The Right to Express One’s Identity

Emily - Damascus, Maryland
Entered on May 3, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I wasn’t exposed to a lot of queerness growing up. I’m not one of those kids who has a gay uncle and I never watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I began to realize that I myself am queer. And it wasn’t until a year later that I had an experience that helped me to understand what it means to be true to oneself, and the potential consequences of asserting one’s identity.

In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I worked at an all-girls summer camp. When I arrived at camp, I found that there were two boys on staff: Pants and Finn. Staff training commenced and I was very confused to find that the administrative staff persistently referred to Finn as “she,” while Pants was “he.” I could make neither head nor tail of this; it was clear to me that both Pants and Finn are boys. Eventually, I learned the reason for this behavior: Finn is transgendered. The year I came to camp, Finn was a boy. The year before, however, Finn was still a girl. The admin staff was continuing to refer to Finn using female pronouns because there would be returning campers that summer who would remember Finn was a girl the previous summer.

It was difficult for me to deal with this situation because I had never met a transgendered person before. I wasn’t sure what to think, and I was not in a position to give my opinion of the administrative staff’s strategies, but in my head I was thinking, “There’s something wrong with this picture.” It wasn’t until the end of the summer that the reality of transphobia and trans discrimination hit me.

It was the last session of the summer, family camp, and moms, dads, daughters and brothers were crowded into the dining hall for a meal. One particular mother and her particular five-year-old daughter were having an argument:

“Honey, Finn is a girl.”

“No, Mom, he’s a boy!”

“No. She’s a girl.”

Well, Finn overheard this conversation and angrily said to the mother, “I’m a boy, thanks!”

That reply lost Finn his job. The camp terminated his contract a single week before the job was done because Finn had defended his right to identify in a way he chose.

I believe that what happened to Finn is wrong. I believe that people experience gender differently, whether they are males, females, or none of the above. I believe that people who are transitioning should not be discriminated against in the workplace. Our identities are the most important thing we have and they should never be suppressed.