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“So I’m a nonbinary trans man and I’m starting college next year. At college I want to start going by my preferred name and pronouns, maybe presenting a bit more masculine, etc. BUT. I’m confused on one thing… Should I tell people I’m trans when I meet them? Like, I don’t want to like, have to explain what being trans is or stuff right when I meet people, especially since I have trouble with social anxiety already. But I’m worried they might assume I’m a girl if I don’t explain.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

Hi there, Anonymous. As a non-binary trans man who started going by my preferred name and pronouns in college, I’m glad you reached out with this question. The fact that you’re reaching out at all indicates you have your stuff far more together than I did as an incoming freshman, but I will tell you the top three things I wish I had known when I started undergrad.

The first and most important thing I can tell you is to let people pleasantly surprise you.

When I rolled into my all-girls dorm and met my lady roommate, I stutteringly told her I was trans Actually, I may have said, “I’m a dude, kind of like inside?” I braced for impact, assuming she would ask to change rooms. Instead, she said “cool” and asked me if I wanted to order pizza. Don’t discount that you can get lucky.

What’s more, all the women in my dorm who I feared would shun me were friendly and generally disinterested in my gender identity. That’s because from the first week on, we had papers to write, philosophy texts to read, passages in Russian to translate (maybe that was just me). On top of that, people were hooking up, fighting, and going to Taco Night at the cafeteria. Which is to say that once you are in school and dealing with the day-to-day, it will likely not be as challenging as it seems in the abstract.

My advice is to practice your script for when you meet people initially. Maybe you want to say you’re non-binary, maybe you just want to say your name and preferred pronouns. It will probably change, but the important thing is that you set boundaries for your everyday interactions and introductions that are comfortable for you. Once you do this a few times, you will get used to it and feel out how much you want to say and when.

Now, to the second big thing I wish I’d realized sooner. There is a major pitfall to be wary of, especially as a trans person: you will feel pressure to do the unpaid work of educating people when there are others who are tasked with that responsibility. Try not to fall into this role.

Early in my time in undergrad, when I did happen upon some poor unfortunate soul who had no clue what gender identity was and had never heard the word trans before, I would talk with them at length about gender identity and why it mattered. I had at least thirty of these conversations in my first month of school, I kid you not. It left me feeling burnt out and unsatisfied.

Here is the thing, Anonymous: you are at school to learn, just like everyone else. And hopefully, have a blast and make a lot of friends. But you are not there to be anyone’s personal gender identity educator, even if you happen to be an expert in the subject area.

Looking back, I realize that those people who had burning questions about what gender pronouns are should have just googled it. I mean, give me a break here—gender pronouns are what they sound like!

Asking me those simplistic questions just because they knew I was trans was disrespectful of my time. If nobody is paying you to do that educational work and there are a lot of great resources available to people who want to be allies, you do not need to be that resource. Stepping into that role instills an expectation that trans people exist to educate cis people. If you want to get involved on your campus, advocate for your school to include a transgender 101 training at orientation so that all students will get some info on trans identities—that would reach more people than a one-on-one chat with you.

The other important pitfall to side-step is one I never realized until I was done with school, and it might be even more important than the whole “you are not everyone’s gender professor” thing.

My RA didn’t really get it when I told her it was important that she take the sign with my given name off the door. Instead of complaining to the building manager, I ripped it off and put up on that said Liam in big, honking block letters. I did that, more or less, all through college: I would email professors at the beginning of the semester and ask them to change my name on their class rosters. Usually they would, sometimes they wouldn’t. I would get called by my given name in class, be embarrassed, and stop participating. Or if I felt brave that day, I would clear my throat and say, “Actually, I’m Liam.”

Those moments were far from personal triumphs. What I should have realized is that there were salaried staff members at my university tasked with helping students—including me—deal with administrative issues. By making my problems and myself invisible, I was giving them a free pass not to engage with the issues transgender students often face at colleges.

Look for opportunities to lessen your load so you can take full advantage of being a college student. For instance, contact a dean at your school and ask them to inform professors about your preferred name. Let people do their jobs for you, and by extension you will show them how to do it for other trans students.

There you go, Anonymous—those are the things I wish I knew when I started school that have remained relevant (at times, too relevant) since graduating. Good luck at college, and remember: you’re there to learn and occasionally have fun!

