Transgender Students Share Their Experience at East

This story was published in the January 28 edition of The East Vision

While filling out a school form last December, Julia McDaniel ‘24 paused at the question asking for their pronouns and had a realization – “she/her doesn’t feel right.” 

McDaniels’ experience regarding their gender is not uncommon; it was echoed by many students questioning their identity. Coming out is often followed by a period of denial and processing. 

“I wasn’t super comfortable thinking about it yet,” McDaniel said. “It was very confusing for a long time but I think I finally reached a place where I’m comfortable expressing that.”

But the period of questioning ultimately leads to understanding one’s gender and after accepting a true identity, wanting to be known by it. For many students, there were people who guided and inspired them. Having role models can be influential in one’s coming out journey.

“When I went to camp, our camp counselor was non-binary. They were really cool, and everybody accepted them,” Eddie Detgen ‘24 said. “It made it feel like it would be easier to transition.”

With older transgender people sharing their experiences, students could compare and contrast their experiences with someone else.

“Learning about other people’s stories…allowed [me] to realize it was something I’d been experiencing my whole life,” James Craig ‘24 said. 

Conflicting feelings with genders assigned at birth, and gender envy –wanting to embody someone because of their gender expression–are common.

“When I was younger I used to have crushes on tons of boys all the time, and then when I got older I realized they weren’t necessarily crushes, it was just that I wanted to look like that,” McDaniel said. 

Additionally, not wanting to be constricted by societal bounds and expectations played a part in many students’ journeys. Anna Borgula ‘24, who is non-binary, came out in 2021.

“I came out over the summer…[to] all of my friends– my sister first though,” they said. “Then, I changed my pronouns on Instagram…I came out to my volleyball team, and they were really great about it!”

But coming out can also be difficult. 

“I’m bi, so I had to move lockers because people would make gay jokes around me,” Owen Rizor ‘25 said. “My anxiety got worse when I switched lockers, because I was worried about getting discriminated against.”

Unfortunately, that worry was–and is–justified. 

“There are a lot of conservative people who don’t support LGBTQ+ rights in this school, and they say that kids can’t ‘know’ when they’re 13, which is wrong,” Rizor said. 

School can be a mixed bag for students, offering both acceptance and prejudice. Whether it’s being dead named, misgendered, overhearing transphobic comments, or simply being misunderstood, non-cisgender students still face discrimination. 

 “I feel like my teachers are pretty nonchalant about saying my deadname,” Detgen said. “I feel like some of them aren’t sensitive to the effect of saying someone’s deadname.”

The school’s guidance counselors, however, have received praise for being allies to the trans community.

“My guidance counselor was able to change [their name on school documents],” Craig said. “[This] was really helpful, so my deadname wasn’t on attendance sheets or stuff like that.” 

Guidance counselor Katie RietKerk said that ensuring transgender students’ safety is her top priority to ensure an inclusive environment. 

“Our job is to be their advocate to make sure [transgender students] feel comfortable, supported, and safe,” she said. “No matter how accepting we are, there’s always work to be done. Being empathetic and listening and understanding that people are people…our job is to support people for who they are.”

McDaniel said their math teacher, Samantha Feenstra, has done an excellent job respecting them in the classroom.

“She is amazing and has done an absolutely great job with me,” McDaniel said. “My friend who’s also in that class, we’re both non-binary, and she’s done a great job with [our] pronouns.”

The school has made strides from where it–like every other school in America–was only a few decades ago. It has adopted policies to support the transgender community, from using the correct gender and pronouns for students, to having transphobia classified as bullying. But this is why the term “duality” exists– East has made progress, and still has progress to make.