“Not everyone is accepting of things that they don’t understand.”
But the most important thing is to accept yourself for who you are. That’s the message Jayce Stinger wanted to share in his 2016 winning essay. The Grade 12 student at Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay, Ontario courageously opened up about his experience coming out as transgender, as part of the Turning Points program, which emphasizes character awareness and literacy skills for students in Grades 6 to 12.
As today marks the International Day of Pink, when people worldwide wear pink to take a stand against bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia, it’s a timely subject that Stringer explored last year. In his essay called “Transition,” he reflected on his experience surrounding his 17th birthday, when he first came out to his family.
“I was swallowing back years of anxiety and running my sweating palms across my jeans the night I told my dad I’m transgender,” he wrote. “To this day, it holds a high spot in the list of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but if I hadn’t done it my life would never have changed.”
You can read Stringer’s award-winning essay below.
As blurry as the last two years were for me, I distinctly remember my 17th birthday. I was sitting on the end of my bed after dinner waiting for my dad to come to talk to me, feeling like I could choke on every insecurity I’d ever had and drown. I remember stuttering out my explanation like the accused in court, studying his face like a quirk in his eyebrow would tell me whether or not his response would be positive, or neutral at least. I was swallowing back years of anxiety and running my sweating palms across my jeans the night I told my dad I’m transgender. To this day, it holds a high spot in the list of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but if I hadn’t done it my life would never have changed.
In my experience, gender dysphoria doesn’t show up loud and announced like a drunk relative to Christmas dinner; it sneaks in quietly and begins to affect your life. Sometimes you recognize it early, sometimes not until you’re older. My earliest memory of questioning my gender was when I was maybe six years old. I thought to myself that my mother was strange to be calling me a girl because I knew I was a boy, but I wasn’t about to correct her because I had been told boys don’t play with girls and I loved playing with my sisters, which is six year old logic at its finest. When I was in the seventh grade, a girl I knew asked me what my name would be if I was a boy. She made one for me and called me by that name for the rest of the school year and I loved it. I always theorized that I had hated the name given to me by my parents because I thought it didn’t suit me. Of course, it didn’t suit me; it was a name for a girl. When I started high school, I was beginning to squirm when referred to as miss, she, young woman. It wasn’t until grade ten that I met someone who helped me understand what I was feeling. Before then I had never heard that your gender identity could be different than your biological sex.
The way I would explain it is that while my body naturally produces estrogen and has all the necessary parts to carry a child, nothing about me is female. I wouldn’t say I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body, because this body is mine and though it is looked at as female I know that no part of it is. I’ve spent my whole life looking at gender in a way most other people never would. Growing up transgender is as terrifying as it is isolating and it would be lying to say that most of it is easy.
This revelation changed a lot in my life, and though it isn’t an easy conversation to have with most people, I slowly began to come out to my friends about who I had really been this whole time. I changed my name and pronouns to match who I am and reintroduced myself to the people who mattered to me. Not everyone is accepting of things that they don’t understand and I would be lying if I said everyone was kind about it. I lost friends, but accepted that if they didn’t want me in their life,
it would be their loss. But losing a friend is one thing, while becoming disconnected from family is another, and as much as family is supposed to love you through thick and thin that isn’t always true. Coming out to my parents was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. It’s so hard to hide things from someone you live with, and it’s even worse knowing if they know they could have a visceral reaction and, at worst, I could be disowned. As well as my mother and father ended up taking the news, I can’t say the same for everyone whom I’m related to. I haven’t spoken to my grandparents since.
It can be hard to open up to people and this was no different. It was life altering for me and those around me, but I gained a lot from coming out. Mostly, I gained back my happiness. Hiding who I was fed my already present depression and did nothing to help the growing want to end my own life. Making the change from hiding who I was to coming out honestly is hugely part of why I’m still alive today. I loathed my body and treated myself awfully, turning every negative part of my experience inward because I wouldn’t allow myself to express how I was feeling. As much as I would like to say I’m proactive about letting people know and not hiding anymore, it’s still hard to do most days, but it’s something I’ll learn to live with. Quite often I’ve found myself still fighting thoughts of self-hatred and disgust towards who I am, thinking things like, “Why can’t I just be normal?” or feeling ashamed of who I am, though I suppose that feeling shame comes with being shamed.
Like any challenge in life, I’ve grown a lot while discovering who I am, and the people close to me have begun to accept and acknowledge my transition. I’m proud of myself to have come to this point, and I know things can only improve from here. I’ve gained a support system made of my wonderful friends and family. I’m grateful for the acceptance I’ve received while I’ve made these changes in my life. I feel very lucky that while I’ve sorted myself out most things have gone as well as they possibly could in this situation. While I’m still in the middle of these changes in my life, I know I’ll come out of this as a stronger person, and as the man I was meant to be.