Taking a chance at truth

She struggled to understand her emotions until she came to Syracuse University and learned about the transgender community.

Hiding an identity from friends and family takes strategy; it takes giving up a certainty to live in safety, one Syracuse University student said.

“The easiest way I think to hide something is to get very close to the truth, but just turn slightly,” she said, identifying as a transgender student on campus.

The 20-year-old student — who asked not to be named for safety reasons — left her hometown in Franklin, Mass., to study English and illustration at SU. Two years in, she realized her male body didn’t reflect her female personality.

Meet more participants in our Transgender series:

“I was in tears for nights in a row because it had been something that I had been so unconsciously repressing,” she said. “Acknowledging it and realizing that I had been refusing to acknowledge it was like this horrifying revelation to me.”

Now, she identifies as transgender.

Since coming out in the spring of 2014, she said friends have reacted with support. Her acceptance has come quickly, which reflects her drive to live authentically away from home.

As a writer for the on-campus magazine The OutCrowd, she thinks media portray the transgender community at extreme levels.

“Unfortunately with trans people when something exciting happens that usually means someone got beat up for being in a bathroom,” she said. “Being trans is dangerous, I’m not going to say it’s not, but I think the representation in the media is a little skewed toward being this radical extreme.”

Taking part in the efforts to share the transgender community through writing shows her the persistent absence of knowledge on gender identity in American society.

The Syracuse undergraduate studies often at the Hall of Languages on SU's campus (Photo: Christine Rushton)

Back in her town of Franklin, a lack of education and acceptance for transgender identities challenges her ability to go home. She said she wishes she could visit her family, but knows they don’t support her decision to identify as female.

“I try to understand it from their perspective, and I think I do vaguely on their level,” she said. “I’m disappointed that they reacted this way, but I bear them no ill will.”

She talks to her parents and sister on occasion, and hopes time will help foster a new relationship. For now, she spends school breaks at friends’ houses.

“Friends are a poor replacement for family, no matter how good the friends are,” she said. “I have very good friends who I’m thankful for daily, but no one has that same level.”

Taking the path to identify as a transgender woman is not one she said she would have chosen. But, she values her life and the chance to express her true personality.

She plans to finish her two degrees at SU and pursue a master’s degree in English. Beyond school, she wants to teach as a professor and continue writing. And in a society with a changing attitude toward the transgender community, she’s optimistic her support will grow.

She said soon she will not be a transgender graduate student; she will be graduate student who is transgender.

“For me, being trans has been about trying to live authentically,” she said. “It’s much less an ideology; it’s more just me trying not to ignore the feelings I’ve been having.”

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