i feel quite small today

Today, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to make it illegal for doctors to proscribe gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth (18 and under).

I am grateful for what a few representatives said in the battle that ended in a vote of 66-28 in favor of this bill.

Rep. England: “You’re saying this is about children. It’s not. What it is about is scoring political points and using those children as collateral damage”

Rep. Rafferty: “Its totally undermining family rights, health rights and access to health care.”

I was pretty numb while I read this headline at first. A protective numbness.

I was numb until I reached this quote in the article from Rep. Wes Allen: “Their brains are not developed to make the decisions long term about what these medications and surgeries do to their body,”

When I read that, I was angry. I was frustrated by the utter stupidity of it all. I wanted to storm down to that house and explain to this man that going through puberty ~naturally~ or whatever Is A Choice, and a choice with lasting, lifelong repercussions. I want to ask why he thinks the state should be able to make this choice for children: A choice that he states will have lasting effects on their bodies.

I have been fighting my body for years, and if I had been given the option at the beginning to not have to go through that, hell yes I would have picked that.

I’m not a better person for having had two puberties. I’m just sadder.

All I want is to be able to protect those kids in Alabama. I want to protect my trans students from the ricocheting pain I am feeling after this bill. And after all the rest.

I feel quite small today.

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/07/1091510026/alabama-gender-affirming-care-trans-transgender

on being the only trans person in the room

This is a series thoughts in my attempt to process a meeting at work where we discussed trans people and students in such an abstract way that I felt invisible.


To be trans is to be traumatized. 

To come out is to choose authenticity but also to choose more trauma — not because you want it but because it is inevitable. When I am in public I am afraid of “looking too trans”. I am afraid of what people will say to me. I am afraid of what people will do to me. I am afraid that I only have myself to rely on or protect me. I feel alone.

This violence has never happened to me. But it happens to people like me, for being people like me, every day. I have accepted that I will face people who hate me before we have even met. I have accepted that because I need to in order to survive.


Part of coming out for many people is sharing your new name. Names hold power. To be trans is to take that power back. To fully attempt the human super power of self definition.

There is so much in changing a name or pronouns. 

It is not a small or a quick decision. 

It is a decision filled with anxiety and pain and stress. Asking for this change is an incredibly difficult step for a student to take. It is one that is not taken without a tremendous amount of thought and consideration. To choose to come out as trans is to choose to have to prove that you know yourself better than anyone else does, to a judge to a doctor to a school. And to have to prove that over and over and over.

And to, after all this pain and anguish and celebration of making it to the moment of living in truth, be told that the “official record” is more important than your lived experience is detrimental to someone’s sense of self and belonging. 

A document with name your parents chose before they even met you is somehow more official than one that you labored over and tested and changed and finally found something that made you feel whole. I don’t understand. 

To choose to dead name someone is to tell someone that you don’t care about the pain and trauma and bravery and hatred and joy that got them to this point. It is to say that your comfort is more important than this person’s personhood. We cannot do that to students.

Mx.

Mx. (Pronounced “Mix”) is an honorific, like Mr. or Mrs, except it is gender neutral.

As the start to my first full year of teaching creeps ever closer (or rather it races unfathomably quickly towards me…seriously this must be an olympic record for time passing) I have to face some major logistical decisions. Namely, I have to decide on what name and pronouns I will use with students.

This feels like a huge decision for a few reasons:

  1. It determines how my students and new colleagues will know and refer to me
  2. It determines what type of non-binary/queer representation I am going to be for my students. Am I going to be out and proud as a non-binary person? Am I going to be vocal? Am I going to let it be a minor part of my identity and focus on mathematics?
  3. If I choose not to use Mr. and he/him pronouns, it means coming out yet again to my family and friends. And I am afraid that they will see that as me changing my mind or rushing into a decision, instead of seeing this as me more deeply understanding myself and my gender. Insert something about gender being a journey and not a destination here.

All of my being warns me that asking for people to use they/them pronouns, or to use Mx. as my honorific, will be a major inconvenience for everyone involved. I really struggle asking for things in general. To ask for this curtesy, this recognition, this respect, feels like a lot.

