I am transgender.
Can you understand what that means? I didn’t. I’m not sure I do even now.
I came out first with my wife at the end of February. I came out last to my students in March.
And the truth is that saying “last” is a lie. I will never stop coming out. I will always meet people who wonder at me, who question me, who hate me just for existing.
And people who love me.
I am a teacher. I run an elementary school science enrichment space full of animals and plants. Leopard gecko, cornsnake, hissing cockroaches!, finches, turtle, fish, and…well…more. I live in the progressive section of a liberal city. I am not the only transgender teacher, but I am the first in our school district to publicly transition so openly. Male to Female. Sort of. Male to feminine, definitely. Non-binary. When I first came out, I saw non-binary as a necessary compromise. Which, by the way, is a hugely negative way to think about my full truth. When I was a child, I was the girl. In my dreams, only ever in my imagination. Anne of Green Gables with only glimpses of the books, because boys don’t read books like that. I have decades of testosterone to hide or acknowledge, and I’m done with hiding. What I’ve come to understand since I came out is that I don’t have to diminish what decades of testosterone gave me. I can bring that girl into the light of day and still embrace all of who I am. I am a mix. I am both and I am neither and I am very quickly getting oh-so-sick of binaries! Are you red or are you blue? Darling, I am so very purple.
I gave up my last secret when I stepped forward and told the world my truth. I am transgender.
I can’t say when I knew I was who I am, but I know that I had learned to hide my truth by the time that I was in kindergarten.
And for decades I did what I could to keep hiding my truth. Boys don’t dance, at least not where I came from, when I came from there. We saw that lie repeated recently when a host of “Good Morning America” publicly mocked a prince of England for taking ballet. Growing up, a boy starts to dance. He moves his hips too much. The “jokes.” He learns to stand stiffly. He loves being with his girlfriends. But he’s a boy. Exclude. Mock if he persists. He learns to stand away from the group. Shy they say. Quiet.
Hate and fear, those twin forces that defined our world for so long. For far too long. They haven’t gone. They persist and try for pervasive. Transwomen die. Murdered by men encouraged to hate. Trans teens commit suicide. Why? I can’t speak for them, but I know the indignity of being faced daily with negotiating the simple truth of existence in a world not quite ready for our prime time.
And I live in a progressive section of a liberal city. I have privilege beyond my recognition. And yet I face the hate. The scowls as I sit down in a nearby booth, the anger-stare as I walk out to dance on the rooftop in summer, the snickering-not-so-secret-picture-taking of young jocks at a local microbrewery. I am hate-candy to conservatives. They dole me out on their websites and in their opinion pieces when they want more hits and shares. I check off ALL of their boxes. Transgender. Teacher. Elementary school. Masculine body. Wears skirts, dresses, and such cute shoes! I am their man-in-a-dress, their hate joke. I get hate from people who claim that they love me and want to save me. They use the old words. Pervert. Sissy. Disgusting.
All of that, and more, actually. But I am so done with giving airtime to hate and fear because I am so very much in love with this world. Seriously. Since I came out, a world that I always new was beautiful beneath the surface has shown itself fully and brightly.
Hate and fear? I always knew that I would face them. But love? Warmth? Embrace? I honestly expected a tepid, struggling, I-guess-if-that’s-what-makes-you-happy it-takes-all-kinds sort of acceptance. Instead the love I see is powerful and sometimes loud!
My experience? When I came out, my principal sought me out to personally tell me I had every piece of her support and love. My school’s leadership rallied to me. My colleagues cried for me and hugged me. Our district has embraced me. My school nurse and our assisant principal made a school pride shirt that is a school PRIDE shirt for me and in support of each one of our mostly closeted LGBTQ students.
Our students, who had previously thrown homophobia around like hate confetti, slowed. And stopped. Mostly. One of our worst offenders came to tell me my name, Mx Steel, sounded like a superhero name. Other students told me that they were trying to teach their parents so they would understand. And this year, when a new student heard me say that I am transgender, she cast her eyes across the room looking for reactions from the others. There were none. My truth is just as accepted as the fact that this day is a beautiful day. And it is, my darlings. It is.
My friends rally to me. Close friends have become closer. A dear and constant buddy has become my sister-in-spirit. Strangers reach out from across the nation. Iowa. Florida. Louisiana, my darlings!
My genetic sisters welcome me as sister. Nieces have reached out to me. My nephew and one of my mentors has welcomed me into the life of his husband and himself. And yes, my nephew, Tristen, was brave and forward in his own truth so long before I could even imagine stepping out myself.
