Out-of-blue a few weeks ago I received a message on Facebook from a high school classmate from thirty years ago. She was on the reunion committee and had a question about nametags for our upcoming 30th reunion. She asked if it would be okay if they used my high school graduation picture from the yearbook, like they do for most reunion attendees, or would I prefer something more recent that reflects who I am now. I was touched by her kindness and sensitivity. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but to me, a transgender person, it meant the world. I thanked her for inquiring, and asked, “Can I think about it?”
|Football Captains Then|
The day of the reunion arrived and my anxiety got the best of me. It was Friday morning, and I still hadn’t figured out what was going to wear or know what picture was going to be on my nametag. But I did know, there was no turning back; I had made a commitment to others and myself to be there. I spent most of the day expending a lot of nervous energy cleaning my house, vacuuming, folding laundry, and doing the dishes. Late in the afternoon I realized I actually needed get ready and on the road so I could be in town by six. It was about two-hour drive from Maine to Newton.
I made it by 5:30 and dropped my bags off at my friends’ house where I would be staying for the weekend. We had quick drink together before I left to go meet the girls at a local bar, which coincidentally was my neighborhood pharmacy and candy store growing up. It was also where I got in trouble for stealing a Three Musketeers bar in third grade. My parents weren’t happy with me.
As I arrived at the bar, two of the girls were already there and we immediately got caught up with one another. Within a few minutes all six of us were gathered around the table having drinks, reminiscing and figuring out our game plan. We decided we would be each other’s “wingwoman” for the night. I think you know what I mean. We also talked about who we really wanted to see and not see, but also who we had crushes on and if they were still cute or hot after thirty years.
We paired up and drove to the reunion at the Marriott on the other end of town. While we each went our own ways, we arrived
|The Newton Marriott c. 1970|
But deep inside I knew I could go though with it, I had done so before on many other occasions, so down the stairs I went. At the check-in table I told the young woman my name. She crossed me off the list, handed me a black and orange rubber bracelet (our school colors, and my name nametag. Next to, “Gia Drew”, was a black and white picture of a Tiger, our mascot, not my high school picture. Perfect.
Within moments of entering the crowd, I was separated from my friends, and felt lost. There were some familiar faces, and some I didn’t recognize. I wondered what people thought, would anyone say hello? A few did, and that helped. I tried to make my way towards the crowded bar and I noticed one of my girl friends was upfront. She saw me and asked what I wanted. I tried to reply over the noise and I think she was able to read my lips. As I waited, I smiled at familiar face, and said “hi, I’m Gia.” My last name was hidden as my paper nametag was curling shut. Her response was unexpected. She asked if I came with someone, like I was a spouse of a classmate. I was suddenly at a loss for words. I hadn’t prepared for that scenario, and my anxiety quickly returned. Fortunately, my friend handed me my drink, and we walked away quickly away before I had to answer any more questions.
As we entered the ballroom, I passed by some of the guys, my former friends and football buddies. They were the ones I was most nervous of seeing. They were bigger, balder; a strange shadowy version of themselves removed thirty years from the locker rooms and parties, but who was I to judge, I had changed dramatically too. So I walked by, smiled, waved, and said hi, in my new, more feminine voice, not knowing if they knew who I was.
In the ballroom, I was forced to confront other classmates. Like earlier, I recognized them, but they didn’t recognize me. I said hi to two more, “I’m Gia”. They look a little confused; they didn’t remember a Gia from high school. So, I said who I was and told them I used be so-and-so, mentioning my former name, and that I was their class president. It was if their heads exploded. I could see confusion and fear spinning out of control behind their eyes. I wished them well and walked away, thinking to myself, this is going to be a long night.
|Group Selfie from @Matt_Leblanc|
I glanced back to the door and noticed one of the “guys” heading my way. He was the epitome of a high school jock. In fact I think he was awarded outstanding athlete at our rainy graduation. We had much in common back then, and still do. We both came from large Irish Catholic families, we were both very athletic and competitive, had a sense of humor about life, and expect for the fact he's a half foot taller and weighs nearly 100 pounds more than me, it seemed we were both still somewhat in shape compared to many others. Anyway, he greeted me and said hi. He said something about recognizing my bravery and wanted to congratulate me on finding happiness. At first he reached out his hand to shake mine. I said, “how about a hug?” And he did. For the next few minutes, we got caught up on our families and all the other small talk. I thanked him for reaching out. Inside, I realized what he just did was really special and took a lot of courage.
Around midnight, the music stopped and the lights became brighter. The girls I had arrived with gathered to talk about leaving. Some
I found my way to my friend’s place and collapsed in their guestroom bed. I’ve stayed with them on many occasions for the past few years, as they live just two blocks from my parents’ house, the home I grew up in.
I slept in the next morning and after a few cups of coffee I went for a walk. It was raining lightly and cool out, but not cold like it can be in late November. My walk took me through my childhood neighborhood, past friend’s homes and memories of Halloween and trick-or-treating, down streets where I used to deliver the newspapers, across busy Walnut Street where I would spend my merger earnings at Newtonville Pizza, then by the location of my former high school. It had been demolished a few years ago to make way for a new, state of the art building. I walked by the track and there were a few high school athletes doing a weekend workout in the rain, just like we did so many years before.
I spent much of the rest of the day at my parents’ house, surrounded by family. My dad was turning 82 and one of my brothers had just turned 50, it was another celebration. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to reconcile since transitioning was my assumption as a teenager that my family and friends wouldn’t have accepted or loved me as a trans person. And it was those thoughts nearly 30 years ago that played a part in an attempt to kill myself. Was I wrong about them? Would they have been supportive like they are now? I don’t know, and don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to those questions.
What I did learn from attending my high school reunion is I don’t need to worry about what people may be thinking about me, it’s how I feel about myself that matters most. Also, I don’t think I’m brave. That’s a difficult word to live up to. I'm just trying to be me. But I do know, that thirty years ago there were a few classmates and a teacher or two who were true to themselves decades before I decided to embrace my identity, and they faced a far different world than it is today. That's bravery.
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