Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When The Time Was Right

A couple of years ago, I was reviewing a college/university application with a student in my office before the student submitted it online. On the application, the section labeled gender provided the applicant with three choices, "Male," "Female," or "Neither," the student selected the box labeled, "Neither." I noticed this and kept reviewing the application. Outwardly, my demeanor did not change, however, my inner voice said, "Hmm... this is a topic for a conversation that we should have." I so wanted to begin a conversation regarding the student's gender selection, but the time wasn't right. I was in the process of establishing a rapport with this student as his new counselor and because of this and other reasons at the time, did not feel the time was right for this conversation.

In time, I did establish a rapport with this student, his sibling, and his entire family. At the end of the year, the student left me a wonderful note thanking me for the work I did with him, how comfortable it was for him to speak with me, and for my work with him during the college/university application process. It was a really nice note to receive, especially, from a graduating grade 12 student in my first year at a new school. But, y'know what, after I received his note, it occurred to me, I didn't remember having a conversation regarding his gender identity... and I had been kicking myself mentally over this for some time.

Fast forward. A few weeks ago, I was in the cafeteria during lunch eating and reading. Lunch is my time to reflect and recharge. As I was eating, I looked up and there was the student. I hadn't seen him since he had graduated and I knew today was the day we were going to have that conversation. He made a beeline for me, was all smiles, and we began catching up. Our conversation was progressing nicely. I was just about to say, "Remember two years ago when you were in my office and you checked that box on your application....," but out of nowhere, two of his friends appeared and I did not want to begin this conversation in front of them. I was thinking, "Foiled again!" His two friends began a conversation with one another and I looked at the student and said, "Look, there is something I've been meaning to talk you about for a long time. Are you available to meet me in the counseling office in about 30 minutes?" The student replied, "Yeah, sure, that will be fine. It gives me time to take my friends to lunch and then I will swing back by."

I'm in my office, 30 minutes elapsed, no student. 40 minutes elapsed, no student. I'm thinking to myself, "I scared the student off, he is not going to show." At 45 minutes, the student appeared in the Counseling Office all smiles and apologized for being late. I thanked the student for coming back and we began resuming our conversation. The student shared with me how much he was enjoying college and how the school that he selected is such a good fit for him personally, socially, and academically. I said, "Speaking of college, there is something that has been on my mind for awhile that I would like to discuss with you. Remember that morning in my office when I was reviewing the application for the school that you currently attend and you had checked, "Neither" in the box for gender..." At this, the student had a huge smile on his face and began laughing. He said, "Mr. Haynes, I had a feeling this is what you wanted to discuss. At this, we both began laughing and the atmosphere of our conversation took on a lighter air. I said, "I want you to know that I noticed that you selected, "Neither" and I wanted to discuss this with you, but I decided not to because I didn't think the time was right." The student replied, "Mr. Haynes, I knew you noticed and I was very happy that you didn't say anything because I don't know if you remember that my mom was in the office with me that morning! As you were reviewing my application the whole time I was thinking to myself, 'Mr. Haynes, please don't say anything, Mr. Haynes, please don't say anything....... The reason why I didn't want you to say anything is because I hadn't come out to my parents or friends yet. I wasn't ready to come out to my mom that morning in your office and I wasn't ready to have that conversation yet. I looked at the student and said, "I'm now really glad I didn't say anything that morning, and the student replied, "Me too!" and we both laughed. The student then shared his story with me.

As a girl growing up in a conservative family from a conservative country and culture, the student said that he was a tomboy and always felt like a boy; but, just could never put a name to what he was feeling or he was. Later in his teenage years, the student was finally able to put a name to what he was feeling and who he was by searching on the internet and watching youtube videos of others who felt the same. He said the reason he ended up attending the college that he currently does because he purposely researched schools that were GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer) friendly. In college/university,  he has changed his name and has begun transitioning to a man. He has come out to his parents three times and they are struggling with his gender identity. He says that his siblings have been great and he calls his sister his number one fan. He came out to his high school friends and some of them were not surprised, they had suspected. But, one of the friends who he was at school with today was still trying to get her head around all the changes. I remarked to the student, "You look like a person who has had a weight lifted off his shoulders and he said, "It has, he commented. "I'm finally feel free to be who I am." I asked him about the transitioning process and he said, "My RA (Room Advisor) has helped me tremendously because he is transitioning as well. He has been a great resource."

As timing would have it, at my annual college counseling conference this summer in Oregon, one of the sessions I attended was, The Fluidity of Gender: How Best to Support Transgender Students Through the College Search Process. It was a great session, very informative! I learned a lot of different vocabulary regarding GLBTQ students and resources.  The student was very encouraged by this and wanted me to send him the resources that I had acquired.

As the conversation was coming to a close the student said, "This was fun! I'm happy we had this conversation now, thank you. Thank you again for not saying anything two years ago. Thank you for everything!" I said, thank you for coming back so that we could have this conversation. The timing was right."

I enjoy what I do.

I have written this post with my former student's permission and approval.

I have referred to the student in the blog as a he at his request. This is the manner in which he now would like to be referred.

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