Photo by Sophia Arndt
Becoming myself: Brendon Rich
Brendon sits quiet, silhouette illuminated by the fluorescent blue light of their computer. Zoned out from the music playing softly, staring determinedly at the email document.
Deep breath, and begin.
I understand this is a difficult subject to get used to, but I am a transgender non-binary. I experience dysphoria, or discomfort in my birth gender, over lots of things, including my name and pronouns. Because of this, I am now going by they/them pronouns, and the name Brendon. I realize that this will take time to adjust to, and mistakes will be frequent; it happens and it is no big deal. My family and friends are fully supportive, so using my name and pronouns with them is appreciated and encouraged. If there are any questions or concerns please email me or pull me aside after class.
Thank you for your understanding,
It’s done. Brendon has just taken the monumental step of coming out to their teachers, and subsequently their classmates. Now comes the waiting: for judgment or acceptance.
It’s Brendon Rich’s first year at Stillwater Area High School, joining the class of 2022. Previously planning on attending a local school in Pennsylvania, where their mother lives, they moved to Stillwater at the beginning of their freshman year. While attending SAHS for their first semester, Brendon still went by their dead name and incorrect pronouns, as they were not yet out of the closet. The Webster Dictionary defining a “dead name” as the name used by a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning. Though it hurt them to hear those incorrect pronouns or the wrong name, Brendon didn’t say a word. They struggled with their gender dysphoria and self-loathing mostly in silence, solely telling their therapist about what they were grappling with. Finally, after some time of self-acceptance and growth, they began to come out to those around them as transgender, the fear of rejection no longer standing as a barrier. They told their friends to call them Brendon, claiming it as their name.
“I had a moment with my therapist where she was like, ‘Okay, is the fear of coming out, greater than the pain and the weight? The weight of staying in the closet?’ And I said no … Once I knew I was safe, and you know, worse came to worse, I had a place to stay, you know, whatever happens, I decided to come out.”
There is often a system to coming out as transgender. The first, and most important, coming out to and accepting yourself. This step stands as a crucial one for many in the community, as to fully feel safe and comfortable in your own skin, you have to accept all aspects of yourself.
“It’s like my brain clicked and I made the distinction between how women just want to live. They still want to be women, they just don’t want to live being oppressed and with the stereotypes and rules that apply to women everywhere in between. What I was feeling, which was definitely some of that but also, I just didn’t want to be that in general at all,” junior Brendon Rich explained.
“So what did you do after?”
“I cried. I cried a lot.” Brendon replied with a laugh.
The next stage of coming out is to your circle. This includes close friends and family you trust with this information. Coming out to family members or close friends can be paralyzing for those in the LGBTQ+ community because the rejection could carry much more weight.
Junior Kyra Kellogg stressed how proud she was and honored she felt that Brendon had trusted her enough to come out to her. There were no dramatics to the moment, no fanfare, or tears. Just the simple acceptance of her friend, “I was like okay yeah, yeah still love you. Yeah… There was nothing dramatic about it. I was happy I was included.” Having met in American Sign Language, the two became close quickly, sitting together at lunch and participating in Speech and Debate as partners.
Brendon felt lucky to have such supportive friends, knowing even though they were nervous to come out that their friends are present for them, stating their friends “were very supportive there wasn’t much follow up … because they didn’t need to know much more it was just, ‘here’s your name.’”
Coming out to family members can be the most stressful and feared part of the coming out process. Though one may be secure and confident in their sexuality and gender, the act of telling those we are related to usually stands as the biggest challenge of coming out for some members of the community. Often it takes more time for a family member to adjust than it does a close friend or classmate.
Though Brendon believed their family would accept them, there was still an undercurrent of fear present, no matter how small. “Family obviously took a little bit more time,” Brendon stopped for a moment, deep in thought. “It took a lot of time to explain, and to get used to, especially with my parents… They didn’t know what transgender meant what it meant for me socially what it meant for me physically. So it definitely took a lot of time to get used to the reactions I got from my siblings were just a little bit surprised, just like, ‘Yeah.’, ‘Okay, sure.’, ‘Fine, I guess.’ That’s it. Which I’m fine with,” another pause. “But parents definitely took some time, especially my dad. Just because I don’t know if he really understood at first. And I don’t think he fully understands even now, since I identify as transgender non-binary. So like I am not male or female, I’m in the middle somewhere, just floating, doing whatever it is, because I’m just vibing. So, I definitely had a hard time explaining non-binary. Yeah, but overall reactions were supportive,” Brendon finished with a smile.
