I always knew it, even though I didn’t have a name for it for a long time.
“I a boy!” I told my mom, my first sentence as a toddler.
It was why I hated Catholic school, with those little pleated plaid skirts. The uniform left me so unhappy as a kindergartner that my mom transferred me to the local public elementary school. Here, I was known as Giana, the little girl who always dressed in boy clothes.
When I was 10, my mom showed me the sensationalized news story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl, and asked, “Is this you?” I couldn’t say yes. That would mean there was something wrong with me, and that seemed worse than the confusion and depression.
So I started middle school, cut my hair short, and everyone just figured I was a lesbian. I started to tell myself that too, but that didn’t make my life much easier. My mom was struggling with this whole thing, my dad couldn’t accept it because of his religious views, and I spent a lot of time on my own.
I rarely went out, and really didn’t have any friends. I know some people were rooting for me, but the constant bullying made it hard for me to reach out. I got through that time by waiting for it to be over, plus lots of therapy and writing in my journals.
That all changed in high school because everyone is too wrapped up in their own stuff to have time to bully someone for being different. I joined a LGBT support group, met another trans guy and finally was able to accept who I was.
In my sophomore year I came out to my mom, who always sort of knew. My dad, he just told people I was confused. My grandma was my biggest supporter. She always knew I was a boy inside, and she told me about this Chicago center that specializes in kids and teenagers who are questioning their gender or identify as transgender, Lurie Children’s Hospital Gender and Sex Development Program in Chicago. About the same time, I started working with a film crew on a documentary about being transgender.
I asked all my family, teachers and friends to call me John, and everyone was pretty cool about it, although the school made me wear an ID with the name Giana on it. That badge outed me as transgender to all the people who never knew me as Giana, but the school refused to change it until my doctor called them and said they were violating medical privacy laws by making me wear an ID with a girl’s name. That put an end to my ID problem.
Bathrooms never posed a problem in high school, but the locker room did because the boys locker room didn’t have any stalls, so I just changed every day in a bathroom stall. My counselor tells me the school is considering building more unisex bathrooms near the gym, to support transgender students like me, and that would be a simple change that could make a big difference.
Throughout my schooling, I always felt like my teachers loved me and supported me, with the exception of one really ignorant gym teacher.
I also found an amazing outlet where I shed my shyness, found a great group of friends, and learned to love something I always hated: My (high-pitched) voice. I started taking voice lessons and performing with a local School of Rock, and when I sing, I feel an easy confidence I’ve never experienced.
This month, the documentary I’ve been working on with other young people at Lurie will air on PBS’ Frontline; it’s called Growing Up Trans. People always think they will be famous after they appear on TV, but what I’m hoping is that the show will end up answering all the questions my friends are afraid to ask.
If I want people to understand who I am, I have to be willing to deal with confusion and awkward questions. I’ve learned not to get mad, because there are always going to be more people who don’t really get it.
I just graduated from high school and will start taking classes at my local community college this fall. I wish I could envision a future where being transgender is as acceptable as gay marriage has become, but I think we’ve got decades to wait for that.
I also have a hard time seeing myself as an advocate. I just want to live my life as an average guy. But if I can ease the burden for kids like me, I want to do whatever I can to help.