Never in a million years would I have predicted I’d drop out of college. Here I am, though.
Well, dropout isn’t fully accurate. “Leave of absence to focus on mental health” is the reality, but it’s still a difficult journey of self-discovery.
2018 was, by far, my worst academic year to date. This includes nearly dying and going through chemotherapy for lupus in 2016-2017. Oh, and the disaster that is middle school.
The difference between 2018 and other years was that I lost my ability to see a light at the end of the academic tunnel.
For one, 2018 was the year I came out publicly as transgender. Beginning my medical transition in March, I kept my family out of the loop for fear of my safety. Long story short, my mom dug through my life and told my grandmother behind my back. In May, my mom tried to attack me for “bringing that tr**** s*** in her house.” As of late, I’ve had no contact with her or my grandmother and have completely moved away from my family.
On top of this, I was hospitalized the entire summer for a lupus flare-up that attacked my liver. My transness was constantly invalidated, not only by family (my mom laughed and said I’m just another “he-she tr****” the first time she was in the hospital room), but also by the medical staff for being too early in my transition to “be taken seriously.”
My doctors told me I’d be back on a steroid that would turn my face back into a circle if I ever wanted to return to life outside Good Samaritan Hospital. Two weeks later, I was back in school with a swollen face and a hopeful sense that, maybe at Xavier, I could at least get some respect for my identity.
That wasn’t the case whatsoever. I knew I was in trouble when a girl looked at me with deep concern on her face on the first day of classes and picked all her stuff off the desk to move as far away from me as possible.
No one, not even other trans students, used my pronouns, even though I had worn a “MY PRONOUNS ARE HE/HIM/HIS” pin each day and asked all teachers to strictly use masculine pronouns (most were obviously uncomfortable around me after that email, and most only used “she”).
One girl’s gaze constantly went between my eyes and my crotch to see if I was “packing” (which is creating a bulge to better pass as male) during a conversation. Being in all male-identified spaces and having at least one guy stare at me with a mix of confusion and disgust on his face was another reminder how I was not “one of them” and never would be.
The final straw was when a classmate in multiple classes with me rolled her eyes when trying to describe me before a debate.
“Ladies, gentlemen…girly-fake guys, whatever…”
This couldn’t keep going on. I couldn’t pretend it was OK to only be invalidated on a campus that pretends to be so open-minded. Nothing about me wanted to continue, so I left.
Stigma attached to removing oneself from situations (temporarily or permanently) that negatively impact mental health is prevalent, especially when one is a first-generation student, but it was what I deeply needed.
Being away from campus forced me to see myself fully. There have been few times where I kindly corrected others for using “she,” and if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing wrong is harmful, how will they ever learn? How can I expect others to read my mind when they may not even be familiar with what a real life trans person looks like? How could I expect my growing silent anger about feeling invisible to solve anything?
Sulking, swearing, even running out of class from being so overwhelmed with everything may feel “right” in that moment, but all it does is build tension.
I find myself still constantly asking, “Am I making the right choice? Is this the best decision or just collegiate self-sabotage?”
The answer? I don’t know.
What I do know is I desperately needed this time to realize it’s not always others who are “wrong.” Sometimes, the main issue is between me, myself and I. Before expecting others to be willing to hear my story, I have to be willing to be flexible to deal with those who see my story as taboo. Before demanding growth from others, I must demand myself to grow out of self-pity and into self-perseverance.
Growth is never pretty, but it’s necessary for all to thrive in their own light.
By: Tony Carlotta | Staff Writer