Jon is 17 years old. He is 17 in every single way: mismatched converse, grim reaper T-shirt, skinny jeans and a mop of wavy golden hair. Like many high school seniors, Jon is navigating big choices. Where will he go to college? How much debt is he willing to take on? Should he pursue his passions or take the safer road? He does this while juggling classes, running cross-country, being the president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group and giving himself hormone shots every other week.
“I remember saying to my mom, with tears flowing down my face, ‘I hate being transgender.’” His sophomore year his period seeped through his pants at school. He called his mother, distraught and crying. It was an icy February day and he fled the school. His mom pulled up just as he slipped and fell on the ice. He recalls his mom standing over him, trying to help. He lay there on the ice and sobbed, “I don’t want to get up.” Jon is angry about a lot of things. Looking at his cherubic face while he giggles at his own “dad jokes,” you might not guess it. But he is. Jon is deeply angry.
When Jon’s endocrinologist suggested he exercise regularly to burn off his “newfound energy and metabolism,” Jon decided to run. He signed up for cross-country, but soon realized his experience wouldn’t be like the other boys’. “My coach…pulled me aside to tell me I had to go to a meeting in Augusta. The Maine Principals Association would have to give me their approval to compete as a boy.” Jon recounts his humiliation at having to prove who he was. They let him know he was lucky he wasn’t a “male trying to be on the girls’ team.” Apparently, the meetings are even more devastating for transgender girls in Maine. Jon sat there as they passed around his documents. He listened as they used the wrong pronouns. They grilled him about how long he had known. His mom was there and, while she is supportive, it has been a long road for her. She made jokes at his expense trying to diffuse the situation. They didn’t talk on the nearly two-hour drive home. “I cannot forget that day,” Jon says. “It haunts me to think about. I get angrier when I think about how this is happening to other kids and it’s considered OK. It’s not OK.”
Jon’s friends are protective of him. They want to make sure his story is being told for the right reasons. His friend Grace sits cross-legged and wears a Bigfoot T-shirt. She says, “Jon is really nice to me and always messages me to ask how I’m doing. He always lets me know that I can message him if I want to. And, like, we talk about serious stuff a lot. Jon is very respectful when we talk about stuff that he doesn’t understand. I appreciate that.”
Another friend, Hattie, adds that Jon has been through a lot. Hattie has forest green hair and the light shines through it as she speaks. “It is only this year that they got his name right on his school email. Before that,” Hattie says, “every teacher who looked at his email knew his deadname. I think that was wrong. Schools have to do better for students who are transgender.” Jon knows he is lucky to have friends who love him for who he is. “I don’t even know what his other name was,” Hattie says, “I don’t want to know. That was never his name and I don’t want that in my head.”
Jon’s face is serious as he thinks about what he would like people to know about him. He takes a long time to answer. When he finally does his voice is clear and certain. “What I would like everybody to know is that I’m angry. I’m more than being called a faggot. I am more than how fast I run. I am more than my report card. I am a son, a brother, a cousin, a grandson, a nephew and a friend. I am all of these things, and then I am transgender. Sometimes, I forget what it was like to do all the things I did before I came out. I used to dance wildly with my fake friends, but I also used to be upset 100 percent of the time.”
Jon is angry. But he is also brimming with hope as he looks to the future. He grows animated as he talks about his college acceptance letters, expressing pride at the financial packages he has been offered. He is looking forward to watching “Love, Simon” today with a Gay-Straight Alliance from a neighboring school. He can’t wait for a party at a friend’s house this weekend. They are going to dress up as cowboys, eat rainbow food, and watch “Brokeback Mountain” for the first time. Jon is just a teenager, like so many others, taking that first cautious step toward adulthood. More than anything, that is what he’d like you to know. Jon is just like anyone else.