On Being Transgender


(Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Refinery29)

Miguel Alves, Editor

I’m a guy, but we don’t really talk about it.

Back in the fall of 2016, I worried about exactly the same things that every fourteen-year-old worries about — starting high school, making new friends, getting good grades, desperately searching for some form of identity that I resonate with and that is deemed acceptable by those around me. Identity. Ninth grade served as a turning point for me. It was a new year, I was at a new school, and I was determined to leave the epic tragedy that was eighth grade behind me and start new. So, naturally, I decided to give each of my teachers a letter written by hand, introducing myself — my identity — and my situation.

I started it off simply, with my name. “Hello. My name is Alex Alves,” I wrote to them, with the nickname I started using a year prior. Of course, even the simplest of things required explanation from me. “You may notice that this name doesn’t match the name you see on your records,” I went on. “The reason for this is simple; I’m transgender, meaning I don’t identify with the gender I was assigned at birth, and I haven’t gotten my name legally changed yet to reflect this.”

Identity. I did this three more times; new year, new teachers, new introductions. I laid awake the night before the first day of school, wondering how my teachers would respond, every year. Of course, the majority of them were extremely supportive, but that was also something that progressed with time, as I began to pass as male better. Now that I’ve been going through hormone replacement therapy for several months, no one questions the fact that I’m a guy. It wasn’t always this way, though.

For the most part, freshman Miguel Alves was regarded as a female student at Centreville High School. I was uncomfortable, but I never spoke up against it — to do so would be drawing attention to myself, and I wanted nothing more than to keep my head down and pretend I didn’t exist. So that’s what I did. I kept my head down when substitute teachers called out my birth name; I kept my head down when a faculty member I was supposed to trust outed me to my unsupportive parents; and I especially kept my head down when they made me change in the girl’s locker room for gym. I never corrected anyone, never used the bathroom, never did anything that would make me a target. When I felt anxious, I sucked it up and cried at home. When my biology teacher told me she was going to try her best to make me feel comfortable in her classroom, I thought about it for the whole day. I think about it now, three years later.

In my sophomore year, changes were made. Maybe she had a change of heart, or maybe one full year of praying proved to do nothing, but my mom agreed to let me see a gender therapist. She offered a new name for me — Miguel Alexis Alves — which would end up becoming my full legal name in the next couple of years. 

Sophomore year was also around the time that I became familiar with the word accommodation: an adjustment, made specifically with me and my situation in mind. Apparently, being transgender meant I was entitled to certain accommodations. Up until then, I never considered that other people would be willing to adjust for me. I was fifteen, going on sixteen, when I got my first accommodation — a separate room that I could change in for gym, so that I wouldn’t have to change in front of girls anymore. It was a small storage closet, mainly unused, where they kept spare crutches and medical tape. The room itself felt rather abandoned; it was dusty and never had less than three dead spiders in it at any given point in time. The door was always locked so that, at the beginning and end of every gym period, I would have to wait for someone with a key to come and unlock it before I could change. This caused me to be late to my next period almost every day. I never got a pass. Sometimes I was up to ten minutes late. This was my first experience with accommodation.

And at the time, I was grateful.

That’s the main issue with all of this, that I have only begun to realize as I planned out this article. When I came out as transgender, I threw away all of my expectations for how I deserve to be treated. I wanted the bare minimum — a sliver of recognition towards my identity, the smallest gesture or bit of validation. Looking back, I wish I said something. But in the moment, I was stuck. I wanted so badly to be accepted as normal that I actively allowed others to offer me dirty closets and vague acknowledgement in the name of accommodation. 

Speaking as a racial minority as well, it often feels as if the minority group has a responsibility to cater to the comfort of the majority group, or accommodate them. My existence becomes inherently theirs to regulate; I am allowed to joke about my transgender experience enough that those around me know it’s okay to laugh about it, but I cannot talk about it in any more depth, or they will get uncomfortable. I’m expected to answer any invasive question they think of and entertain all of their opinions on my identity, which they will openly share with me so long as I don’t blatantly disagree with their definitions of me. I become a talking point, reduced to one fact about me that I deemed insignificant a long time ago, but they will never see it this way — I have to be the transgender man of the group, because to simply be the man confuses and unsettles them. 

So I laugh. I joke about it, and I laugh. The people around me accept me as “not like the others” and use me to gauge how bigoted their comments can be before it’s too much. That’s the worst part — that my actions have led the cisgender, heterosexual people around me to believe that it’s okay to say generally insensitive things about the LGBT community, because the expectation is that we’ll laugh and keep quiet, and that’s exactly what I do. And what kind of example am I setting by doing so? Who is going to tell young queer kids, transgender kids especially, that their existence isn’t anyone else’s to police? But then, who is going to tell these kids that though they can exist this way, it must be done so quietly? That they can live so long as they relinquish their power?

No, I’m not an LGBT activist, and I likely never will be. Some may consider that selfish, an act of self-preservation in a desperate attempt to live a life with some semblance of normality — and maybe it is! Who’s to say? All I know is it should not be my responsibility to forcibly educate others; it should be everyone’s responsibility to remain educated on topics they don’t understand. If I decide to explain my transgender experience to someone, it should be taken as a gift, not an expectation.

So, that is what this article is: a small glance into what it’s like. A gift, but not an invitation for expectations. I’m transgender, and that’s fine — that’s all I should have to say about it.