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"I'm in college, and I just got accepted into a study abroad program and I could not be more excited!! I have wanted to do this for a long time. However, recently I have also been coming to terms with my queerness and the country I'd be living in isn't exactly the safest for queer people. Should I even bother going? And if I do, how do I deal with being closeted for 4 more months?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Jasmine An Says:

Congratulations on being accepted to your study abroad program! This is such a huge accomplishment and something you can feel proud of. Study abroad is an intense experience. Immersing yourself in a foreign country and culture can lead to the absolute best experiences of your life, and also some of the hardest. While I can’t make your decision for you, I’ll do my best to offer up some of the things I thought about before embarking on six months of study abroad in Thailand.

Safety first: I can’t speak to the specifics of the country you’re thinking of living in, or the specifics of your situation. However, it is likely that as a foreigner and a study abroad student you will be relatively shielded from physical harm. This is not at all to diminish the seriousness of deciding to place yourself in a potentially hostile living situation. The mental and emotional impact of living in a place where you are unsure of your safety is a hugely important consideration. Before committing to study abroad, you should make certain you’re ready for the challenge of adjusting to the dynamics of a new society and culture.

As you mentioned, one of the particular challenges for us queer folks abroad is potentially going back into the closet and hanging up the EVERYONE IS GAY t-shirts for a while. After recently coming to terms with your own queerness, it can definitely feel demoralizing and painful to put that part of your identity under wraps (again). I spent years impressing upon my family and friends that I wasn’t comfortable with traditionally feminine clothing, and then found out that I would have to wear a skirt as part of my school uniform in Thailand. I had to ask myself, was the chance to study in Thailand worth disguising myself in a skirt every day? Ultimately I decided that for me, it was.

However, you are the best judge of your own situation. If you feel like you’d rather stay in a known environment and really invest in exploring your queerness—do it! The country you want to visit will still be there in a few years if you decide you need time to devote to yourself before going abroad. Being surrounded by a strong and affirming community while exploring your identity is an invaluable privilege, and if you have that opportunity in your life in the States, take advantage of it.

On the flip side, if you have been thinking about going abroad to this country for a long time and are really excited about the trip and challenging yourself in a new context, go for it! Homophobia rears its ugly head in many places, including our own communities in the USA. But queer spaces and individuals are also infinitely present, even in countries with reputations for less than stellar track records in protecting their queer citizens. No country is perfect, especially/even our own, but don’t let that stop you from grabbing for adventure with both hands.

Should you decide to go abroad, there are many small things that you can do to nourish your personal queerness. It cannot be said enough, you are by no means, in no way shape or form a “bad queer” if you are not out and loud about it. You owe nobody an explanation or a quantification of your sexuality. If being “in the closet” allows you to decrease your anxiety while you are abroad, be unashamedly in the closet. As long as you, in your heart and mind, are secure in your own queerness, never feel obligated to perform your queerness in order to legitimize it.

That being said, it can be incredibly lonely to go from out ‘n proud to silent about your identity. I feel you. What enabled me to play along with the general assumption I was straight while abroad was the fact that I had an incredibly supportive community both back home and among my study abroad peers that I could turn to when I needed them.

If you are traveling with other students who you like and trust, talk to them. If you’re lucky you may even find someone in the same boat as you. Find someone(s) you can go to whenever you need to word vomit rainbows or cry over heteronormativity.

If you aren’t traveling with other students, or aren’t comfortable sharing your queerness with them, find a way to set up a virtual support community. Facebook, Skype, and other social networking platforms are really at their best when helping us stay connected to our people across time zones and oceans. Also, keeping up with queer culture via websites like Autostraddle was a huge balm to my queer soul while I was abroad.

Find spaces where you don’t have to hide your queerness. Even if you decide that for safety’s sake you will be in the closet while abroad, create spaces where you can drop that mask, even for just 15 minutes of scrolling through pictures of attractive folk on the Internet.

Don’t forget that the local queer folk are all around you, whether you recognize them or not. I was in a Thai drugstore filling a prescription when the pharmacist winked and asked if I had a girlfriend yet. Maybe “queer” in this country looks nothing like what you think of as queerness. Maybe they don’t call themselves queer. Maybe queer does not translate into their language. But they are there.

Finally, delight in the smallest acts of subversion. In Thai, the word for “significant other” is gender neutral. I had a long conversation with my host parents describing my partner, and I’m positive they were happily imagining my American boyfriend, while I was telling them all about my American girlfriend. Look for inside jokes and small things that remind you of your own queerness. Find ways to be proudly, obnoxiously, loudly queer in your own head if nowhere else.

Whatever you decide, best of luck in your coming adventures!