But I have to trust it will be worth it. It’ll be worth it to feel seen and validated in my queerness, my non-normativeness, by those around me. It will be worth it to help my students see whats possible for them too.

making it back to writing

When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer. I had a full manuscript by the age of 8: a story of an evil chicken king who did karate and had to be fought by a duo of a frog and a flamingo, based off of my stuffed animals. I wrote and illustrated it, even typed it up on the computer and printed it in all its papyrus font glory.

And then I was in school where we had to write the personal narrative over and over and over until every mildly interesting story of my childhood life had been bled dry of interest. I can’t even begin to count the stories and essays I wrote about That Amazing Soccer Game or My Favorite Place.

After that, I endured the five paragraph essay: an attempt to compact the art of argument into an easily digestible form. But even then I refused to be limited. Instead of a 5 paragraph essay on the topic at hand, I wrote “the last will and testament of the 5 paragraph essay” and handed that in where I outlined the shortcomings of this type of assignment.

But then came the memoir. AP Language class my junior year with the teacher who inspired me to break out of these boundaries of writing we had been told. Who told me writing couldn’t be tested by what we produce in a 2 hour sitting.

I wish I could read what I wrote back then. That paper that I meticulously drafted and edited. I spent many pages of my notebooks on scribbles trying to get it right. Trying not to sound too flowery or embellished. Trying to be understood.

I used to keep a journal on me at all times to write out all the terrible thoughts I couldn’t get out of my head. I took what was in that notebook, I took what was happening, I took what had happened and poured it into this paper, this English class exercise of writing a memoir. I tried to wrestle with the idea of memory and what in my own brain I could trust. What could I believe when I couldn’t remember the words, but could only remember disconnecting from my body. I could only remember smells and sounds that to this day – 8 years later – still bring me back to that bed, to that car, to that living room.

And I wrote all of it, I edited it into a neat 10 page paper, attempting to reassure him that I was okay but I needed to be heard. I hadn’t told anyone of the yelling or the fear or the pain from the past year. And I trusted him. I trusted this teacher with my writing. True writing, edited down slightly, less swearing than my normal, but real. Not poking fun at the absurd assignment or attempting to have a new fresh take on some old literature. I can’t tell you why I trusted him. I guess I usually just get along well with teachers, I understand them and I felt like they understood me.

I don’t know when it was that he left. I only know we turned in this paper and a few weeks later we got comments. I cried when I read his comments. I remember he said something profound and thanked me for sharing with him.

Did I ever talk to him in person? I don’t know. I think he pulled me aside at some point to say we should sit down later. I don’t remember what he said. But I never saw him again after that.

He simply never came back into class. The rumor was that he was fired for having an affair with a previous student. I never found out more than that rumor. We were not allowed to ask questions.

And then came the endless stream of substitute teachers, mandated to stick to the AP curriculum, and the endless essays on standardized tests made my hands ache. And then college, where my first professor failed all of our first drafts of papers to “give us motivation to improve them”. And I stopped writing. I stopped writing poems for the people I fell in love with. I stopped scribbling thoughts into a haphazard assortment of journals.
Writing became something I was no longer good at. I’m terrible at academic writing, I can’t stand the stiff and emotionless lab reports and source analyses. Maybe I’m not terrible at it, but it just brings me absolutely no joy.

And now it feels like its too late to try writing again. Because I’m just a small and unqualified for everything I love. I want to be a writer or artist or mathematician or all three because really they are all the same to me but I don’t have the degrees or the college credits or experience.

But I’m still going to try.

reflections on hair

I wrote my college application essay about my hair in the summer of 2014. I was 18 years old:

My hair is short. It is red. Half my head is shaved. I’ll readily admit that its out of the norm, but it’s how I’ve learned to feel at home in my body. 

When I was younger, I had the hair of a Disney princess.  I used to dress up with my friends in frilly skirts and clomp around in my mom’s high heels with the rest of the little girls. But when we pretended to be princesses, they were always Cinderella and I was Prince Charming. They were Wendy and I was Peter Pan. 