Then you come out to your outer circles, such as classmates or teachers. Though coming out to these groups may be done in passing or in a more casual manner, it still carries the same incredible weight to the person coming out. Being “out” in your workplace or school can be the scariest for many in the LGBTQ+ community. They may face discrimination or hatred for confirming their sexuality or gender identity.
Brendon came out halfway through freshman year. It was still their first year in a completely new school, which added to the stress of coming out to a new community. “No one knew who I was, no one had grown up around me. So I was in an environment with people I had known for a couple months at best, and who I didn’t know if they were accepting. I didn’t know what they were like.” But Brendon went through with it, coming out to classmates and friends, asking for them to respect their new pronouns and name. While most were accepting, not everyone respected Brendon’s identity.
One interaction comes to mind for Brendon:
“Can anyone name some of the friends groups in the school?” asked Brendon’s Link Leaders. These games were common warm-up games for the new freshman. It was supposed to encourage avoiding forming cliques or stereotypes or something along those lines, they can’t remember. The teenagers listed off a series of basic answers like “Nerds.” or “Jocks.” Brendon could feel eyes watching them, “F——?” One of the boys said, staring directly at Brendon. The link leader ignored the slur, continuing with the activity. Brendon, being the sarcastic freshman they were, raised their hand. “What about homophobes?” The Link Leaders told them no, they couldn’t put it on the list, and the game continued. The slur, thrown at Brendon like it was a joke, was quickly forgotten by the other students, but not Brendon.
After coming out, Brendon said most were kind or even impartial, but there was still the odd comment or action that unnerved them, “I got some weird looks, I got some questioning. A lot of questioning, especially in my mainly freshman year. Yeah, mainly freshman year. No one was outright rude, but they were definitely people who were not making a conscious effort to use my name and pronouns, or who we’re asking, like, ‘Oh, your name is Brendan now. Okay. Yeah,’ in a sarcastic or demeaning way.” These biting comments are considered microaggressions, a subtle but harmful form of putting down others, especially those a part of a minority or marginalized groups.
In a 2019 study of transgender students, the CDC states, “Transgender youths (those whose gender identity does not align with their sex) experience disparities in violence, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk compared with their cisgender peers (those whose gender identity does align with their sex).”
This statement reflects a majority of research on transgender youth, with many students and teens stating they have been victims of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment or violence. Data suggest transgender or gender-fluid students are more likely to drop out or not complete their high school education due to fear of harassment or an unwelcoming environment. Organizations like the Trevor Project, work to bring awareness to problems the LGBTQ+ community faces. In 2019, they published a summary of data collected by the YRBS, focused primarily on transgender high school students. The data showed a clear rise in rates of depression, suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and victimization of transgender teenagers when compared to their cisgender peers. Though many are beginning to say a more welcoming community has been created for LGBTQ+ youths to come out to than ever due to an increase in knowledge of LGBTQ+ struggles. A 2018 study conducted by the University of Minnesota suggests growing transsexuel visibility has created a safer and more welcoming environment for the transgender and genderfluid teens who are coming out.
“I’m a member of the LGBT community myself, and I have a lot of friends who are a part of it, as well,” said Kellogg, an outspoken advocate and close friend of Brendon. Kellogg added that at school she feels there are welcoming environments and while there are bad experiences for some, it’s a wonderful community to be a part of, “but if you are around the right people, then they will be (welcoming).”
Once someone accepts their gender identity and begins to come out to those they trust, many begin the process of transitioning. There are two forms of transitioning: Social Transitioning and Medical Transitioning. Social transitioning commonly consists of coming out to friends and family, asking people to use your preferred pronouns, a name change, or dressing in a way that matches your identity. Medical Transitioning can involve hormone therapy, hair removal, or other medical procedures like a hysterectomy or orchiectomy. It’s important to stress that no matter what ways a person chooses to transition, their gender identity remains valid and real.
Minnesota State law allows for a minor to begin gender hormonal therapy at the age of 16 with the permission of parents and after a long vetting process. Many health care providers offer these services, but first, the patient must be cleared by a therapist and undergo many tests before they can begin masculinizing or feminizing hormone therapy.
Brendon, still new to Minnesota and its law, was completely floored that starting hormonal therapy was an option for them. Being out of the closet for a year and now a sophomore, Brendon was elated to learn they could start testosterone by their 16 birthday.
“I just kept thinking, if only seventh grade me could see me now,” Brendon exclaimed. “Because I was like they would not believe it, they would say ‘okay yeah whatever.’ I never thought starting testosterone at 15-16 would have even been a possibility. And to find out it was, and I was so close to it was like mind boggling. And world changing! It was one of the most incredible feelings in the world.”
