoa!!!) and we snabbed two of them due to a lawsuit that was happening at the time where, terrified of the prospect of, god forbid, MP3 players:
On October 8, 1998, the American recording industry group, the Recording Industry Association of America, filed an application for a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the sale of the Rio player in the Central District Court of California, claiming the player violated the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act.
… On October 26, Judge Collins denied the RIAA’s application. After the lawsuit ended, Diamond sold 200,000 players
Funny thing - when I ran around school with it, no one - and I literally mean no one - knew wtf an “mp3” was. Er, ahem… moving on.

Back to class and the various topics - the list goes on and on and not once did I mention anything about my own, personal adolescent experience. Which has me feeling guilty. As I’ve mentioned before - pre-hormone therapy, I never had to put effort into “coming out” as gender non-conforming. I could relay an experience without a “shock” effect or having to relay an explanation of some sort. Now, even though I have no desire to be “stealth”, the terrain of inadvertently being read as cisgender is so unfamiliar to me that it’s scary. As in, this terrain of mentioning something like, “During my female-bodied adolescence…” while also trying to explain what “female-bodied” even means or that I’m trans or having it result in dominating the lecture somehow with my presence or my own, particular experience.

Yet, it’s not every semester, I’m guessing, that there’s a trans student who has a slightly different adolescent gender experience and process to at least contribute to the discussion. And part of being out and proud is to relate these experiences as part of the overall picture when it comes to adolescence and human experience and diversity. Yet, still, I genuinely feel …. afraid, perhaps? And uncomfortable.
It’s me, entirely. I know, as a fact, that the instructor knows that I’m trans and she is incredibly trans-aware and friendly. So it’s not scary or uncomfortable in terms of anything outside of, basically, ... I'm not sure.

I definitely have a great deal of respect for those individuals who have had concealable stigmatized identities for as long as they can remember, such as sexual orientation minorities out there who are consistently read as heterosexual, invisible to their communities, and have to a lot of effort into “coming out” to the world around them over, and over … and over.

From this point forward, when this gender stuff comes up in a class and it’s open for discussion, I'm going to do my best to share more. Even if it requires a bit of explanation. The reason it would even be a shock or require an explanation is specifically due to how invisible trans issues are - especially in discussions like this. Even if it’s a minority experience, it’s my experience and just as worthy of mention and consideration. At least, once I get it over with, I won’t have to explain it next time in class when I share something pertinent.

It’s foreign and scary, yes - but it’s worse to not share my experience as the other students do. I’m just going for it.

On a related note, she also whipped out this spiffy Brown’s model for mapping the social world of adolescents to illustrate something to the affect of how the structure of the educational system supports these bizarre, meaningless adolescent clique hierarchies.

If I absolutely had to pick which one I likely belonged to, since I wasn’t all that popular socially or followed any rules, and since the teacher mentioned these are the ones who end up dropping out most of the time, I was totally one of the “Toughs”. Boo-ya!



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