It wasn’t that I wanted to be a boy, but rather that I didn’t really like being a girl and all the things that came with that. I liked dressing up in my dad’s flannels more than my mom’s old dresses. But all the other girls seemed to love putting on red lipstick and purple eyeshadow. And seeing that I was outnumbered, I figured that they must know what they were talking about. But in the back of my mind, I knew I would be happier in work boots than heels.

I went through all of middle school trying to figure out what to do with my uncontrollable mane that reached halfway down my back. It was sweaty and stuck to my neck in the summer. I couldn’t get my fingers to braid the intricate patterns that everyone else could so easily. I hated how much work it was in the morning, but strangely even more than that, I hated when I somehow got it right. When all clips and bows were  in the right place and there were no loose pieces, I got a lot of compliments. But it felt like I had cheated somehow, that I didn’t quite deserve the praise. It didn’t feel like mine. I copied what the other girls did, just trying to blend in. And who knows, maybe they all felt the same way, just trying to get through without standing out too much, or maybe it was just me. I’ll never know. 

In high school, I finally did it. I cut it all off. My mom didn’t want me to; she fought me about it for the whole car ride to the hairdresser. She gave the typical motherly excuses: it will take so long to grow back, you don’t want to look like a boy, you want people to take you seriously. But I was determined to have my hair represent me, and only I could define what that was.

Walking into school the next day with no hair to hide behind was simultaneously terrifying and liberating. People whispered behind me and my friends faces all showed a panicked shock before they managed to make themselves smile. 

At first I tried to change my entire self. I threw away all the clothes that were vaguely feminine and tried to start over. But sometimes I missed my old dresses. I didn’t quite fit anywhere. I had tried to fit into the feminine box decorated with pink flowers and butterflies and ballet shoes. And then I had tried the masculine box of pickup trucks, friday night football and muscle tees. 

But I wasn’t comfortable in either, so I eventually made my own. 

My hair made me happy. It made my appearance into an art that is constantly changing: the literal painting and shaping of my cells. I may grow my hair out again, I may shave it all off, I may dye it blue or brown or green. Because I am not just one thing, I am always changing. Hair is part of you and my hair is me.

Here is a rewriting from Summer 2021. I am 24 years old:

My hair is long. It is my natural medium brown, finally just below my shoulders after 2 years of growing it out. At one point, this long hair was an overwhelming blanket of others expectations, and all I wanted was to get rid of it. But now it makes me feel free and powerful. Now, this is how I feel at home in my body. 

When I cut my hair off in high school, it was brought on by my being finally out as gay after being the secret girlfriend of the most outgoing lesbian in school, and this was my sort of visual coming out.  When I cut it, the girl I had been crushing on and flirting with told me she liked my long hair better. When that relationship ended badly, I wanted to rid my body of everything to do with her. I wanted to be anything but attractive to her, and I cut my hair shorter. I read a statistic somewhere that after about 7 years, every cell in your body would be replaced. I calculated how long until I could be sure that there was not a single cell in my body that had been touched by her. And cutting my hair was part of that, and it worked. It helped me feel free. 

But now as my beard continues to fill in, long hair just seems to make sense. In high school I drew a picture of a man with a nose ring, long hair, and a beard. I realize now that this was very much an aspirational self portrait. The idea of having long hair to play with, to style, to celebrate, finally seems possible for me because it is balanced by the grounding feel of warmth on my chin. It is the perfect balance of masculine and feminine and otherness that feels right. Its interesting how this is the same feeling as before, but manifested in new ways. 

This week, I have volunteered my hair to a cosmetology student. I have never met this person, I don’t even know their name. I found them through a friend who was looking to recruit models for their class. They will be attempting to give me long layers. And honestly, I am really excited. I am excited to give my body to someone else’s learning process. 

Overall, my attitude has not changed all that much: my final paragraph still resonates with me: “[Hair] has made my appearance into an art that is constantly changing: the literal painting and shaping of my cells.” I will continue to cut it, to dye it, to play with it. I love that I can create art with my own body. So let this be a letter of appreciation to my hair for being such a beautiful canvas.