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“I got into this really good (and expensive) university. Yay!! The problem is it is a christian university and it’s pretty strict. Even though you are allowed to be gay and attend (phew), you are not allowed to date AT ALL, whereas straight people can date, but not have sex. As a girl who is closeted, but identifies as gay, would it be worth it to hide who I am for the year I’d be attending? Or, should I just take a gap year while I figure something else out? Please help!”

- Question submitted by anoddassortmentofeverything

Dannielle Says:

I think you gotta do what’s right for you and deep down, way before you asked this question, you knew what that was… Stop right now and think about what I’m about to say. Am I about to say, “nah, fuck that university, you have to be able to express yourself and be open in order to be emotionally healthy…” or am I about to say, “it’s just a year or so, and then you’ll have the education, and you can go off and do your own thing. Your private matters are your own and no one deserves to know them, etc.”

I can argue for hours on either point, but it wouldn’t really matter. What matters is how you feel, what you want to do, and what will make you feel best. A lot of people don’t give a flying fuck about sharing who they are with the people around them. A lot of people feel absolutely wrecked inside if they can’t be 100% themselves. It’s so specific to each individual, so it’s hard to tell you what’s “right.”

I think you can look back at the answers I gave and figure out what works best. There is no right answer, there is only what is right for you, and unfortunately you’ve gotta do that one on your own. If it helps, write out why each option is the best option. Stay positive on both sides. Write down all of the greatest reasons for you to go to school and not share every aspect of your life, what will you gain, how will the school benefit you, what kind of dope people will you meet. Write down all of the greatest reasons to take a gap year, what can you do with your time, what kind of people will you surround yourself with, how can  you continue to grow. Stay positive on all fronts and just pick the one that looks even better than the other totally great option.

No one will judge you either way, and if they do, it isn’t their place to do so, you have GOT to do you.

Kristin Says:

I just have two cents to add here, and that is:

If you do what Dannielle says and you follow your gut, you won’t regret the decision you make, period. Your gut tells you the way, nearly every single time, and even if you decide to go and you have moments where you struggle, or you decide not to go and you have moments during your year off where you feel a bit lost… you’ll still have made the right choice for you.

If you believe what I am telling you (and you should, I am a magical witch), then you will be able to take Dannielle’s direction, think through it, and make the choice that pulls you hardest.

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“I’m a 14 year old gay (bi?) girl and i go to a sleepaway camp for most of the summer. My problem is that I dont want to hide my sexuality from the girls in my cabin, but I worry because we shower/ swim/change in front of each other, and while im not going to be looking at any of them, i worry that theyll think I am. It seems easiest to hide it, but I dont think I can do that. I desperately want to go back to hike and enjoy myself, even if the girls arent the nicest. Do you have any advice? thanks”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

Here’s the thing. You aren’t going to be checking everyone out in the showers, you aren’t going to be staring at everyone wearing a swimsuit, and you aren’t going to wait around for someone to change in front of you… you just AREN’T. You never were going to be doing any of that and you’ll move forward with no plans to do any of it.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that the girls who don’t want to be making out with other girls will look at one another WAY MORE than you will look at any of them. They’ll be comparing their bodies, checking out everyone’s swim suits, asking about bras, etc.

I think you should do what makes you feel most comfortable. If you’re only comfy being out to a few close friends and you trust them, go that route. If you feel cool being “out and proud” and suggesting a fun night of like coming out around the campfire, DO IT. If you don’t want to be out because you’re there to hike and camp and do crafts and dance and eat smores… don’t be out! It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t ALL of who you are, and it is 100000% up to you whether or not you want to be out.

It sounds to me like you want to be out, so I think you should. Talk to a few people you feel comfortable with, make sure you have some folks on your side. ALSO, if anyone is like “i dont want to shower near her bc she’s gay” you can just be like “yea, I don’t want to shower near her either bc she’s straight” and then roll your eyes and walk away.

Kristin Says:

Yup yup yupppppp. I remember being TERRIFIED to come out to my college roommates for the exact same reasons. I was convinced that if I told them I was gay they would feel uncomfortable living with me and think that instead of friendship I actually wanted bone-ship, you know? Nothing I did would have given them that idea… and truthfully nothing they did signaled that they would make such a drastic, sweeping assumption. None of that mattered, though, because my brain, the little devil that it is, had plenty of its own ideas.

It is so, so scary to think that others might make assumptions about you and feel uncomfortable just being in your presence. However, no matter what the outcome is, imagining what it MIGHT be like is almost always much, much worse than what it ACTUALLY winds up being like. I agree with Dannielle’s feeling from your words — it sounds like you really want to be out. My gut says that you are going to come out and your friends and the majority, if not all, of the other campers are going to love and accept you and at most make jokes in an attempt to let you know everything is totally okay. If you do have a few stragglers/strugglers, I want you to do your best at reminding yourself that their issues are their issues, not yours. In this scenario I fully support the rolling-your-eyes tactic to let everyone know that you’re over it and they should be, too.

