“A teacher’s life is not an easy one; long days, constant meetings, and a general feeling of being undervalued. As someone who knew they were meant to be a teacher from a young age, I expected all of these things, and welcomed the challenge. However, there was something else I knew at a very young age, and that was, though I was identified and assigned male at birth, I was a woman.
Yes, I am a transgender woman and I knew this years before pursuing my dream of becoming a teacher. When I finally reached a point where I could no longer pretend, I was given the choice. Be yourself, or be a teacher, you can’t do both. Despite those warnings, I am doing just that.
Another school year is approaching and the faculty was gathering for the first of five teacher work days leading up to student’s arrival the following week. I was approaching the school in a new dress I was so happy about. I felt strong, confident, and absolutely terrified. The problem was I had been deliberately outed by a coworker three years previously, and so it was no secret I was transgender, however I had yet to present as my true self within the walls of my school.
Fear is a healthy response in some situations, but I had chosen this outfit carefully and was ready to finally be true to myself in spite of the objections made by several members of the faculty.
On this first morning back, we were to have a meeting in the media center. I made my way into what some of us would simply call the library. I sat at a table midway toward the front of the room. I sat quietly, greeting the few people that said hello to me, trying very hard to slow my racing heart and mind. The room filled and yet no one had joined me at my table, until finally everyone had arrived and there was a ring of filled tables surrounding me, leaving me at my empty table, a deserted island with me its sole inhabitant.
The meeting proceeded on schedule and after nearly two hours, I retreated to my classroom to begin the arduous task of undoing the damage summer school inevitably leaves behind. Several hours of work goes by and lunch time approached. I made my way to the classroom of another teacher because several others had gathered there and were deciding where to go for lunch. I asked if I could join them, and the response I received was, ‘We rather you didn’t.’
Broken, I returned to my classroom, closed the door, drew the curtain and cried bitterly at the hurt I had just been dealt. Bullying isn’t always between children and calling this type of treatment anything else is simply impossible. The day, which had begun with such hope, was quickly turning to ash in my mouth.
At the end of the day, I went home, cried some more, and reached out to a friend whom I love with all of my heart. She listened in outrage at what had occurred and she asked what I was going to do. I told her, ‘I am a teacher, what else can I do?’ I love teaching, I am good at teaching, prior to my coming out as transgender I received the teacher of the month award each of my first two years as an educator. Now though, I was questioning what I could possibly do to make it through, being my authentic self and still doing the job I love.
The next morning, I asked for and received a meeting with the administration. In this meeting, I explained if they had witnessed a student being openly ostracized as I had been the day before, they would immediately have stepped in. ‘Do I not deserve the same respect as every other person?’ They agreed they had noticed and hadn’t been sure how to address the situation, then asked what I needed from them. My requests were simple, but important to me.
The first was a new school I.D. that used my correct name. The principal made sure I did and I received a pretty new badge with the name Alexis Mayer printed next to the new picture of me. It’s a small triumph, but it made me realize I could change people’s minds if I simply talked to them.
The next request on my list was being permitted to use the faculty ladies room nearest my classroom. I was initially told the female staff was uncomfortable with that option and we are in a state that requires I use a restroom matching the gender to which I was identified as at birth. Basically there was nothing they could do. I was also informed the male faculty was uncomfortable with me using the men’s room, so I was told to use the single occupancy bathroom at the front of the school. This was not going to work, and no help would be given by pursuing the matter to the district. I decided I could find a way. I went to each of the female teachers in the wing near this restroom and I asked each of them in private if they had any objections to my using it. Though some were hesitant, and some took more convincing than others, all agreed and said it seems only fair. Another victory, I could now avoid running across campus in less than three minutes to use the facilities.
I continued to make my presence known, with as much kindness, politeness, and respectfulness as I could. Slowly, the other teachers began to realize I was no different than the person they had known. Although I am in fact transgender, it affects them in no way.
People often fear what they do not understand.These simple examples of my everyday experience are far from unique nor are these even the most disturbing. I have been verbally assaulted by strangers, beaten by a group of young men and hospitalized for several days as a result, and that was simply for choosing to go to a store. Despite all of this, I know the only way to change my life is to stay positive, to be open, and to tell my story to whomever will listen. Change does not happen quickly in situations like these, and though I may make no long lasting impression, every person I speak to and allows me to show them I am simply a person; in doing so, they become far less likely to pass on hatred or fear.
I believe we can all make a difference. In the transgender community, many of us are unable to be visible for safety reasons, and so those of us who do live openly become symbols of hope to those who cannot. What better message could there be than hope? Every day in my classroom my students see I am just like every other teacher in the school, though maybe a little cooler, and my being transgender doesn’t change who I am. Some parents complained, others had their children moved from my classroom, yet just as many have shown me support, understanding, and kindness beyond any of my wildest dreams.
And so as I say to each class that comes into my room during the day, ‘Welcome to my world. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexis Mayer. You can follow her journey Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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