As August comes to a close, students collect their worn backpacks and stuff them with notebooks and pens to prepare for another year of classes. Mixed emotions fill everyone as the day comes closer to go to class for the first time for the school year.
Usually, if you have been going to a school for a few years, there’s not much in the way of nerves to start the school year again.
I am a junior at Monmouth College, and as the days drew closer to the day I moved into my apartment, I found myself getting more and more frightened. It is a small school; I know most everyone except the fairly large amount of freshmen who are brought into the college every year.
So why was I so nervous if I knew most people at the small liberal arts college?
Well, this was going to be the first time I went back to the college as what I call my “authentic self.”
You see, I identify as a transgender male. To me, this means I was born biologically female, but I feel more comfortable being perceived as a male.
For two years at the college, I had been fairly shadow-like as I crept to all my classes, eyes to the sidewalk, too awkward and nervous to ever talk to people I passed on my way to class.
For two years, the people around me knew me as the awkward, shy girl who was in marching band and studying English and education.
I identified as that overly-awkward girl because I thought she was who I was stuck with. I felt it was the best way I could make life work for me, as I secretly loathed the fat that sat on my hips and the way I had to dress in order to be able to use a public restroom with no confusion from others.
So I wore tighter t-shirts to show people I had breasts; I was a girl, and I belonged in the girl’s bathroom. I used those shirts to make up for the fact that freshman year, I cut all my hair off and could easily pass as male without trying very hard.
Over the summer, one of my closest friends came out as female-to-male transgender, and announced his pronouns were now he, his and him, and he would be called a different name than the one given to him at birth.
That was where everything started to shift for me.
I had done research about the process of transitioning a year before, and I thought it was really cool, but never fully saw it on a personal level enough to think it was something I could do.
For most of June and July, I sat in my room at night after work and watched video after video, and read article after article about how to tell if you are transgender.
I read tips on how to experiment to see if it is right for you, and watched just about every transition video I could find. I started to see a gender identity therapist, and on July 22, 2015, I came out to everyone I know via a poem I wrote. I read it aloud in a video I put on my YouTube channel.
A few days later, I emailed all my professors about my name and pronoun change.
The support from all of them was amazing; most of them emailed me back within a day or two and told me to let them know if I ever need anything else. Some of them even told me their office would always be a safe place if I needed one.
I moved into my apartment on campus on August 14, 2015.
The fear on the first day was incredibly high, despite all the love and support I received from professors and my friends on Facebook.
Stepping out of my room after my parents left was a whole new experience. By then, I had been out publicly for around three weeks, and my coworkers (long before that) had started to call me Hayden and use male pronouns.
But now, I was finally out of that safe place and in a situation I could not predict. On the first night, I had a residence assistant staff meeting for one of the deans to go over what training would look like for the week.
Right off the bat, people were using the right name and pronouns, but deep inside I still had the overwhelming fear someone would use my birth name or call me “she.”
During a name game used as an ice breaker, we had to go up behind a sheet and as the sheet dropped we had to call out the name of the person behind it.
That was the first time someone used my birth name on campus. I freaked out a little bit, but later explained it to the person why everyone was correcting her.
The next few days, people continued to address me correctly, and I found the real worry I had was if I "passed" well enough for people who didn’t know me before I came out.
Did I look like I was biologically male, or was there something about me that gave me away?
Though I wore two sports bras to hide my small breasts and wore baggier shirts, my mind kept making me think my chest was still noticeable, even though I knew deep down it wasn’t.
So, for the first few days after training, I would go back to my room and blast my music to try to drown out my dysphoric thoughts and get a grip on how great everything really was going to be.
Sunday night, my third day on campus, the band people arrived and camp began. I ate with the clarinet section for the first time; we’re all an awkward bunch. We introduced ourselves to the two freshmen who joined our section, and from there, we all became closer.
Each day, I started to become more and more confident in my skin.
I stood taller as I walked from training to band camp. I quickly made friends with the two new clarinet players. This was another good sign for me, a sign that this year would be different; it would be better.
Last year, I had made no new close friends, and as a lot of my friends dropped out of college, I found myself feeling more and more lonesome by the end of my sophomore year. It was the first week at college, not even the first week of classes, and I had already made new friends.
I was ecstatic.
Now, classes are starting and I find myself a bit nervous once again.
Although my professors more than agreed to call me Hayden and use he/his/him pronouns when referring to me, I still have a major fear they’ll forget and call me my birth name.
I’m afraid they’ll only ever see me as “she,” as that awkward girl I was for 20 years of my life.
As people both eagerly and dreadfully pack their backpacks full of books and step into their schools, I sit in my bed afraid of the way people might perceive me in person, despite their written promise of respect.
I fear being called the wrong name and pronouns, as I know many other transgender people fear as they enter back into school.
What confusion will it bring to people who don’t know I came out as transgender? What confusion will be present amongst the people who only see me as male when someone accidentally calls me “she?"
All I can do at this point is pull on my plaid shirt and black tie, and hope everyone remembers who I am now, and not who I was.
In the meantime, I plan to walk into each class with all the confidence I have been finding within myself in the past week. I will use fear as a weapon to calm myself, and prepare for anything that may happen in this first week of school.
I am prepared for any questions people might have. I am prepared to be myself for the first time in all of my life.
I know this will be my best year yet.