I made a choice recently, not a choice to be something new, but a choice to embrace what I have always been.
From a very young age, perhaps around the age of five, I wanted to be a boy. I played with all the boys at recess, dressed like a boy, and drew a heart around a girl in my kindergarten yearbook and ached for it to feel natural. I knew I was different than the body I had been born into. As I grew older, I became more and more masculine. By fifth grade, I cut my hair short. I told my mom it was because I really liked my teacher Mrs. Nelson’s hair, but realistically I just wanted to look more like the boy I wished I was. By middle school I came out to my parents as gay, looked like a chubbier version of Justin Bieber, and tried on identity after identity. They all felt right and wrong simultaneously. I liked being a jock, and the class clown, and the teacher’s pet, and a nerd and geek in one body. I even liked being the kid that listened to punk rock and wore their favorite band t-shirts. To be honest, I still enjoy being these things. But, I never truly felt comfortable in any of them, because I never truly felt comfortable in one of the biggest identities I owned: my gender.
I received an awful lot of harassment growing up. More often than not, it was from parents asking why there was a boy on their daughter’s team or middle aged women screaming at me in public restrooms. I remember how much it hurt my parents when people misgendered me, but I remember even more vividly the pain and confusion I felt when I got called a boy. I wanted to be one so bad, but I told myself time and time again, “Not a possibility. Not in this lifetime.”
By the time I got to college, I had been physically assaulted out of a public restroom, called more slurs than I can count on one hand while walking down darkened streets, got teased constantly about the ‘neck beard’ I hadn’t asked for, and hated more and more this body I lived in, this identity I was supposed to own. I was comfortably queer, but I was not comfortable as a woman. By 17, I could no longer look down while I showered or look in a mirror. Doing so would trigger a depressive episode, lasting anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks. I began to resent whatever forces in the Universe made me the way I was.
My sophomore year of college, my residence hall brought in an LGBTQ panel. Being openly gay and proud, I didn’t think there would be much I would learn from this panel, but I knew it would be an enlightening experience for my residents, and that I would be reminded how vastly different our stories could be. So I went.
I was shocked to find two things: first, how wildly ignorant I was about how much knowledge I had, and second, a transgendered male sitting right in front of me. For the first time in my life I thought, maybe, in this lifetime, there is a possibility for me to be exactly who I wanted.
I struggled with the possibility of this new identity nearly as much as I struggled with the one that had been placed upon me since birth. What about my family? I knew their love was unconditional, but how much would it hurt, and how hard would it be to make the transition for them? What about my profession? I knew we were moving forward as a society, but what if it wasn’t moving forward fast enough? What about my future significant others? What if the outside not matching the inside was too much to bear?
Then I asked, “What about myself?”
What life will I be living if I don’t take on my true identity? How much will it hurt to live what I know to be a lie? How hard will it be to hear ‘Ms. Bennett’ and ‘she’ and ‘her’ every day of the rest of my life? How can I be happy when everytime I hear these words and am forced to own this identity, I feel a wave of sadness wash over me, drowning me?
So I took a chance. Secretly at first. I asked my best friend to try calling me ‘he’. I wanted to see how it sounded, and immediately found that it felt natural; I asked my Alternative Break group who I had gotten incredibly close with to use the pronouns ‘he,’ ‘him,’ and ‘his’ on our trip to Florida. I was acknowledged as “one of the guys,” truly, for the first time in my life. I let my sister in on it shortly after, and was promised her love and support as I moved through my own personal journey. And then, just this past fall, I did something crazy.
With 2,000 people watching, on a stage at Leadership Safari, after being introduced as ‘she’ by a speaker who didn’t quite respect my wishes, I owned my true identity in front of what seemed like the entire world.
“Hello everyone, my name is Randi Bennett, and my pronouns are he, him, his.”
The uproar of applause reaffirmed that I was everything I needed to be.
I came out to my parents for a second time this past year at Christmas. Naturally, it was hard for me. I had this image of what they knew me to be, and the idea of shattering it for them broke my heart. Nonetheless, I knew they were my parents, and that no matter who or what I chose to be, they would love me. I know this will be a process for them, as it will be for everyone else in my life. It is a process, however, that has my best interest at heart, and I know that will be worth it for not only myself, but for everyone else as well.
This coming out experience has been liberating for me. I have been able to proudly own this new identity. I have been able to proudly say, “I am transgender.” The words seem to roll off my tongue.
And to be quite honest, I’m tired of saying it quietly.
So for all to hear: my pronouns are he, him, and his, I am transgendered, and I am living the life I always hoped for.
You should see my face light up… The way my smile stretches across my face when my students utter the simplest of words: “Have a good day, Mr. Bennett.”