The Challenges and Triumphs of Embracing Your Truth
More than three hundred sophomores applauded as I unwrapped my blue-polished nails from the microphone. The riotous reception signaled my successful reintroduction, and the sight of my fellow elected leaders standing with me at our back-to-school assembly emboldened me. The majority of the people in that cafeteria were aware that they had elected Charles to office the previous semester, but I had known Janet would reign.
I was obsessed with The Velvet Rope for a year straight, letting Janet Jackson's confessional lyrics lull me to sleep and comfort me when I felt lost. I felt that the album was the vehicle onto which Janet finally expressed her full self. I loved her fiery red curls and her equally vibrant smile, features that my friends said I had in common with the singer. I was deeply flattered when they nicknamed me baby Janet, a name that stuck and that I took as my own. There's power in naming yourself, in proclaiming to the world that this is who you are. Wielding this power is often a difficult step for many transgender people, because it's also a very visible one.
To announce your gender in name, dress, and pronouns in your school, place of work, neighborhood, and state is a public process, one in which trans people must literally petition authorities to approve name and gender marker changes on identification cards and public records. Becoming comfortable with your identity is step one; the next step is revealing that identity to those around you.
After that class assembly, I continued to improvise, creating the space I needed for myself in school within a cocoon of supportive friends, teachers, and teammates. Instead of embarking on a series of conversations with high school staff, I let my denim capris, my crown of curls, and my growing bust do the talking. It hasn't been until recently that I have been able to appreciate the brave girl standing on that stage, walking in those hallways, sitting in class, who made herself seen, heard and known.
My presence as a fifteen-year-old trans girl must've been radical to many, but to me it was truth, and my truth led me to form a womanhood all my own. What I failed to realize was that the people outside my home, specifically the school's staff, weren't equipped with the resources and experience to help a student like me. Some of them were unwilling to seek that knowledge and chose to view my presence as problematic. I admit that my approach may have appeared abrasive to some, but I was unapologetic about who I was and never felt the need to plead for belonging in school. Though my entitlement aided my survival, it also created problems.
I can still feel the sting of my chemistry teacher purposefully calling out "Charles" every morning during role call, to the giggles of my peers. To add insult to injury, she repeatedly misgendered me, deliberately referring to me as he and him and refusing to reprimand bullies who shouted obscenities and epithets at me. Instead of taking a leadership role and proclaiming that intolerance would not be tolerated, she chose to turn a blind eye to insults, going as far as blaming me for putting a target on my own back for dressing the way I did. She viewed my gender expression and femininity as unnatural.
Femininity in general is seen as frivolous. People often say feminine people are doing "the most," meaning that to don a dress, heels, lipstick and big hair is artifice, fake, and a distraction. But I knew even as a teenager that my femininity was more than just adornments, they were extensions of me, enabling me to express myself and my identity. My body, my clothes and my makeup are on purpose, just as I am on purpose.