By Brian Garrard, Contributing Writer
It was in my freshman year of high school that I had first met anyone who had come out to me as transgender. This person had been a very close friend to me for all my life, and though at the time I didn’t understand it, I knew this part of his identity was important to him.
So much so, in fact, that he requested from teachers he trusted to call him by his adopted name, and rushed to cross out his more feminine birth name on the attendance sheets of classes whose teachers he didn’t trust, or even when there was a substitute.
He was, and is, one of the kindest and most thoughtful, intelligent human beings I have ever met. Which is why any time he had to struggle for something so basic as simply being addressed the way he wanted to be addressed, it was not only heartbreaking, it made me genuinely, viscerally angry.
Perhaps the most insane to me was that, my high school has the strange tradition of segregating the color of graduation robe by gender, and he actually had to fight with staff and administration just to get the men’s black robes. And it was all under the guise of protecting tradition, of upholding the rules and values of the school. And this wasn’t a guy who was particularly angry, he didn’t even put up that big of a fight, he just kept trying to push for something that would have been so basic, so effortless in its execution but so gratifying and validating to him. In the end, he got his black robes, but he still had to fight for them.
This entire ordeal was resolved only because the student in question presented himself in such a hospitable way that higher authorities were willing to listen to his case in a way that many other students didn’t get to be heard, and the school follows a non-discrimination policy that applied to transgender students.
Even in an area where it was legally enforceable, the protection and decent treatment of a transgender student, at no cost to the school itself, still had to be fought for. It was when I was late in my sophomore year that I had my first real relationship, I had a boyfriend — a transgender boyfriend. He was still kind and wonderfully articulate and intelligent, but his temper was far shorter, and he never got the chance to ask for a black robe.
He never got the chance to be called by his right name. And unlike the first young man mentioned, this one stopped pursuing education after high school, feeling betrayed by the very public system meant to protect him. It was in the fall of 2016 that one of my family members came out as transgender. He was always a quiet kid, but in the months leading up to this announcement, he was feeling depressed, and in fact had attempted suicide. The next time I saw him was at a family party, when he had already come out. He dressed like the main character of every indie romance movie ever made: skinny jeans, grey hoodie, letterman jacket, chain wallet. His fashion sense is garish but the thing I mainly noticed about him was something I hadn’t seen from him in a long time.
He was smiling. In fact, his father came to me, knowing I had known several transgender people in the past, and asked, not if I had any advice or could explain anything to him, but if I knew any good practitioner, who could help his son transition in the easiest and most welcoming, friendly way possible.
The heartbreaking, and even the heartwarming experiences I have had with the transgender people closest to me has all stemmed from a welcoming environment willing to take action against the obstruction of their rights, but also the legal system to back it up. I could easily talk about how the likelihood you’ve never been in a restroom with a transgender person in your life is so astronomically low that your denial of it is actually pretty good credence to the point that all they want to do is go to the bathroom and not be bothered, but I know you’ve heard that before.
I wanted, more than anything, to provide the human side of this whole ordeal. When you block basic rights and protections, you are further creating those students who never get their black robes. You are further pushing down those students who will only ever hear the name that makes them physically ill to hear. When you lift these rights, all you do is ensure that a suicidal boy who just wants to feel normal, doesn’t get that second chance, and never finds that smile.