This senior year, a million things were running through my head: SATs, what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to major in, my job, my girlfriend being away at college, the first football game and my AP lit class.
The last thing on my mind was homecoming.
I mean, I was planning to go, as I had the past few years. I had a date (my lovely girlfriend, of course), I had a tux and all I had to worry about was getting it dry-cleaned. That was it, until the second day of school rolled around.
I was in the midst of changing my senior year schedule for about the fourth time, when I got called down to the guidance office again. The guidance counselor started with the usual, “How are you? How’s your senior year going so far?”
I replied with a short, “Fine.”
She proceeded to get to the real reason she'd called me in. The voting for homecoming court was coming up, and the committee in charge of this year’s homecoming wanted to know if I preferred to be put onto the male or female ballot for voting. I am female-to-male transgender, which the school had been aware of for over a year at this point.
Before, homecoming court wasn’t even something that interested me. But I was really honored to be given the choice to run on the male ballot. It meant a lot to me. I left the office with a smile, feeling proud.
I told all of my friends as soon as I could. The rest of the week, nothing could bring me down. I was being recognized as myself, and it felt so good. I posted on Facebook that Thursday night, the day before voting.
I let the whole senior class know that this was a really big step forward for our school and our community. I asked for their votes. I wanted to be on homecoming court now, just to show my school and kids everywhere that it was OK to be different and be yourself. And that gender wasn’t as black and white as some people made it seem. That it didn’t matter what was in between your legs, but what was in between your ears and in your heart.
Friday morning, I walked into school with my head up high, ready for the vote. After all of the positive feedback on my Facebook post from the night before, I thought I had a real chance of getting on court.
It felt like everyone was stopping me to tell me how awesome this was, and to tell me I had their vote. I was anxious, waiting for sixth period to come, when everyone would register their vote. I went through the short Friday as normal, until fourth period. Between classes, I was called over the PA to the main office. I hadn’t a clue for what.
As I rounded the corner into the office, the principal and vice principal were waiting, both with expressionless faces.
They told me to have a seat, and I sat in a chair in front of the desk. They told me that they had to remove my name from the male homecoming court ballot.
I was confused and angry. “Why?” I asked.
They replied that their “legal counsel” had informed them it was against the law.
“How? What law?”
They told me that because my driver’s license states that I am female, I could not be on the male ballot for court. I explained to them that this wasn’t a joke. I wasn’t doing this without good reason. I also couldn’t understand why I was asked by the guidance counselor about this if it was actually impossible all along. Nothing was adding up.
Was this being done just to undermine and mock my gender identity? If so, mission accomplished.
I left without asking any more questions, because I couldn’t muster any. I just wanted to cry. How could this happen? To have a door opened for me, one that was a huge step into being accepted by my peers and in society, and then have it slammed in my face left me feeling shattered.
That's when the fight instinct in me kicked in. I wasn’t just going to let this go. My mom came home on Saturday, and she heard the whole story.
The first thing she did was contact her friend John DeBartola who writes the Keystone Alliance Gay Life Newsletter. Saturday night after I’d worked eight hours, I was asked to write an editorial for his newsletter. So I was up until 2am with my girlfriend writing that. The next thing I knew, I was being interviewed by the local paper, and then the TV news, and then everything blew up. Blogs, and news sites, and all kinds of media were calling me and emailing me and Facebook messaging me. It happened so fast, and it was all so overwhelming. I’ve been asked to be a guest speaker at Clarion University, IUP, and Penn Highlands Community College.
On Tuesday, after the Labor Day weekend, my mom and I met with the principals and guidance counselor at the school. They wanted to know why all of this was going on, what the real problem even was. Again they made it a point that because my driver’s license said that I was female, I could not legally be on the male ballot. They said there was nothing they could do about it.
Pretty soon another trans friend of mind got a hold of me on Facebook.
He told me that changing my driver’s license was easy if that was the school's main issue, and he sent me a link to the form on the PennDOT website. I printed it out and went to the DMV that week.
I got my picture retaken, signed my name and paid about $13. It took about an hour, and then there it was, my new driver’s license. Right there in black and white: I was male. I was so proud to hold that piece of plastic in my hand. I had a small bit of legal proof that I was male. Not only had I practically won the only argument given to me, but I was a man, and I had proof, and that felt so good.
John DeBartola and I registered to speak at the next school board meeting that Monday night. He was going to represent me on the civil rights side of my case, and I was going to tell my story, and at the end, present them with a copy of my driver’s license showing that I am male. When Monday night rolled around, at least 100 people were there in my support.
After I spoke, the whole room was silent.
The next thing I knew, there I heard the largest eruption of applause from behind me. As the board looked over a black-and-white copy of my new driver’s license, I sat down with a tear in my eye, knowing that I had won. We had won.
Except we hadn't.
The first person, and really the only person on the board to speak was the solicitor Timothy Leventry. He basically said that regardless of my license, regardless of my gender expression and identity, I was a girl and I was going to be treated as such. He said that because I have “female genitalia, things of this nature,” then I am legally female.
My question is: Since when did my genitalia come into conversation? In a public meeting, too!
Did they question the other court members about their genitals?
Even after being corrected, Leventry also continued to constantly use the incorrect pronouns to refer to me. I had never felt so disrespected, so singled out and so humiliated in my life.
He finished by saying that the board needed to do what was best for all of the students. He also completely ignored the three other issues I had brought up in my speech: a request for a blue (male) graduation cap and gown, establishing a Gay-Straight Alliance in the school and adding gender identity to the school’s anti-bullying policy.
Leventry was asked by a college student in the crowd which laws he was citing, and he responded that he was not proving a legal case and he did not have those in front of him at that time.
[xoJane reached out to Leventry for further comment, but he did not reply.]
They did not give us an official decision that night, but met after the public meeting to discuss the issue. Last week, I was told unofficially by the principal and vice principal that the school board had decided to take no action.
We are still waiting for something in writing from the board, and if we do not receive anything in the next few days, we plan on registering to attend the next school board meeting.
In a few short weeks, this issue has become much more than just a fight about a high school popularity contest.
It has become a huge battle for the LGBT community as a whole and the way transgendered people are seen and treated in society. Although I currently am still in the running for homecoming queen rather than king, I have made the issue public.
This may not be resolved before homecoming on October 5, but I will fight this still for my graduation and for the Gay-Straight Alliance and the updated policy for the entire school, and for other schools to hopefully follow in its path.
I will not let one out-of-touch individual seemingly obsessed with my genitals hold me back from my fight as a young man who desires justice and equal opportunity for all.