Stepping Out of the Gender Binary with Alex Myers
The first openly transgender student at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College, Alex Myers PEA ’96 kicked off GSA weekend with his keynote speech titled “My Queer Life: On Being Transgender (and an Exeter Graduate).”
During his talk, Myers discussed his life as someone who identifies as transgender at a prep school and the issue of gender identity.
While growing up in Maine as a girl named Alice, Myers identified as a tomboy.
“[Being a tomboy] meant that I could climb trees and put up a good fight whenever a dress came near me, and I liked playing sports over any other pastime except reading. When people asked me, as adults inexplicably want to do, what I want to be when I grow up, I told them, ‘I want to be a boy,’” said Myers during his presentation.
Because the term “transgender” was novel in 1995, Myers had to explain repeatedly exactly who he was to his peers at Exeter and Harvard, a process he described as both “exhausting” and “rewarding.”
He said, however, that these repeated explanations were the things that helped to break down the walls of the preconceived gender binary. He said, “I’m most comfortable when I can be out as transgender.”
He added that before he began to identify as transgender, he was titled a “pushy” female, a title which would eventually change to a “timid” man.
“It is really amazing to walk the world as a man after having walked it as a woman. It’s the feeling of getting space around you when you want it, of not necessarily being intimidated or afraid to walk in certain places where I probably wouldn’t have wanted to be when I was a woman,” said Myers.
“Myers’s talk on Friday was a breath of fresh air for the Andover campus. He managed to weave together insights about identity, institutions and history, all while disarming us with extremely useful information, vocabulary, humor and a vision for the future,” said Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English, in an email to The Phillipian.
“We put the ‘T’ at the end of ‘LGBT,’ and it often gets ignored. We realize now that the idea of gender fluidity and transgender issues aren’t addressed enough. So we say it’s time for us to bring a speaker who can speak about being transgender,” said Devontae Freeland ’15, board member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), the organization that brought Myers to campus.
Myers’s new book, “Revolutionary,” about his ancestor Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War, was published this past January.
Discussing issues of sexual identity and acceptance at Andover, students participated in a panel discussion on queer life in the public lens, the second event of GSA Weekend, on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Myers PEA ’96, David Gardner, Instructor in English and LGBT Advisor, Grace Tully ’15, Jaleel Williams ’15 and AJ Augustin ’15 addressed various campus issues, such as the heteronormativity of the parietal system, through the lense of an LGBT member of the community.
The idea of making Andover a better environment for members of the LGBTQ community was one of the most recurrent topics throughout the panel. Myers specifically praised organizations like GSA for providing safe places which students can use as resources.
Panelists also discussed the apparent fetishizing of LGBTQ status on campus.
“A lot of times for visibly queer people, they stick out in the crowd and there is a notoriety to that. Girls who I’m not really friends with will come up to me and talk to me about clothing and say, ‘Your thigh-highs are so cute’ or ‘I have those shorts,’ and I’m fine with that… but I feel like it’s a big deal to them,” said Williams.
The panel went on to discuss the Andover community’s response to the LGBTQ community. While the safe and accepting community at Andover was praised, panelists highlighted the faculty’s lack of initiative when it came to LGBTQ acceptance.
“The house counselors are glad to help facilitate and hold spaces for progression with feminism and queerness, but they themselves don’t really have that agenda all the time. I think what’s really missing is actual initiative,” said Williams.
“I feel like I’ve found faculty that actually care about [my transgender identity]… [but] I don’t think visible queerness is dealt with very well; I feel like it’s more tolerated than anything,” said Augustin.
“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere,” chanted the crowd, all clad in rainbow apparel and neon glowsticks. Bearing the LGBTQ pride flag in stride, AJ Augustin ’15 led the way for GSA’s second annual pride parade on Saturday.
In order to clearly link the parade to the GSA dance held afterwards, the masses of enthusiastic students and faculty made their rounds of campus during the evening, as opposed to last year’s daytime event.
“[The parade] led into the dance and had people already amped [upon arrival],” said Anna Krakowsky ’15, a board member of GSA. “Last year, the weather was horrible so it was kind of glum during the day, and we had hoped that a nighttime event would increase the likelihood of favorable weather.”
Nearly 100 students, faculty and guests from Choate participated in the parade. “We’re hoping to get more and more people to join the parade to show that the whole community is behind the group of LGBTQ people,” said Julian Otis ’16, a GSA board member.
GSA started the parade last year to commemorate the club’s 25th anniversary at Andover. Since then, its mission has been to provide support and enthusiasm for the LGBTQ community.
“We wanted everyone to know we are out and proud, and we wanted to beckon closeted LGBT members of the community to come out and join the lively queer community we have on campus,” wrote Devontae Freeland ’15, a board member of GSA, in an email to The Phillipian.
Pierce Bausano, Alice Ballard-Rossiter and Harper North contributed reporting.