And my wife? In a world where far too many transwomen face divorce as a common first step, where older transwomen are too often disowned and young transwomen are kicked out of their families, my wife was the one who first named my truth. My wife is the one who has guided me forward and has embraced me and is sometimes my tiger-wife ready to take on all comers. My lesson there was that really, for all the rest of the love I’ve met, that one person standing in my corner was really all I needed. All I need. The foundation that allows me to stand tall (in wedge heels because you can never be too tall) and smile. The star that I can strive to reach.
And what does this truly mean? If you are reading this, how can you respond? If you are young, I hope that you can see there is hope and beauty in this world. While you begin to navigate a world that persists in forcing us to choose where to pee and where you will see the daily hate toward you, you will also see love. And you will see so much more love than you could ever have imagined. If your parents cast you out, there are so many more parents who will welcome you and embrace you. There are amazing organizations here and everywhere that will welcome you.
Yes, that old woman in the booth behind you and your friends will scowl, but 10 other old women will smile and welcome you. If you let them, they will engage you in conversations and yes, they may seem a little patronizing, but know that they are stepping forward, too. They are bringing love.
And here is the truth. I know that being trans, openly, is to open yourself to the hostility of the world. And for those of you out there struggling with being true to yourself in the face of that anger and fear, we all know that you may face different repercussions than I did. But know that the love you will find is bright. So much brighter than the white heat of hate.
So. I am asked. Often and regularly. Was it hard to come out? Yes. And no.
Yes, it was absolutely hard to come out. Absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I opened myself to hate but I opened myself to love so much more powerful. And know this: when you come out, or when someone you love steps forward as I did, that it isn’t one person’s story. It is all of our stories. We all come out with them. And I cannot pretend that my story will mimic the story of anyone else. Others will face a harder road than has been true for me, but in each case, the love is there. And it starts with the love of one person, for me my wife. But it could have been a friend. It could have been a colleague. It could have been a minister or a niece or an aunt. Do you need that person to be your rock? Are you the person to be there for those you love?
It was so hard to step forward, but it was so very necessary. I watched as kids faced the same hate and fear that were my world as I grew up, for decades. I saw bright shining stars sink deeper into hoodies or disappear into the corners of their classrooms. My hope, my powerful hope is that by stepping forward and shining a light on a path they may not believe exists, our students can glimpse a beautiful future. And it is beautiful, my darlings. Each day is beautiful, and if each of us steps up and each of us says, in the face of hate, “I am lesbian; I am gay; I am bisexual; I am transgender, my darling; I am intersex; I am asexual; I am absolutely and loudly an ally; I am so very, very QUEER!” If each of us can do this, if each of us can smile at the stranger and dance and laugh, then that white heat of anger will fade into ripples in the air.
And each day will be a beautiful day.
February 27–March 16 – I came out to my wife, school leadership, friends and family, colleagues, and finally to my students. I am still surprised and in love with the warmth and support that I met each step of the way.
March 16 – Teachers from Kindergarten through 5th grade shared a powerpoint created by our school leadership and a video that I made. Students learned my truth for the first time and embraced me and my story. All my fears, all my worries from a lifetime believing the lies that shaped the world I grew up in, were pushed down and shattered. Our youth truly lead!
June 4 – The Liberty Counsel published a hate piece about me. Their premise seemed to be something to the effect of: “OMG! A teacher! Transgender! Let’s attack!” Their attack set a standard that would be echoed through conservative media to the level where, if you type my name into a Google search, all that you see is their hateful view of me, and really, of anyone who is transgender. Fox News picked up the story by The Liberty Counsel and repeated it verbatim. I really hate giving their hate any airtime, but they are so persistent in their attacks on transgender people everywhere, that I know we cannot just ignore them.
The Liberty Counsel also put forth an open records request on all emails concerning my stepping forward.
After that, the conservative echo chamber tossed my story around, mixing up elements and consistently misgendering and denying my name or my truth.
My story went national to the extent that our school had to stop using the main number—too many hate calls demanding I be fired. Emails came in from around the nation. Not many, but enough, and they were vile. I stopped picking up my phone and put my Facebook page behind a privacy wall. I ignored Messenger for a while, then later went in and deleted the slurs.
June 5 & 6 – TERFs [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists] on Reddit’s “Gender Critical” brought their attack against me. At the same time, the website slowlyboiledfrog.com published a defense of me and an attack on The Liberty Counsel’s smear campaign. Thank you! Random people contact me from around the nation, sharing their love. Sharing their support. Teachers and students from around the school district rallied to my support. I walked in one day to find my room filled with posters and cards from the students at another school! They wanted me to know that they thought I was amazing! They watched my video. They embraced me.
June 24 – Interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Morning Show with Kate Archer Kent. I am so impressed with how clearly Ms. Kent could reach out and help share my truth.