ToBGLAD: Alum and local transgender activists discuss experiences, LGBTQ issues

The Newtonite

by Julia Moss

Members of the Newton and greater Boston transgender community educated students and faculty about what it means to be transgender as part of the Transgender Bisexual Gay Lesbian Awareness Day (ToBGLAD), organized by this school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), in the auditorium during C-block yesterday. Students were encouraged to ask questions, and junior Sam Taylor, a co-officer of the GSA, mediated the discussion.

The panel included Michael Alexander ’00 and local transgender activists Michelle Figueiredo and Erica Shawn. To begin the presentation, Alexander, Figueiredo, and Shawn introduced themselves and briefly discussed their experiences as transgender.

“I’ve known I was a boy since age two,” said Alexander, who was born female. “All the people who were supposed to help me understand how the world works were telling me I was a girl… I thought I was insane.”

It was not until Alexander entered this school, he said, that he first discovered the word “transgender” in a pamphlet a math teacher left for him under his desk. “I’d never heard that word before, but it struck something inside me,” Alexander said. “I was born then, at the end of my freshman year at North.”

Figueiredo, who was born male, introduced herself with a reference to Harry Potter. “I was the boy who lived, not Harry,” she announced. “My mother had several miscarriages before I was born. My parents wanted a son they could name Michael. But I knew I was a girl.”

“I just tried to be what everyone expected from me, but it never felt right,” Figueiredo continued. “Why at the age of 14 was I asking God to make my breasts grow?”

“It wasn’t until I went to college, five years after high school, when I had that light bulb moment that there’s someone else out there like me,” she added. “Since I came to that acceptance that I’m a woman, life has gotten better and better and better.”

Like Figueiredo, Shawn said she was born male but knew very early on that she was transgender. “I knew I was a girl,” she said. “When I moved out of the house to live on my own, I started hormones and transitioning. It’s been an amazing journey from there.”

The panelists went on to discuss several issues relevant to the transgender community—including the gender binary and discrimination within the LGBTQ community, as prompted by the moderator, Taylor. Alexander, Figueiredo, and Shawn then offered advice to transgender students and their families.

“Let people be who they are,” Figueiredo advised loved ones of transgender individuals. “When I first came out to my best friend, they said, well it’s about effing time. That was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Shawn said, “For a family member, the important thing if you really do care about the person is to support them and accept them, whether or not you understand what they’re going through.”

As for advice directed toward transgender individuals themselves, the panelists had much to say. “I think the biggest thing you can develop is a sense of self-worth,” Figueiredo said. “You’re not bad, you’re not wrong. Know who you are and develop confidence.”

“Invest in yourself,” Shawn added.

“Join GSA,” Alexander recommended. “I had one or two friends my whole childhood—we were the kids who were picked on. Then in high school I joined GSA and all of a sudden I had a posse.”

Alexander continued, “Do things that make you feel good, that make you feel proud, that make you feel comfortable. You only have to answer to yourself.”