Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 23, 2012

Coming out and finding ‘Common Ground’

When Jordan* was younger, he wanted to join Boy Scouts like many little boys but could not because he was born in a girl’s body.

‘I don’t … have to hide myself’

“I would wish to be a boy on a star after I saw ‘Pinocchio’ for the first time,” Jordan said.

As a child, he did not like “girl things” and had no interest in Girl Scouts but joined because his friends wanted to. After ignoring these feelings for years and later thinking about his gender, Jordan decided to come out as a lesbian and then as a female-to-male transgender person in high school.

“My goal in coming to college is I wanted to go to college as a guy. I didn’t want anyone to know unless they had to know,” Jordan said.

For his transition from female to male, Jordan underwent hormone therapy, injecting testosterone weekly, which resulted in changes so gradual that he was not aware they were happening.

“I can look at old pictures of myself. I can see the difference in my facial structure. I can hear recordings of myself and hear how much my voice has deepened,” Jordan said.

Today Jordan has no visible breasts because to remove them, he had top surgery, describing it as “euphoria.”

“All I can really say about having breasts when you don’t think they belong there is, ‘What are these things? I don’t know why they’re here. I don’t want them here,’” Jordan said.

As a result of not wanting breasts, Jordan used to bind them, which was painful.

“And then for them to be gone, I feel like I can breathe better, I can stand up straight, I can be proud of who I am now to an extent because I don’t feel like I have to hide myself,” he said.

For Jordan, that was a kind of coming out, because he never stops coming out.

“Because you never do stop coming out. It always comes up again, but this was different because I had to come out to something new. It was something that I had been trying to do my whole life,” Jordan said.

Knox response

Like Jordan, senior Michael Martinez found out he was transsexual in high school. He says he identifies as a “mostly gay, a flexible trans-man, sometimes.”

“I’m always changing a bit every year, so I’m always finding out something new each year,” Martinez said.

Martinez came out to his parents on the phone, on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11 and afterward in his transition, started being hyper-masculine to compensate.

“Not all trans people do this, of course, but there are a number of trans people who, when they change from one gender to another, they will overcompensate in acting like that gender because they’re so worried about being perceived correctly,” Martinez said.

Martinez said after a year of overcompensating, he can now draw in his My Little Pony coloring books, wear heels and paint his toenails.

At a meeting for Common Ground, a Knox group for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, in a discussion about what it is like to be queer on campus, Martinez spoke about the bad experience of another transsexual student. This student was repeatedly harassed last year, once by drunk people on Flunk Day and during another incident of someone trying to run her down on her bike as a joke. This student eventually transferred out of Knox.

“That’s why she left officially, because she was failing all her classes. She was failing her classes because she didn’t have a safe place to live and she felt like she couldn’t tell anybody,” Martinez said.

As a result of these incidents last year, safe space training for Resident Advisors (RAs) was implemented.

“It seems like people will go out of their way to help you so this doesn’t happen often,” senior Emily Young said.

Martinez said if RAs do not help, then students should go to the administration.

“Every one of the administration that I’ve spoken to is really good about this sort of thing, and they’re really friendly and accommodating,” Martinez said.

Describing his positive experience with the Knox administration, senior Peter Thomas said, “When I came to Knox, I was already out as trans, so part of the process of applying for me was, ‘Hey, how do you guys handle this?’ And they were like, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’”

Thomas said he was paired with a roommate who was openly gay.

In addition to the administration, Common Ground president sophomore Quiana Klossner said there is the Q&A (Queer & Ally) House to go to and the Common Ground executive board for people to talk to.

During one Common Ground meeting, freshman James Ostrander came out.

“It’s easier to tell people you’re gay, if you don’t know them,” Ostrander said.

After coming out to people at Knox, and “nothing happened,” he has not told his parents yet, but does not see a reason not to.

“I knew nobody would think less of me for it, so I wasn’t really concerned about what people would think. I had no reason to feel overly emotional about it, so I didn’t,” Ostrander said about coming out.

The only one out

Growing up in a rural community with a population of 4,500, junior Kaitlyn Duling was the only one out in her high school, which she described as a “weird, hostile environment.”

She said her experience at Knox has been better than home, “I’ve heard people in making comments before, in passing use derogatory language, but it wasn’t directed at me, and they weren’t people I knew.”

Duling said she knew she was gay when she was 13 years old. She dated guys in eighth grade, but her first “real crush” was on one of her friends who was a girl.

“I think people always assume I’m straight because I’m more feminine … Sometimes people don’t believe me and they’ll be like, ‘What? You’re lying. What?’ But for the most part, it’s not an issue at all,” Duling said.

A year after knowing she was gay, Duling’s mother found out and told her family.

“My mom cried. She was really sad at first, which I kind of understand now because she had pictured this whole future out for me, and she thought she couldn’t relate to me again, and she didn’t want me to have a hard life,” Duling said.

Duling said she was not scared to come out but was anxious.

“I knew it was inevitable. I wasn’t ever going to lie about it or hide it. It just wasn’t an option,” she said.

Learning curve

When Jordan came out, he said his family had a learning curve after discovering he was transgendered. When he was little saying he wished he were a boy, his mom said, ‘That’s what freaks do.” Jordan said she is appalled with herself when she thinks back on saying that and describes her as “one of the most loving individuals on the planet.” When he first came out, his dad assumed he came out for the attention, which Jordan did not expect. But he knew it was going to take time. After about a year, his mom started to talk to other mothers of transchildren and things are much better with his parents and he knows his parents love him.

To help him during his transition, he started going to therapy, had the support of his friends, family and the intervention specialist in high school and went to a group called OASOS (Open & Affirming Sexual Orientation & gender identity Support).

“When I finally came out as trans, that was when it all started to feel right,” Jordan said.

*Interviewee’s name changed as part of request to remain anonymous.

Sheena Leano

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