I grew up in a very small town, about half an hour outside of the state’s capitol. We were close enough to the city to know that some people are different, but far enough outside of the city to think that “different” people belonged in the city. Everyone in my school district was affected in a huge way by the recession, so we were all essentially poor farm kids. Going to the movies was a treat, over 75% of the school was on the free lunch system, and we were very sheltered from the real world other than TV and as much internet as you could get via dialup.
Most of my friends wanted to escape this rural place, I decided to escape by moving across the state to another small city. This city is huge by my standards, but to most people the 20,000 people between two cities and a college is tiny. My entire life I’ve preferred the slow pace of a small town, but yearned for the acceptance that is found in large cities. I’ve always been the only out trans guy wherever I lived, no support from my family, worried about being beat up in the parking lot, afraid to go to doctors even if I desperately need it.
My university has some of the best policies for trans students, but the culture of students and the surrounding area is one of the worst. The closest city is 100 miles away, after that it’s another 100 miles. I am the diversity here. As a white, straight-passing, cis-passing trans man, I am one of the most diverse people in a 100-mile radius. I lived the first two-and-a-half years at school stealth. I tried talking to a counselor at the school, but he knew nothing about trans issues. I argued with my Human Sexuality professor about how she was using offensive terms, and there was no one to back me up. It’s been rough, but I’ve learned a lot.
So how does one survive – or even thrive – as a trans man in such a rural area? Here’s my take.
I created a support base. This took a long time, but it’s payed off so much. All of my trans friends are online friends, but thanks to smartphones and unlimited texting plans they’re always at my fingertips. We support each other, teach each other, cry, and laugh together. I also have a fiance who happened to go to the same university as me. We’ve been dating since before my transition, so she has been there to learn how to support me for the past seven years. And then I started coming out to people at school. After trying to be stealth, I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to bring trans issues to light, I wanted to help future trans students. I came out to queer students, queer community members, and then began coming out to straight friends. It’s helped a lot that over the past four years trans visibility has skyrocketed, I don’t know that some people would have been so supportive otherwise.
Over time, others have joined my battle. I am leading a huge army and even have what seems like a council to work out attack plans with. The LGBT center at my university has done great work on including trans students. There are many more gender fluid students now who are young and full of fight. My (new) counselor not only supports me, but is a huge advocate for trans rights. One of the best parts is when my straight, cis friends tell me that they had an entire conversation without using gendered pronouns, or they educated a peer on trans issues.
Now, four years after starting school, I have so many supporters. I tell people I am trans casually in conversations, and if it ever goes south (luckily it hasn’t!) I know that I have people to fall back on. When I’m feeling alone at 3am and can’t sleep, I have friends who I can text and they bring me back to my grounding.
I also find a lot of solace in writing (even as an engineering major). That’s why I decided to write this. After working with Jason Robert Ballard on The Self Made Men and creating FTM Magazine together, he came to speak at my university. That was when I realized that it is totally different being trans in a rural area. In cities there are other trans guys to talk to, there are support groups, there are LGBTQ health centers, and there are people to do the fighting when you’re exhausted.
If you’re in a rural area and wondering how to get through every day, start with one friend. There are so many trans guys on social media, most of them are even anonymous. Four years ago this seemed like a battle I could never win, but as they say, to walk a thousand miles you must start with the first step. This journey may be just beginning for me, but I know I will get much farther with my support system.