With Gender Identity, Pronouns, Sexuality, ‘Everyone Has a Different Experience,’ Trans Teen Explains

Barnegat Boy Speaks Out at Church, Advocates for Education in Community
By VICTORIA FORD | May 02, 2018
Supplied Photo Anthony Lundy with his mom Diane.

Author’s Note: The Human Rights Campaign defines gender identity as “one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.” Gender expression, by comparison, refers to external appearance, “usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.”

The word “they,” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun and linguistic function word, was named the American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year. The words cisgender and genderqueer were added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2016. Cisgender refers to one whose gender identity corresponds with the sex assigned at birth; genderqueer refers to one whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.

For more definitions, topics and resources, visit hrc.org.

Anthony Lundy is a well-spoken, high-achieving, 17-year-old transgender student in his junior year at Barnegat High School. Though he was assigned female at birth, today his gender identity and gender expression are male.

On a Sunday afternoon, he is sitting in a booth at the Stafford Diner across from his mother, Diane. Seated beside him is friend Kade Russo, 15, a sophomore at Barnegat who identifies outside the gender binary, or the cut-and-dried distinctions of male and female, and uses the pronoun “they.”

Both teens’ original first names have been omitted at their request.

Both teens feel that being advocates for the LGBT+ community, like it or not, comes with the territory.

The acronym LGBTQIA, as it is sometimes written out, stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex (having atypical reproductive or sexual anatomy), Asexual/Allied. The ever-evolving initialism is a topic of debate even within the community itself, members of which may use any version of the acronym they deem appropriate or stick with a word like queer, reclaimed from its once purely derogatory purpose, as a catchall.

“I don’t know when it actually started,” Lundy said, referring to his gender dysphoria, “because I think, when I was younger, I didn’t know what that was. And then someone I knew came out, and … I kinda felt that way. I kinda shoved it under the carpet and just kept going. And then as time went on and I kept thinking about it more, I looked into terms and ways other people felt.”

While it’s hard for Lundy to pinpoint when his journey began, he can recall the day, at age 14, when he came out to his mother as pansexual (meaning not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity) and was met with a non-reaction.

For this part of the story he addressed Diane, chuckling as he recalled: “You asked me why I had changed my profile picture to a frying pan. I said it’s because I’m pansexual, and you said, ‘OK,’ and then just kept doing what you were doing.”

A couple years later, in October 2016, Diane Lundy received a text message from her only child – “We need to talk when I get home” – who then came out to her again, this time as transgender.

To Anthony’s recollection:

“You’re like, ‘So, are you gay?’

“And I’m like, ‘No, I came out as pan.’

“And you’re like, ‘I don’t remember that.’

“And I’m like, ‘Well, I do.’”

And that’s really where the conversation started: at home, in a hallway. Diane, naturally, had questions. She asked for clarification.

“I don’t think (trans) was on my radar,” she said. Based on previous dating habits, Diane explained, she and her husband, Stephen Lundy, had just concluded their daughter was gay. “It’s been a lot of learning and growing, together and separately,” she said. She has attended the festivals and forums with Anthony – the Trans Health Conference, held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Trans Youth Forum – taking every available opportunity to connect with others and broaden her own understanding. The three-day Gender Conference East in Newark was an especially helpful, eye-opening and life-affirming event, she said.

The Lundy family attends Forked River Presbyterian Church, where the youth group, comprised of a diverse array of kids, has formed a task force to educate the congregation and, by extension, the public, about LGBT+ terms and issues. “I think it started with them wanting to have, like, a support group for LGBT+ kids and family,” Diane said.

An outgrowth of the task force has been a series of listening sessions on topics relating to diversity, inclusion and acceptance, attended by youth group members, parents and allies, Pastor Terry Chapman and congregants. The first session, led by Anthony, was on gender and sexuality terms and definitions; the second, led by Chapman, was on Bible passages that address marriage and homosexuality; and the third posed the question “Where do we go from here?” A fourth session is pending. Progress has been made in “very slow steps,” according to Diane. But, overall, she said, “our church has been amazing.” Some members have left the congregation, but many others have reacted in unexpected positive ways.

Anthony’s PowerPoint presentation identified three distinct aspects of identity, all of which exist and operate independently of each other: biological sex, as assigned at birth; gender identity, as labeled with masculine, feminine or androgynous pronouns; and sexual orientation, as in emotional, romantic or sexual attraction.