Transitioning can be a lengthy and continuous process, both mentally and physically. As previously stated, Minnesota requires parental permission before a minor can begin gender hormone therapy. It’s common practice for health care providers to have a clear and defined process. Most focus on mental health and gender dysphoria, a term that describes the sense of discomfort a person may have due to a disconnect between their biological sex and their gender identity.
For example, Park Nicollet Health Partners state on their website that the first appointment is simply an evaluation. Upon arrival, you undergo a review of your medical history and mental health, with medical exams and lab tests conducted if needed. A gender dysphoria evaluation is performed. Then the appointment shifts to a lengthy and educational discussion about care options and the patient’s personal goals. Health Partners stress the importance of knowing the risks and benefits of every option. After developing a plan, the patient can begin to work towards their goal.
After learning about the possibility of starting masculinizing or testosterone therapy, Brendon began looking into treatment centers and what it would take to begin the process. “I saw my normal family practitioner to talk about how I wanted to start testosterone… She recommended starting birth control, which would stop my period. Birth control was something I was interested in, but it didn’t really fit with what I was trying to accomplish so she referred me to a gender specialist,” Brendon explained. “Her name is Dr. Larson, and she is incredible… The first appointment was just talking, ‘I need to make sure you are legitimately interested in this, this isn’t something like, ‘Oh, I’m thinking about it,’ and not something I was going to regret later on in life. It’s, it’s not something I’m being pressured into. So yeah, she needed to evaluate me to make sure I was a candidate for starting hormones. And she quickly saw I was. So that was the first appointment and then there were a couple after just figuring stuff out with my parents, which was a long process because I needed both parent’s approval.”
Parental permission is required for minors to start hormonal therapy at 16 years old, but this can prove a challenge for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Some parents might be unsupportive or concerned about medical risks. While medical risks are a valid worry for parents or guardians, the chances of complications are low if the person is being safe and follows their doctor’s advice.
Though this was not necessarily a fear for Brendon, it still took time to gain their parents’ support for the hormonal transition. “My mom was very hesitant. She was actually pretty against me starting hormones. She did not want me to start the therapy at all. Like the second I was like ‘hey I’m thinking about doing this’, she was like, ‘No, you shouldn’t’ like very adamant,” Brendon explained. “Not because she did not accept who I was… She grew up in a time where it was not acceptable… I think while her main concern was the medical aspect, there might have been a little bit of, you know, what she was raised with mixed in… It took a while to convince her the medical side effects were not severe in the slightest. It’s going through puberty a second time, this time just boys puberty. My gender therapist actually gave my mom her personal number, so they could talk about it and they’re like, that’s how wonderful this doctor was because she was willing to go to such great lengths to make sure I was comfortable in my skin, which was wonderful.”
With permission from both parents, Brendon was cleared to begin the process of hormonal transitioning. Piles of paperwork had to be filled out and a medical test ran, but after many months of waiting, Brendon was finally able to begin taking testosterone. “They showed me how to do that and then I take it every week now. And every couple months I have to get blood tests, just to make sure my vitals and levels are fine.”
Transitioning, both socially and medically, are a huge help to many transgender and gender-fluid people. It can make a significant difference in a person’s medical, physical, and mental health. It can aid in lessening the struggle of gender dysphoria and make one feel more confident than ever before.
Brendon said their mental health has improved significantly since beginning hormone therapy, “mainly because now I am passing, now that I am almost a year on testosterone, usually when people look at me they see a guy, which is great. I’m also painting my nails and wearing feminine clothing, and exploring with my gender expression, which I am happy and comfortable with. I think that would definitely draw some attention, whether it be negative or positive,” But they are ready to handle whatever life throws at them. “I think it’s easy to become caught up in huge problems and scenarios that are not going to solve or resolve themselves easily. And sometimes, you need to take a break from that, you need to step back and pinpoint the little things in your life you can change that you do have control over and focus on those.”
Almost a full year on testosterone, Brendon sits confidently in the small coffee shop, their favorite boots they bought for an old Halloween costume match their olive green overalls and grey t-shirt. “I have seen a huge change in how I view myself, how I present myself to others,” they explain. “I can confidently say that something that was like the bane of my existence, a couple of years ago, is a part of myself that I proudly acknowledge. I am still struggling with mental health and anxiety and a lot of stuff, but not only a small percentage of that being related to being transgender, which I am incredible grateful for.”
Kyra who sits across from Brendon agrees enthusiastically while sipping her coffee, stating the rise in confidence she has seen in Brendon has been amazing to witness.
A confidence now visible to everyone else as well.