Alex Myers, a writer and teacher who speaks on the topic of gender identity and supporting transgender students at schools across the country, gave a talk at Hotchkiss on Jan. 19. Myers, who graduated from Phillips Exeter and Harvard, was the first openly transgender student at both institutions. In 2014, Simon & Schuster published his novel, Revolutionary, based on the life of his ancestor, Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Continental Army.
In his address to the School community, Myers discussed his journey toward coming out as transgender — from being a self-described "tomboy" growing up in Paris, ME, to grappling with whether he identified as a lesbian throughout high school. Near the end of his time at Exeter, he began to fully understand there was a difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and he realized that he felt more comfortable presenting as masculine. In his senior year, he came out as transgender. He cut his hair, followed the boy's dress code, and asked everyone to start calling him Alex. Initially, his parents struggled to accept the change. But Myers described a pivotal moment at a restaurant, when their waitress referred to him as "young man."
"I was so happy, I could have kissed her," he said. "I know my parents were biting their tongues, fighting the urge to correct her, but there was something about that moment when a complete stranger read me as male that made them see me more clearly."
Myers also talked about the challenges of accommodating transgender students in a boarding school environment, where many spaces have specific gender designations. At Exeter, where Myers now works as an English teacher, students have the option of living in an all-gender dormitory, a system Myers says has worked well not just for trans and gender non-binary students, but all students. His advice to the Hotchkiss community about how best to create an inclusive environment: do some homework.
"You shouldn't expect a 14 year-old who's newly out as transgender to be able to explain to you everything about gender identity," he said. "Be open to educating yourself, too."
After his talk in Walker Auditorium, Myers spoke one-on-one with faculty members and students and toured a dormitory with Dean of Residential Life Heather Perrenoud.