In other words, people’s reproductive organs do not necessarily have any bearing on where they stand on a spectrum of male/female, masculine/feminine, or whom they love.

Transgender means a person was born with a certain sex but has come to identify as the opposite sex. The outward transition may be social or physical.

“Everyone has a different experience,” Anthony explained. “Some people don’t want to have surgery, some people don’t want to go on hormones, but they’re still transgender. There’s no requirement, medically.”

Also from his listening session at church, a few questions not to ask someone of unknown or unclear gender identity:

“What are you?”

“That (name/ terminology/ pronoun) is too hard for me to remember. Do you mind if I call you something else?”

“What’s in your pants?”

Since the day Anthony came out as trans, Diane has been confident in her child’s ability to make his own right choices.

“He has never wavered. I think that’s something parents look for,” she said, as a gauge to indicate a phase or passing fancy. As his parent, nothing could make her happier than to see that “he’s living as his authentic self.”

Someone who is gender nonconforming or who identifies as gender non-binary finds they are in “definitely more of a gray area,” according to Kade Russo.

“I guess it’s more (a matter) of, I don’t like being under labels,” Russo explained. “I want to be able to express myself however I feel that day. That’s why at first I thought I was gender fluid, because I felt more masculine, some days, or more feminine, but it’s not really that. It’s that you kind of flow through the gender spectrum.”

For Russo, figuring it all out has been a process. First, they had come out as lesbian but recently decided that’s not accurate. After a bad experience with a boyfriend, “I guess I kind of realized I liked girls and jumped on that idea, and kinda pushed ahead too early. So I wasn’t really a lesbian, but I came out to my mother as lesbian, and she was really supportive of me, because she herself is bisexual.” Kade’s father’s side of the family, however, is not as accepting.

Anthony is fortunate to have the acceptance of even his 93-year-old grandmother. “She says I’m the prettiest boy she’s ever seen,” he said.

When he went to see her after he came out, she looked at him and said, “Is this what you need, what makes you happy? I’m proud of you, and your grandfather would be, too.”

*   *   *

The Barnegat School District approved its Transgender Students Policy 5756 in October 2016, according to Barnegat School District Superintendent Karen Wood.

“The administration and staff continue to work with students who have identified as transgender or gender non-conforming,” she said. “Our teachers and administrators understand that students who struggle with gender identity need accommodations and support. At this time, the Barnegat School District is working with students (and their families) without issue on this topic.”

In addition, organizations such as the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association have provided excellent workshops and professional development for teaching staff and administrators. School personnel have attended trainings that cover federal and state laws regarding schools’ responsibilities, she added.

Kade serves as secretary and Anthony as vice president of Barnegat High School’s GSA, a national school club organization, formerly an acronym for Gay-Straight Alliance but nowadays known as the Genders & Sexualities Alliance. Meetings are generally attended by a handful of officers and members, they said. The student-run club attends the annual NJ GSA Forum in November and the Pride celebration in Asbury Park, this year scheduled for June 3.

The GSA wants to establish gender-neutral restooms in the school and to get approval for preferred names on student IDs and in the yearbooks. According to Anthony, efforts haven’t been aggressive enough. The current GSA adviser just came on this year on a temporary basis, and “the club is struggling in the change,” he said.

Anthony and Kade brandish their IDs to show the printed adhesive labels they have placed over their legal first names.

Most official school documentation displays their birth names, “because that’s what’s in the system,” Anthony explained. The administration has advised teachers on how to change names in the attendance rosters; but preferred names on student IDs, yearbook and everything else are items the GSA is working toward.

For some trans individuals, the name change can be profound. For others, like Anthony, not so much. “I just liked the name, so I picked it,” he said. The middle name is Richard, for his grandfather.

At school, Anthony came out first to his GSA homeroom. Then he had to notify his teachers, so they would recognize his new name on schoolwork. He still has to notify substitute teachers so they don’t call the wrong name, “because I’d rather not deal with that.”

“It’s obviously nerve-wracking (to come out), because you don’t know how people are going to respond to it – whether they’re going to respect you or not.”

Restroom and locker room facilities are another matter. Anthony said at school he mostly avoids using the restroom altogether. If he has an urgent need, he is required to use the girls’ restroom or the nurse’s restroom, which is off the beaten path and, what’s more, “she needs that space, and I’m not sick.” With regard to locker rooms, same story: “If you don’t want to use your assigned locker room, you have to use the nurse’s office,” he said.

