Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Kids are alright part V

Sharply dressed in brand new white corduroys and a black polo shirt, I met up with several my neighborhood friends at the intersection of Newtonville Ave. and Harvard St. on a bright September morning. We were going walk together on our first day of junior high. I don’t remember getting a lot of new clothes as a child. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my four older brothers.  I even recall a series of elementary school class pictures where three of us are smiling like we were actually happy to have our pictures taken, wearing the same red dress shirt, passed down year after year.  There was also the occasional stolen item from my mother and sisters’ closets, worn in private or underneath.   Even though these new clothes were for boys, getting a new outfit was special, and the first day of school was indeed that. 

I had been high school teacher for sixteen years, and I never got I decent night’s sleep before the first day of school, ever.  I’ve always held so much anxiety about that day; it’s a wonder I could even get dressed. September 2011 was another typical start, there would be new students, new teachers, new principals, new names, new faces, new rules, and new expectations, except I was new too. 

While I had started to transition the previous school year, I barely had a chance to fully express my gender identity.  There was a subtle progression that started the winter before.  I slowly began to express my female gender, and transition from Mr Drew to Ms Drew, in full view of my students and school community.  There wasn’t a map for this journey; at least I couldn’t find one.  While I got some generous support and advice, I was in uncharted territory, especially for a public school teacher in Maine.  What could go wrong? 

With summer and my old identity behind me and a new school year just 9 miles away, I drove to the middle school for the welcome back district reception.  As the school year only ended two months earlier, my transition was still in its infancy, and most of the staff at the other schools hadn’t seen the new me yet.  The new me was happier, and on hormones, but also with short blonde hair.  I had been relatively bald until January, that’s when I started wearing hats and caps everyday to school.  Eventually I allowed some of my blonde bangs to sneak out when I started wearing wigs underneath.  As summer approached, I ditched the hats, and miraculously I had a full head of hair.  My clothing had evolved too, from an androgynous/hipster-like wardrobe full of skinny jeans, tight tees, and sweatshirts, to more feminine looks, which included a parade of blouses, skirts, and dresses.  But I was practical, or at least I thought I was, and didn’t wear the really high heels to school. 

Once inside the school I thought some of my fear would fade, but it didn’t. Seeing the familiar faces of my colleagues usually brought me comfort in previous years, like veterans gathering before a Memorial Day parade.  But now as a transgender woman, it didn’t feel the same. I imagine it was like being a new student, transferring into new school, with everyone starring. I felt like an awkward teenage girl.  Finally I found a colleague and she promptly gave me a hug and welcomed me back. That’s exactly what I needed. I was soon joined by a few other friends and we sat together for the remainder of the event, giggling like students, as the superintendent tried to find words to inspire his army of dazed teachers, who were already counting the days to the next summer vacation.

It was my ninth year in this school district, the longest I’d ever spent at one job.  Thinking this was the place, I moved to one of the towns six years earlier.  With the ceremonies over, it was time to meet the new students at the high school.  The day was just for ninth graders.  Our new principal welcomed all of us at an assembly, and I remember thinking this was going pretty well. We even took a photo of all the teachers together sitting in the gymnasium bleachers.  It was a proud moment for me, and I felt like I belonged.  What I didn’t plan on was attending the activities fair later that morning.  While I was advisor for the fashion club, I was counting on a student leader to make the presentation.  

Apparently she was unavailable, so the job was left to me.  With the entire ninth grade class massed together in a very warm and old gymnasium with poor acoustics, each club took turns making their pitches to the uncomfortable thirteen and fourteen year-olds.  About half way through, it was my turn.  I had briefly rehearsed in my head what I would say, but I had no idea how it would come out of my mouth in front of 200 teenagers.  So there I was, dressed in a new outfit, ready for the first day of school.  I stood up and introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Ms Drew…”  

To be continued…