Hi! My name is Cal, and I use he/him or they/them pronouns. Once upon a time, however, I went by a slightly different name, somewhat different pronouns, and I had a very, very different haircut.
That is my roundabout way of saying I’m transgender — a label I proudly claim today, but it took me a while to get here. Some people know from early childhood that they were assigned the wrong gender at birth, but my coming-out process was dithering, unsure, and oddly public. Both to myself and others, I’ve gone through a laundry list of labels: I had to live as several people I wasn’t to figure out who I was. And as the world enters Pride season, and as I enter my senior year of college, I find myself in a state of intense self-reflection. I’m so proud of where I am today — in my work, in my cooking abilities, in my identity — but getting here was not straightforward.
Somewhat ironically, my absurdly public coming-out story takes place in a private school. Berkeley Carroll is a tiny K-12 school in Brooklyn — my graduating class had 63 students. The institution highly values diversity, but due to the nature of being an expensive school in an expensive neighborhood in an expensive city, it attracts a largely cis straight white student body. It’s changed a bit since I graduated, but for a while in my grade, you could count the number of black students on two hands, the number of Asian students on one hand, and the number of out queer students on zero hands, because there were none of us.
However, keeping in line with the school’s values, we had an event called Diversity Day. Annually, we’d take a day off from classes and attend workshops focusing on various aspects of identity. A few weeks before Diversity Day, all students and faculty were required to submit a response to a writing prompt, and a handful of people were asked to read their responses to the entire school. In 11th grade, the prompt was about safe spaces, so I wrote about finding and not finding safety in my identity as a gay woman (well, I just said gay, and let the reader assume the latter).
I was selected to share mine in front of everybody, and while I was terrified, I was also terrified at the prospect of staying in the closet forever, so I printed that response out, waltzed myself up to that podium in the cafeteria, and came out to approximately 300 people. It was absurdly dramatic, but people cheered, and I received a few hugs and many kind words. I was very lucky, and I was so excited that I could finally be myself. I felt light and elated.
Everything changed about two weeks later, when, like a drag queen suddenly realizing she forgot to put on nails, I felt guilt and regret crash into the pit of my stomach. Nothing in particular triggered this — I was just sitting in my American Studies class and suddenly felt the need to vomit. I was angry and confused: I just came out! I’m supposed to be happy! Why aren’t I happy? But in the recesses of my mind, I knew. I thought I could live my life as a gay woman and be satisfied with that. I knew it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I thought it was close enough — that if I pushed all questions about my gender to the back of my head and just focused on one aspect of my sexuality, I would be fine, and the problems surrounding my gender would disappear. That I could settle for a life that would be easier on my friends, my family, and myself.
Clearly, I couldn’t. I started to realize that living a convenient lie was harder than living what I thought would be an inconvenient truth. So I stopped policing my each and every thought, and just let myself feel. Anything and everything. And it all sorta came together after watching one of Chase Ross’s YouTube videos. He said something to the effect of: “If you’re having trouble figuring out if you’re trans, try imagining yourself in 40, 50, 60 years. What do you look like?” The first image that popped into my head was that of an old man wearing a thick beige L.L. Bean sweater, rocking in a chair by the fireplace, petting a purring cat in his lap. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see myself becoming an old woman. In that moment, I knew I had to transition.
However, I was just about to start my senior year. Did I really want to make things more complicated when I could just start fresh at college? Besides, I’d already come out once — surely I’d lose all credibility if I did it again? But I decided to come out to my college counselor, because I knew at the very least, I was not going to enter freshman year as a freshwoman, and figured being trans might impact the college process (spoiler alert: it does). Soon enough, I found myself coming out to my English teacher, my theater teacher, and my history teacher — I built this small army of educators who had my back. I got to a point where I figured even if my family and the entire student body turned on me, I’d still have some people on my side.
But I was still nervous: Unlike my first coming-out, this one would require a great deal of explanation. It was 2014; trans people were just starting to gain media attention, but most people didn’t really know what they were. At least at Berkeley Carroll, they certainly didn’t. One of my biggest fears was the news traveling confusedly through the grapevine — “What did you say? That Goodin kid’s a Cannes mentor? A jam renter? A Klan member?!” I did not want to become the center of some grossly misinformed game of telephone.
Fortunately, the perfect opportunity arose. When I was a freshman, Berkeley Carroll started the Senior Speaker Program. Each 12th-grader is required to give a five- to eight-minute minute speech to the entire school on any topic they choose. We attended these speeches roughly once a week, and they took place in a Church of Christian Science, despite BC being a secular school (there were two large quotes about Jesus on the walls beside the podium, which the school cutely tried to hide by hanging up two maroon Berkeley Carroll banners).
I decided to use my speech as an educational moment. I got to explain what a trans person is, and then I got to say, "Hey, I’m one of those, by the way." I got to express all my doubts about whether or not anyone would believe me, given last year’s speech, or if I’d be seen as a freak. I also got to express how hopeful I was, given that I’d gone to school with some of those kids for 11 years, and in many ways, they felt like family.
And thankfully, my hope was not misguided. I got the first standing ovation in the history of the Senior Speaker Program. Whereas with my first speech, a few people timidly approached me and asked for a hug, after the second one, people literally ran threw the pews and attacked me with warm embraces. People cried, and my English teacher gave me a free book. There were some hiccups along the road, but overall, I was treated with utmost respect and kindness. There were no battles about what restroom I could use, I got to wear a suit to prom, and the library even got a sudden influx of trans-related books, which amused me. While I had my own issues with BC, I’m not sure I could’ve survived anywhere else. I don’t know where I’d be today without the students, and especially the teachers, at Berkeley Carroll. My coming-out narrative is so so ridiculous, but I’m glad it’s the one that I’ve got.