If it makes it easier, come out armed and ready by saying:

“I wanted to come out to you all but was convinced you’d think I was checking you out in the showers so I have prepared a speech. I am [gay/bi/whatever] and don’t flatter yourselves because I only have eyes for Demi Lovato and 70% of the clones on Orphan Black.”

This gives everyone a chance to laugh, including you, and a GREAT next topic which is OMG ORPHAN BLACK WHO IS UR FAVE CLONE OMG.

…You’ve got this.

(Also, sidebar: I went on a hike in LA and almost got eaten by a rattlesnake so BE CAREFUL.)

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"Hey K&D, I’m a semi grown up, 28 year queer teacher, out to friends and (recently) my parents (yay!). I work in a small, conservative, regional town where being ‘queer’ is perceived as abnormal. I’m deeply conflicted as to my responsibility (?) to come out at work - I feel my sexuality is private, but our students deserve/need positive queer role models and honesty. Whilst I can’t lose my job (due to the law), I can lose my colleagues’ respect. What do you think is the best way to navigate this?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

Hey okay. This is a tough one, and I completely understand that you are in a sticky situation. I have a few thoughts, but I want you to know that this decision is your own and there is  no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There is only what you want and what you decide to do.

(1) On being a positive queer role model: Don’t put this on yourself. You can be a positive and affirming, open-minded, celebratory of self-expression teacher human WITHOUT being out. If you genuinely feel your sexuality is yours and it is a private matter, do not feel FORCED to come out to be a “role model.” You can do about 1 million other things to make students feel welcome and celebrated. You can ask everyone what their pronouns are (added bonus: you can explain what that means), use same-sex couples as examples, suggest books that highlight different types of families, talk about current events, show “it gets better” videos and let your class know that your door is always open. This is all stuff you do to be inclusive of EVERYONE, it’s not stuff you do to prove you’re queer.

(2) On losing the respect of your colleagues: I can’t imagine you will create close friendships with these people if they are the type of people who would stop respecting you because of who you are… I just can’t. I would not want to stay in-the-closet for someone else, the same way I would not want to come-out-of-the-closet for someone else. Try to check in with you and do what is best for your own brain.

(3) On Safety: I don’t know where you live or what your school environment is like, only you can know how safe you’ll truly feel. If that is your main concern, if you feel like your life, job, well-being, etc are all in jeopardy, do not feel pressured to come out. It is totally 100% okay to keep your private life private, in order to keep yourself safe. As I said before, you can be inclusive, warm, and totally open without compromising your privacy and identity.

Kristin Says:

Dannielle has hit and expanded upon the key point in this situation: you can (we all can) bring change to this world in ways that also align with what makes us feel comfortable.

Would it be great for your students to have a positive queer role model in the form of you, their teacher? Well, duh. Yes, of course.

However, if you come out for this purpose and your work environment becomes uncomfortable or unsafe or just generally unpleasant… how is this going to affect your teaching? My guess is that you want to maintain decent working relationships within the walls of your school so that you can bring positivity and open-mindedness and encouragement and creativity to the students who need those things desperately.

So, this becomes a balancing act that you negotiate from day to day, month to month, and year to year — and like Dannielle said, it is different for each and every person placed in your position. Dannielle has given you fantastic ways to bring conversations around sexuality, gender identity, and human equality into your everyday lessons, and there are many places that can help you do so in the ways that most fit your class and curriculum. Look to GLSEN, and smaller communities like the NY Collective of Radical Educators for materials and guidance.

I want to take a sidebar here to say that I am angry. I know you, Anonymous, must be angry. And, dear reader, you are probably angry along with us. The fact that hundreds of thousands of incredible people are placed in this unfair, ridiculous situation each and every day is a fucking intolerable injustice, and it is okay and right for us to also feel fucking furious about it. Okay? Okay.

To those of you who can be out, let’s keep hollering and yelling and banging our queer pots and pans to the fucking high heavens. To those of you who cannot be out, let’s work together to make your voices heard as well. To those of you who are not queer or trans but believe in human equality: BRING THESE LESSONS INTO YOUR CLASSROOMS. BRING THESE WORDS INTO YOUR OFFICES. We need your voices alongside ours so that teachers like this amazing person know that they have support in their places of work and elsewhere.

*raises fist to the sky*


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