BY HALLE SHAEFFER AND BRIANNA BECERRA
Those who are a part of the transgender community often feel that they are unheard, overlooked, and misunderstood in society.
Alex Townsend, 12, is an openly transgender student at Wadsworth High School. He says that being a transgender student has presented him with new obstacles that other students will not have to face.
“Being a teenager is stressful enough, but you have the added weight of ‘do I look , masculine enough’ or ‘is doing this too feminine’,” explained Townsend.
Though he felt that he was a boy ever since he was four years old, he began his transition in eighth grade. Not only does he have to deal with transitioning publicly, he is also faced with the challenge of new family dynamics.
“My dad did not support it,” explained Townsend. “My mom is now supportive, but wasn’t at first.”
Many transgender teens struggle with being accepted by their families for making this life changing step.
Because of the initial friction caused by his decision, Townsend relied on friends for help during this life changing process.
“A lot of my friends are some type of LGBT and when I was a freshman I had a lot of people that just took me under their wing,” said Townsend. “All the people I know are pretty accepting of me.”
Because Townsend is transgender, he prefers that others use masculine pronouns when addressing him. This was the first step he took while transitioning.
At the beginning of every school year, he makes sure to notify his teachers of his pronoun preferences. Townsend says that even though he specifies this for his teachers, some choose to ignore them.
“I will email them on the first day of the school year with my pronouns, my name that is not my birth name, and they just do not use them,”said Townsend. “Some teachers have always been supportive, which is something that I appreciate as a student.”
This leaves Townsend frustrated, as he feels that his teachers should always respect pronoun usage. He urges others to be aware of preferred pronouns, as they are very important to the transgender community.
Natalie Martin, a Wadsworth alumnus, transgender woman and parent of two, works as a music teacher at the Lippman School in Akron. She finds it important to talk to those students that may identify as something other than their birth gender and believes that other teachers should value this as well.
“I have had two trans students in my just over two years at Lippman,” said Martin. “I make sure to ask the students who might be somewhere along the spectrum what kind of pronouns they prefer.”
Martin finds that if she refers to her students the way they prefer, other students will follow suit.
After socially transitioning by changing pronouns, preferred names, and appearance, medical transitions can be the next step depending on preference.
Beginning in 2008, Kids Pride Clinic at Metro Health Hospital in Cleveland was the second clinic in the entire country that was available for younger LGBTQ patients.
Terry Stanson, clinical psychologist and head of the child psychiatry psychology program, has been working with children and young adults at Kids Pride for 33 years.
“We begin with comprehensive mental health evaluations to try to help identify what the family’s needs are, and then we work to try to gain access to whatever healthcare we feel is appropriate and follows the standards of medical guidelines,” explained Stanson. “We try to support kids along their journey and help them figure out who they are.”
Support is a large part when it comes to transitioning, and there are many sources available to help along the way. Townsend says that social media has been a great outlet for him, as he is able to both receive and give support to others.
“If you follow pages on Instagram or Tumblr or anywhere on social media, there’s info like how to be safe,” reported Townsend.
He says that trans supportive platforms on social media have become his favorite place to go when he feels discouraged or is in need of reassurance.
“It is where I feel most comfortable for support because I see people who are trans and who are transitioning and it gives me hope for my transition,” said Townsend.
Natalie Martin highlighted how important mental health is when it comes to making the decision to transition.
Martin detailed her struggles with suicidal thoughts and how her one year old daughter saved her from taking her own life.
“My children would much prefer having a living daddy that’s a girl rather than a dead dad who was a boy,” said Martin.
Even though Martin struggled with her mental health, she eventually realized that being honest with herself was the only route to self satisfaction. She says that it was neither easy nor practical, but it was what she had to pursue in order to achieve happiness.
“It was remarkable because for the first time in my life, I could see a future that I actually liked to see,” admitted Martin.
After finally accepting who she was, Martin was ready to take on the challenges that came along with transitioning. She came out to her family soon after she came out to herself, but not everyone was eager to accept her for who she was.
“I had a few people who really sort of saddened me to see their lack of accepting me, and one of them was a family member that was at one point a constant presence in my life,” said Martin. “For the past six years, we haven’t spoken.”
Though she experienced some backlash for the decision she had made, Martin says that she received immense amounts of support.
Coming out was only the first step, as Martin was now tasked with picking a new feminine name for herself. Her second attempt proved to be successful when she landed on the name of Natalie.
She said that she selected this name because it was a singular letter away from being the phrase “not a lie”. This was important to her, as she was finally able to be honest with herself and the rest of the world.
Feeling safe in the community is another aspect that is important to transgender individuals. Martin states that she feels safe living in Wadsworth, but she is always on guard due to recent hate crimes that have occurred against the transgender community.
“When I first came out, one of the things that I learned was that I can’t go places at night alone anymore,” said Martin.
She says that becoming a woman has presented her with a whole new range of challenges that she never even thought about when she was a man.
“It’s something that is just a factor of losing my male privilege which I had in spades, but that I don’t have at all anymore,” explained Martin.
Faced with the obstacles of transitioning, many families reach out to support groups to find others that are faced with a similar situation.
OutSupport, a Medina originated LGBTQ support group, helps individuals and families with support before, during and after transitioning. Another support group is Margie’s Hope, a non-profit organization out of Akron headed by Jacob Nash. This group features both youth and adult programs for the transgender community.
“We hope to provide a safe-haven to teens and children in a world where people do not understand them,” said Nash.
Members of the community turn to support groups in order to help them ease into their transition. They encourage transgender individuals to accept themselves and allow them to meet others that are going through the same process.
“Stay true to yourself,” encouraged Martin. “As cheesy as it sounds, it will take you further than any other advice that anyone can give you.”
This is the advice that she offers to all students who are struggling with their gender identity. Her experiences have made her someone that people can turn to in need of support and advice. As transgender awareness is growing, many people are feeling as if they are able to be the best versions of themselves.