Or how about “Riley,” a member of several clubs on campus.
Or even “Chris,” a two sport athlete.
If they all sound like typical Newport Harbor Sailors you are correct. They all are. Except for one detail. Their biological gender is not they one identify as. In other words they are transgender.
The world through the eyes of a young transgender teen is often a story that goes untold. Despite this overall lack of visibility, our nation is undergoing “gender shock” in a sense that the trans community is gaining widespread awareness. With the media tracking Bruce Jenner’s sex change, the transgender community is indirectly receiving publicity, also positive support.
To identify as transgender is to say that your gender identity does not correspond to your biological sex designated at birth.
Hernandez identifies as transgender male, for example. “Riley” and “Chris”, whose names have both been changed for anonymity, are both members of the non-binary community. The non-binary aspect of the gender spectrum is to say broadly that your gender does not fit in with the binary. In other words, this binary, of what we typically think of as male and female as the only genders, is how most people see gender. The whole concept of non-binary genders is very surprising to most individuals; they find it difficult to keep up with how fluid the gender spectrum actually is.
Social media provides a prominent example of the expansion of the gender spectrum to the public eye. Facebook currently has 56 gender options, a number which may surprise some, but still pales in comparison to Tumblr’s approximate 1000 options. These options include identities such as bi-gender (two genders at once) or a-gender (having no gender), and are very common in the non-binary community, but for the general public remain unnoticed.
Although such gender identities are often overlooked, it seems that the non-binary community is having a “moment.” Jenner recently caused controversy by publicly identifying as female.
Despite the controversy, Jenner has helped raise awareness, positive support and a discussion of many aspects of the lives of the transgender community as a whole such as sex changes, pronoun preference (he, she, they), sexuality, and name changes that all play a huge role in gender identification.
Despite this small victory, students who identify as transgender still face great adversity every time they walk through the seemingly “safe” halls of their high school. A report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network called ‘Harsh Realities’ show that on average, 90% of transgender students have heard derogatory remarks at some point in their high school career. According to Injustice at Every Turn, 41% percent of people who are transgender or gender non-conforming have attempted suicide at some time in their life.
Although statistics like these are daunting, schools are constantly working to meet the needs of the transgender community to ensure the safest possible learning environment. One advancement in California schools is students have the right to use whichever locker room and bathroom they prefer, whichever sports team they prefer and any other accommodations. This can help make the process of transitioning openly at school easier because legally speaking, there are fewer barriers.
Hernandez described his process at Newport Harbor when they aided in his transition to being openly transgender. He went in and spoke to the school about his preferred name, and they took care of alerting teachers of the change. For the most part, other than a few instances, he received relatively positive response from fellow classmates. Though he could legally play basketball on the boys’ team, he remains on the girls’ basketball team. Hernandez says this is more because he is comfortable and accepted there.
Hernandez emphasized that like all transgender teens he wants to be seen by his true gender. “I don’t want to be seen as the ‘trans guy.’ I want to be seen like any other guy. Because I am,” he said.
Many transgender teens are not open about their true gender identity, especially at high school. “Riley” admits part of the reason they are not open at school is because they do feel it would lead to bullying.
“I have encountered ‘transphobia’ towards other people because I’m not out but if I came out I feel like a lot of mild acts would happen but there would also be a lot more violent types of reactions,” Riley said.
Even at home, “Riley” is not open to their parents.
“I do plan to eventually tell them, but I already had the sexuality talk in high school. I want to be more comfortable first,” Riley said.
“Chris” publicly identifies as a girl but is open as “gender neutral” if people ask. They are open to their mother, who “Chris” says did not quite understand the gender neutral term, but with discussion took it well.
Growing up in a Baptist family was a large reason Hernandez was nervous to tell his parents about his true gender. He also pointed out his dad is of Mexican culture where the idea of “machismo” is very important. Yet when he came out to his parents their positive reactions brought relief.
His background is also something he emphasizes to people who might think being transgender is a choice.
“I grew up in a super Baptist household full of females. I didn’t choose to risk losing family or friends,” said Hernandez.
This is not always the case among transgender teens with their parents. Earlier this year the suicide of transgender female Leelah Alcorn rocked the transgender community. She cited her parents’ refusal to accept her true gender, as well as conversion therapy, as an influencing factor behind her suicide. Teen suicide rates are especially high. According to the Youth Suicide prevention program more than 50% of transgender individuals will have at least one suicide attempt before they turn 20.
As a result of her death, there have been movements to ban conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is used to convert someone who identifies as a different sexual identity or gender than heterosexual or cis-gender. Hernandez, who actually put himself into conversion therapy described the ordeal as “horrible.”
“There were days where I couldn’t stop shaking or thinking. I felt emotionally destroyed,” said Hernandez.
Connection to other teens with similar feelings has helped Hernandez and “Riley” accept their gender identities. Hernandez has turned to a Trans support group, while “Riley” has turned to the internet in order to connect to other transgender teens.
According to “Riley”, the online trans teens they have found has been helpful in fostering a sense of community.
“The internet is a good tool because trans kids might feel scared or alone and you can connect to other trans kids who also feel scared and alone,” said Riley.
Hernandez offered up some advice to anyone who might feel isolated.
“You’re not the only trans person in the world and that’s how I think people feel sometimes. You can find someone who understands. And there will always be someone who even if they don’t understand will learn,” he said.
Still, current issues remain.
Hernandez, who will have to continue taking testosterone and hormone blockers, faces the dangerous side effects of these medications. He also currently wears a binder, designed to flatten the chest region, which has harmful effects on the back. Surgeries to change the physical aspects are costly, although covered by certain insurances.
“Riley” admits that it’s hard to pretend to be a girl, but believes it would be hard to explain to everyone about the name change and gender identity.
Legally speaking all three teens also have to identify by their birth names and genders.
Looking into the future, all three teens will continue facing issues. Transgender people can not only deal with hate crimes, but problems with job security. In many states the “trans panic” is a legal line of defense. The trans panic defense, though banned in California is still legal in many states, and allows that the defendant can have charges dropped if they acted violently in “panic” to the victim’s sexual orientation or gender.
“Chris” says that although there are improvements being made in the trans community there is still much progress needed. “There needs to be a willingness to understand from the general population. There’s a lot of fear in the unknown and a lot of safety in what is comfortable. Breaking that boundary can benefit the entire LGBTQ+ community.”
The teens encouraged increased education to end transphobia. “Riley” pointed out that the concept of transgender is relatively unknown.
“People don’t realize transgender people exist. We need something in school to educate that a transgender person is not a freak and has feelings,” said Riley. “I feel like if a lot of people have it explained to them and thought it over would result in more people identifying as non-binary and overall more acceptance.”
Through transgender education, the idea of transgender individuals begins to become semi-normal. High profile cases this year such as Jenner, and Alcorn have helped raised discussion on gender fluidity, but there is still progress to be made in education in all aspects of the transgender community.
Students who do not feel safe at school being themselves because of their sexuality or gender identity or know someone who feels so, should tell a counselor, teacher, or trusted adult. Support can also be found on campus at the Gay Straight Alliance club on Wednesdays in room 266.
Written By Leah Castillo and Kara Carlson