Elsewhere in public, it just depends on the location and circumstances.

For Diane, that was a particularly painful lightbulb moment, the first time she saw her child’s anxiety about restrooms, asking which one he should use. “I let him take the lead on that,” she said.

Thankfully, neither Anthony nor Kade has experienced bullying, they said, beyond some ignorant remarks and disregard for pronouns.

Because he presents masculinely, Anthony said most people automatically use the male pronouns. “Some people still have a difficult time using the proper pronouns, I guess because they’ve known me for a while, or it’s just their own bias or something like that. I’m really bad with correcting people because I’m not very confrontational. So, once I’ve known somebody for a while and they keep messing up, I just kinda say, like, ‘I’m a boy’ when they mess up.”

“I have confronted a few people about name calling,” Kade said, as a protective response. “It makes me more angry when people talk about people I know, than when they talk about me.”

Kade is happy to have found their place in the LGBT+ community, because “not only does it help me, but I can help others.”

Career-wise, Anthony wants to be an English teacher and an LGBT+ therapist.

Kade likes math.

*   *   *

On gender-neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns – of which several have been created in the interest of greater equality (ae, e, ey, fae, per, sie, tey, ve, xe, ze/zie, as well as the honorific Mx., ponounced “mix,” as a replacement for Mr./Ms., which is in the Oxford English Dictionary) – Anthony is diplomatic. “A lot of people judge that a bit more because they think it’s a little out of the ordinary,” he said. “They think it’s a bit much.”

But using a newly created pronoun “makes sense for people who argue against (the use of) ‘they,’ even though it is recognized as a singular pronoun. Some people find it a bit less confusing, or some people identify with that more than ‘they/them,’ so it depends on the person.”

The bottom line, according to everyone at that diner booth that afternoon, is respect.

What can someone outside of the LGBT+ community do to be more aware and sensitive?

For one thing, contribute to the normalization of asking for pronouns, rather than assuming, Anthony said. Trans folks tend to be hesitant to correct people, he added.

For another, he said, remember that Google is free. “People ask some really stupid questions, and I’m like, ‘Do I really have to enlighten you?’ Sometimes it’s exhausting. I have no problem teaching people, but when they ask something really dumb, it’s like, ‘OK, you could have searched that.’”

“I wish people didn’t think that we’re doing it for attention,” Kade said. “I’ve gotten that so many times.”

“Or ‘It’s just a phase,’” Diane added.

“Or dismissive,” Anthony said, “– like, ‘Oh, well, that’s not real.’ OK, but, it is.”

Even some people within the LGBT+ community are judgmental of each other. Some trans people insist male and female are the only two options. According to Anthony, one radical feminist subgroup, dubbed by its opponents Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs, believes that only cisgender females are valid women, and “that trans women are men invading female spaces and that trans men are women who are escaping their internalized misogyny.”

A growing transgender “trend” has caused some turmoil within the trans community, at the heart of which are two factions, “truscum” and “tucute,” with the former believing trans is defined by a condition called gender dysphoria, and the latter saying gender dysphoria is not a requirement.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, I wish I could be trans.’ It’s like ‘No, you really do not.’”

He believes dysphoria is an integral part of being trans. The way he sees it, you can’t have clinical depression if you’re not depressed; you can’t have post-traumatic stress disorder without having experienced trauma.

The concern: A transgender identity without dysphoria means trans surgeries and hormones will be considered cosmetic instead of medical, and therefore harder to get covered by insurance. Moreover, society at large will be even less inclined to take the trans community seriously. Already, Diane explained, “it’s a constant battle to get necessary procedures covered because you have to prove that it’s not cosmetic.”

Puberty blockers, hormone suppressors that inhibit the onset of puberty, are used for younger kids who may be questioning but need more time to figure things out. If they eventually decide they are cisgender, they can come off the blockers and allow puberty to continue; if they choose to proceed with the transition, they can go on the appropriate hormones from that point. The body’s response to hormone therapy depends on age; hormones will activate the puberty responses of the intended gender.

When asked if he sees himself as a stranger in old photos of his former identity, in typical teen fashion, Anthony demurred.

“I just get kind of annoyed,” he said. “I’m like, ‘ew.’”

victoria@thesandpaper.net

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