The SMUS Pride Alliance celebrated Pride Day this week with a variety of fun activities in the quad. The highlight was a talk and Q&A with 2016 grad Sid Boegman. He joined our community in Grade 9 and, at the start of the Grade 10 school year, returned to classes as a transgender boy.
Over the next three years at SMUS, Sid became a strong voice in our community on gender, sexuality and inclusion among teenagers. He remains involved in advocacy and education work, and is currently pursuing a degree in communication and media studies at Carleton University.
Below is a partial transcript of his speech to students this week.
by Sid Boegman ’16
Near the end of Grade 9, I came out as transgender to my family and friends. I spent my summer beginning to transition, and when I came back to school to start Grade 10 I had to inform everyone that I was actually a boy. Surprise! Because of this my year was filled with many somewhat awkward but incredibly earnest conversations and questions from students and staff alike. Everyone really wanted to understand my situation, even if it was something completely foreign to them.
This marked the beginning of a journey discussing gender and sexuality that has continued into my current life.
I just completed my first year at university. It was a big year of firsts for me: my first time living away from home, my first time being assessed academically in a university setting and my first time navigating my trans identity in a new space. SMUS was a wonderful place to begin my transition and I wasn’t sure how I would be accepted anywhere else.
First of all, I didn’t know if I even wanted to come out. Unlike when I realized I was bisexual, a gender transition means that, initially, you need to come out to literally everyone. I didn’t just have to come out to my extended family and friends, I had to come out to my dentist, my next door neighbours, my parents’ coworkers, my grandmother’s hairdresser and people I hadn’t spoken to since Middle School.
In fact, I’m sure I came out to many people by proxy, just because someone I knew told someone they knew about me. However, when I got to university, no one knew that I was trans. What’s more, people couldn’t tell unless I told them, which was a daunting prospect.
Someone I was particularly worried about was my roommate. I was very nervous to meet the guy with whom I would be sharing a small room for my entire first year. His Facebook profile didn’t say that much about him, and I was scared he would be transphobic or homophobic.
I never found out if he was transphobic because he dropped a homophobic slur the very first night while he was playing a video game. So I just decided not to tell him. And to my surprise, he never found out. He lived right next to me for months and had absolutely no idea that the person he was sharing a room with was transgender. And honestly, it definitely improved our relationship.
Some of you might consider this deceitful, however, I realized that he didn’t deserve to know. My identity wasn’t something to be shared freely with someone who had the potential to hurt me.
As part of my activist work I have assured many others that their trans identities aren’t dirty secrets that have to be disclosed. However, knowing this to be true and fully understanding it in my own life were two completely different concepts. I learned that you don’t have to be out to absolutely everyone. Quietly knowing your own truth is just as important as shouting it from the rooftops.
I found that when I did come out to others at university, the intent behind it was often more serious. It led to deeper conversations, understanding and connection between myself and the people I chose to come out to. Having that choice allowed me a safety that I had previously rarely experienced.
My own gender expression is also something that gives me safety. It’s something I’m still exploring, because how I express my gender has changed over the years, even if my gender has not. Before I came out, even when I knew I was a man, I still presented in a fairly feminine manner. At that point, it was largely performative, and I often saw the person I presented to the world as a mask or costume that hid the ‘real me’. Although to be honest, I’m not quite sure if I knew who the ‘real me’ was at the time. These days, I don’t have to hide, and I’m perceived as cisgender by strangers. However, I still know how to do makeup. I know how to walk in heels. I’m not saying you have to do either of those things to be a girl, but they are stereotypical markers of femininity that I clung to to keep myself safe when everyone thought I was a girl.
Everyone who takes a step out of the rigidity of the gender binary faces some sort of push-back, even cisgender people. Cis women who cut their hair short are told that they won’t be as attractive to men, which is a statement that will always make me wince. You will rarely find cis men wearing dresses outside of a comedy sketch. Anyone who decides to forgo the gender binary in any way faces harassment and ridicule. These gendered standards of conduct are doubly applied to transgender people.
I know that part of the reason my gender is taken seriously is not only because I’ve said I’m a man and I look like one but also because my gender expression is masculine. I am a somewhat more acceptable form of transgender person, unlike those whose happiness and comfort hinges on being able to express their gender in a blend of masculinity and femininity, or through complete androgyny.
Understanding the social pressures we all face, I’m of the opinion that doing what makes you happy is an incredibly powerful thing, even if you don’t feel able to show it to everyone just yet. In a world where gay people are still being persecuted, many people still think bisexuality doesn’t exist and transgender people are fighting to be seen as human, it is a revolutionary act to be able to stand in your truth.
Pride is about accepting yourself for who you are. It’s loving yourself in a world that says you are unnatural and wrong. Whether you do that quietly, loudly or somewhere in between is a personal choice. Each way of being holds a unique meaning and strength.