Transgender: You’re Part of the Story | Nicole Maines | TEDxSMCC


Translator: Robert Tucker
Reviewer: Mile Živković For as long as I can remember,
I’ve always recognized myself as a girl. I hung out with all the other girls,
I talked like the other girls, and I had eyes only for makeup,
Barbies and girls’ toys, all of which could be found
in the “pink aisle” at Toys R Us. Before my hair had grown long, I would wear my favorite
red turtleneck around my head like Ariel’s long flowing hair, and every Halloween I would tell
my parents I wanted to be a girl. A witch one year,
and a princess the next year, and, of course, another princess
the following year, but, you know, Disney. The point is I was clearly a girl, but the one thing that I couldn’t beg
my parents into getting for me was actual girlhood. Now, if you haven’t
figured it out already, I am transgender. But don’t worry, I’m not here
to raid your bathrooms and take your women. (Laughter) I’m here to tell you
what it’s like to be trans, what it’s like to struggle every day with acceptance from yourself
and those around you, and, of course, that inevitable question
of which bathroom do we put this kid in. I was born in Upstate New York with an identical twin brother
ten minutes behind me, a mother who always did her best
to make sure I was happy, and a father whose expectations for a son
I did not exactly meet. He expected that my brother and I
– Jonas, that’s his name – and before you say anything, yes, I know our names together,
Nicole and Jonas, do sound like Nick Jonas. He expected that Jonas and I were each going to get
our own baseball gloves, play catch with him and go hunting. In fairness, we did do
some of these things, I turned out to hit a better
home run than my brother, and I could do it in heels. (Laughter) But because of the expectations
that my father had, it was harder for him
to accept his child as transgender. He wasn’t prepared, and he didn’t have the information
on how to raise a transgender kid. And, of course, there was always
that question for him: What do the neighbors think? So rather than deal with me, he buried himself in hobbies and tried to ignore
the flamboyance of his son. As you can imagine, this left my mother
pretty on her own for a while when my brother and I were little. She’s an independent woman and always tries her best
to see the best in people. So, when it came to her child’s gender, she didn’t have a lot of expectations for what me and Jonas
were supposed to be like. She didn’t care
what the neighbors thought; she cared whether or not
we were safe around the neighbors. She knew that the world wasn’t always
going to be an accepting place, so she vowed that, at the very least, I was going to have a safe place
to come back to in her home. The only problem with that, though,
was that my dad at home didn’t get it. So she started trying to educate him. She left some literature
lying around for him, but when he didn’t show much interest, she did what any other
sensible spouse would do: she left the book in the bathroom. And, lo and behold, when he had run out
of other stuff to read in there, there was the book:
“She’s Not There” by Jennifer Boylan. This was the beginning
of my dad really trying to come around to me being transgender, and everyone in my family helped, including Jonas, who,
at no more than eight, walked up to my dad and said,
“Face it. You have a son and a daughter.” With my family on board, we could start trying
to make my transition public. We worked with the school up in Orono, which is where we moved
when Jonas and I were five. And we all decided
on a gradual transition. What this meant was, I wasn’t going to burst
into school one day in a full dress, pearls and heels, and let everyone process that. What it meant was, we were going to spread my transition out
over the course of elementary school. Starting with pink,
wearing my hair longer, using the single-stall girls bathroom, followed in fifth grade
by the multi-stall girls’ bathroom, wearing skirts, and finally using my real name, Nicole. What I really liked
about the gradual transition was that everyone was cooperating. And it put no strain on the other students because they were all
used into it with me. Everything was perfect, until in fifth grade. A student who had moved there
the year before, and wasn’t there
for our gradual transition, told his grandfather about me. And his grandfather was part of
a special interest Christian right group, and he didn’t think that my using
the girls’ bathroom was okay at all. So, logically, the best course of action
was to send his grandson in after me. His grandson follows me
into the girls’ bathroom one day, looks me in the face, and says, “My grandpappy says that we don’t
have to have any faggots in our school.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of all
of my family’s hard work coming apart. The school stopped cooperating with us. They pulled me from the girls’ bathroom, and made me up to be the one
who’d done something wrong. After a few months of isolation, I decided to start using the girls’
bathroom again of my own accord. But when the grandson caught on,
he made another stunt. And again I found myself
in the principal’s office with her giving me a look, and saying, “You knew you weren’t supposed
to go in there.” So from then on
through the end of sixth grade, I was to have a bodyguard
who was to follow me at all times, stand ten feet behind me, and make sure that I use
the isolation chamber of a bathroom just because the school was afraid that the grandfather’s group would sue. I would get up to go
