Photo Courtesy of Christian J. Zsilavetz
I am a 47-year-old trans educator. At age 36, when I lived in Seattle, I started transitioning. For 18 months, I tried being stealth, but it didn’t work for me. I was always scared someone would peg me as trans and want to create a riot out of my identity. At age 42, I moved across the country to Atlanta and spent a year home with my children before returning to teaching. Yet another year closeted, I realized that being closeted just did not help me reach the students I felt I needed to reach.
Today, I sit across from a 14-year-old transgender student from Forsyth County, GA, a place not far from Atlanta and known for its racism, homophobia, and transphobia. We both are dealing with family issues, depression, and anxiety, and we both are surrounded by others who support and love us just as we are.
Greetings to all gender-fabulous youth out there! I am an out, queer-identified transman, and my name is Christian James Zsilavetz (he, him, his). I invite you to Google me. Seriously. That is quite a shift from 10 years ago when I thought I would just die, or at least get beat up and more, if anyone knew that I was transgender.
I am the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta, a K-12 school that is openly free of homophobia and transphobia. We have a small school our first year, but we support youth, educators, and families all around the United States and far beyond by virtue of being “googleable.” We also provide workshops and the like for schools and businesses, which is something I am headed to do today.
I need you to know that we are everywhere, and that adults everywhere will keep fighting the battle for trans rights in schools. Your job is to continue to grow into the person you are meant to become. Our job is to continue to help make schools awesome for you, your friends, your families, your teachers, and your coaches.
Know that you never need to be alone with your problems again unless you choose to. Know that you are not the only one dealing with depression and anxiety and the challenges of dating/not dating, home issues, homelessness, joblessness, disease. Know that you are not the only one who is happy, joyous, and free, and ready for the world, either.
It is okay to be happy because you are transgender. It is okay to be angry because you are transgender. It is okay to be sad because you are transgender. All these feelings will pass and come back around at different times.
Most of all, I ask of you to do whatever you need to do to care for yourself and your closest friends, working only to change the things you can and asking for help with the rest. Don’t accept horrible behavior from anyone. Document great things and document moments of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. Email them to yourself, a parent (if it will help), and a staff member who can do something about it.
Find reasons to laugh a lot. Hang with your people whenever you are able, even if it is by Skype. You likely don’t have a lot of emotional or mental reserves some days, so taking care of yourself, your schoolwork, your room, and perhaps a part-time job is more than enough. If you or a friend are at risk of self-harm or being harmed by others, please call 911 and reach out to the Trevor Project, Translifeline, or the nearest LGBTQ organization. School may not change overnight, nor will your parents, nor will your family or friends, but you will continue to grow and become the person you are meant to become.
Christian J. Zsilavetz is the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta. He can be reached at Christian@prideschoolatlanta.org.