Many transgender people dream about going back to high school in the gender role with which they now identify, said Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition.
“I wish I could go back and go to prom with the captain of the football team,” she added. “For me, there is only one problem ... I was the captain of my football team.”
Grey-Owens is a transgender woman who holds presentations at schools and churches with LITAC. She joined a panel of local transgender residents at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook University on Nov. 16 for the group’s latest forum, which she dubbed Trans 101.
“One of the things I love about these events is that there’s so much diversity on that stage,” said Aiden Kaplan, 24, of Bellmore, adding that his fellow panelists were all part of the transgender community, but have “stories that were so much different than mine.”
The event began with an explanation of the differences among biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. While sex is assigned to people at birth, their identity and the way in which they express themselves can differ. Sexual orientation is a separate factor that has nothing to do with gender.
To explain sexual expression, Grey-Owens showed the audience of nearly 50 attendees a picture of someone who appeared to be female, wearing a purple dress and throwing back “her” hair. Grey-Owens explained that the image only tells us the person’s sexual expression, not their identity.
“That behavior isn’t empirically female … but society sees it as such,” added panelist Lily Darias Martinez.
Kaplan added that the subject could be experiencing gender dysphoria and thinking about transitioning. Kaplan came out as transgender at 13 and, soon after, began transitioning to the male he is today.
A misconception surrounding the process of transitioning, Grey-Owens said, is that it is linear. While some transgender people come out, change their names, take hormones and undergo surgery, others only alter certain aspects of their physiology and others simply change the way in which they express their gender.
Panelist Charlie Arrowood, an attorney with Transcend Legal, explained that he was born a female, but doesn’t identify as either gender. His expression is mainly androgynous, though he prefers to be seen as a male. When it comes to his transition, however, he made minimal changes after coming out, other than legally changing his birth name to Charlie from its female counterpart.
“When I told people my birth name, I felt like their wheels were turning and they had to recalibrate,” Arrowood said, adding that he is often seen as a biological male. Now, he is married with two children who call him “Aba,” the Hebrew word for father.
The panel also featured biologically nonconforming speakers who have male and female traits, such as Cynthia BrianKate, who was born a male and started developing female features when she went through puberty. At the time, she only expressed herself as a female and wore a girlfriend’s unwanted dresses and leftover makeup. They were both surprised, however, when BrianKate started growing breasts.
At the close of the forum, Darias Martinez said that the panel of diverse speakers affirmed her belief that society must “make room for all different kinds of experiences.” She added that she hopes, in the future, the way people dress, the bathrooms they use and the genders with which they identify will cease to be the subject of controversy.
“One day, we will stop talking about gender,” she said, “and, instead, how we can be satisfyingly good human beings.”