to the bathroom from class, and the teacher would stop me at the door and tell me to wait
for whoever was following me that day in front of everybody. The humiliation was unimaginable. My family eventually had to leave
that school, and leave Orono, because the school could not
and would not be reasoned with. For the next two years
we had to live in hiding, and live apart, because my father had to
stay behind to keep his job. For those next two years in middle school, my parents had to warn me and Jonas
never to tell anyone who we were, or we would have to move again. So I shut down for those two years. I didn’t have any sleepovers,
I didn’t visit any friends, I was like a ghost. I went to school, and I came home. When the time for high school came, we were approached
by a local private school, at a place called Waynflete. And, from my visits there, I learned that they were progressive
and forward-thinking, and my brother and I were both accepted. And the best part was, my parents told us that at his new school
we wouldn’t have to hide anymore. So, at Waynflete
they start each school year off by sending the students on a bonding trip. They do this by dropping
the freshmen in the middle of the woods, and tell us to “get along.” It’s charming. (Laughter) We stay in yurts. (Laughter) But during this trip, I noticed something I was struggling with. I didn’t know how to tell
these kids who I was. In those two years of being so diligent
at keeping my secret, I had actually forgotten
how to come out to people. It had been so easy when I was younger. You know, I would
just walk up to somebody, and say, “My name’s Wyatt. I’m a boy
who wants to be a girl. What’s your name?” But now it was a mystery to me. So I spent that entire trip
sitting on my secret, and I just remember
how uncomfortable I was when I watched all of my new classmates get in their swimsuits
and go down to the lake together. On the bus ride home,
I sat next to a girl named Deleah, whom I’d grown particularly close to. At about halfway through the ride,
she told me that she had a secret. She told me that she was pansexual. Imagine my relief. So, you know, this was my chance. And I latched onto this kid. Like I’m serious, I grabbed her,
and I held her. And I came out to her on that bus. For the first time in two years. And she actually told me that it was cool. She asked me a couple of questions, and what she really did was give me a place to talk about myself
that I hadn’t had in years. And she gave me the confidence
to keep coming out to other kids at Waynflete as the weeks went on. And every response that I got
was “very yes,” and the fact that I was transgender
was not big news to these kids. And they made me feel like it was
the most normal thing in the world, because it is. Another strange thing happened
while I was at Waynflete: somewhere during my four years there,
and I don’t know when, I came to be okay with being trans. I could accept myself and my body. I came to feel normal,
and I didn’t even realize it. I was able to reach a point where – you know, I wasn’t exactly comfortable
with what I had down there, but it wasn’t the biggest
travesty anymore, and it was people like Leah
who gave me the space to do so. Acceptance at home is fundamental, yes, but, frankly, it’s just not enough. Trans youth, like most young people, spend the majority
of their time in school. And if you spent Monday through Friday,
from eight to three, being told that you weren’t okay,
that you were wrong, how are you supposed to think otherwise? Home, in community,
being accepting together, create a space where kids
can accept themselves. I was able to do it, because the fact that I was trans wasn’t being constantly
shoved down my throat, and I didn’t have to spend every second of every day
thinking about it, hiding it, and feeling like I was an abnormality. Trans kids, we deal with this two-
to three-year-old concept of gender; cis kids, your gender
is affirmed immediately, but trans kids don’t get that. We don’t get to focus on:
What do we want to be when we grow up? I don’t even remember. All I remember
is that I needed to be a girl, and I couldn’t move on
until that was affirmed and validated. I was trapped in gender. We’re reminded of it
on every legal form ever: passports, licenses, taxes, applications, even bathrooms are separated,
male and female. Now, there’s a lot of important messages
that I could highlight for you all, and, trust me, I could go on forever, about every little thing
that needs to be done, and the fight for trans equality, but I’ll spare you. What I want you all
to leave here today knowing, is that you can be Leah. You have the power to make
a difference in someone’s life, because you never know when a transgender person
is going to come into your life, you need to be prepared,
and you need to be ready to help them. It might just be some kid
at your grandson’s school, or it might be your daughter; either way you have to be prepared. My father didn’t think
it had anything to do with him. Guess what – it did. If you are on this Earth,
you are part of the trans story. You need to be ready to be Leah. You have the power to help someone
by imagining more than two boxes, male or female. You have the power
to create safe environments where whichever box they check
isn’t the most important part of somebody. You have the power
to educate others, and yourself. You have the power to bridge those gaps. You – have – the power. Thank you. (Applause)

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