Penelope Ingram initiates a lot of discussion in her gender studies classes. Texas is a conservative state, after all. So, when Liam Stone approached the associate professor in her office after class one day, Ingram wasn’t sure what to expect — these conversations can escalate quickly.
“She was nervous and prefaced it by saying she hadn’t told anybody and said I’d probably think she was crazy,” Ingram said. “She was thinking that she might be a boy.”
“So, I said, ‘That’s awesome.’ I don’t think she was expecting that response.”
For many college students, what to wear is as flip a decision as where to eat dinner. For about 700,000 people across the U.S., including UTA students, everyday choices are not as easy. Transgender people, whose gender identity differs from their birth gender, must decide how much of their true selves they will expose that day.
In April, the university officially launched an LGBTQA program that offers services for the transgender community, including Transcending the Binary, where speakers discussed gender identity issues and connect with department offices to raise awareness. The program also created a Safe Zone Ally program, a visible network of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning individuals and their allies by providing an avenue through which any member of UTA can show support. A Gay-Straight Alliance has also been on campus since about the 1980s.
It’s hard for Stone to get dressed some days.
The binder he wears every day to flatten his chest takes a while to put on. He hides the parts of his body he doesn’t like, the parts that aren’t him.
The English language junior is a female-to-male transgender person. Stone had cross-dressed occasionally while growing up. A Halloween party his freshman year was the first time he passed as a man. But there came a time when cross-dressing wasn’t enough. So he began appearing more masculine — baggier clothes, a blond buzz cut that has grown out some.
“I wasn’t trying to be anything other than comfortable,” he said. “I just kind of was — and what I was, was different. But it was me.”
In spring, he came across a YouTube video of a man who’d been on testosterone the past three years and watched the transition from female to male.
“I looked at it and thought, ‘That’s kind of awesome. That would make me so happy,’ ” he said.
The more he began to research and discuss the topic in his class, the more he realized a transition for him was possible. A clue for him was a nagging in the back of his mind.
“There’s this little tick back there that says you need to change something. Something’s wrong,” he said.
Stone also said he was having more bad days than good days when it came to understanding himself.
Then it happened.
A week before spring finals, Stone went to his parents’ house. While his parents worked, he read a book called “Female Masculinity.” Stopping to take a nap led to one of his biggest steps forward. His mother found the book sitting on the counter where he’d left it on accident.
“She was looking at the book, and she found a picture of the author, Judith Halberstam, who is going by ‘Jack,’ ” Stone said. “So she asked, ‘Are you going to change your name?’ ”
Stone saw the perfect opportunity to lay all the cards on the table.
“My mother’s reaction was more of a glorified ‘I told you so,’ ” Stone said. “Followed by an ‘It’ll be OK.’ I talked with my father a couple weeks later, and he said he’d been expecting it, too.”
Once Stone realized his family accepted who he was, he said he dove in. Ingram even helped Stone find a counselor to help him sort out his thoughts.
But it’s been an adjustment for his family, he said.
“They’ve known me for the past 24 years one way,” Stone said. “And now they have to change the name and the pronouns and start introducing me as their son.”
Stone’s name is more for his public life than private. He identifies as genderqueer, meaning he doesn’t identify as male or female.
He’s made the switch to a male name and male pronouns because in public, he said he’ll be identified as such when he begins taking testosterone and undergoes top-half surgery to feel more like himself. He wrote his instructors before his classes started this semester to say although his name isn’t on the roster as Liam Stone, it’s who he identifies as.
“I’m not hiding it by any means,” Stone said. “But I also feel that’s something I don’t have to introduce myself to people with. Just like when I was identifying myself as a lesbian, I didn’t walk up to people and say ‘Hi, my name is Lauren and, by the way, I’m gay.’ But I’m worried about my safety. At the end of the day, that’s ultimately what it comes down to. I’m OK enough with who I am, but I’ve never been this visible before, and that’s a scary thing, because hate crimes are real.”
According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 28 percent of transgender people reported being harassed. Another 19 percent reported being refused medical care because of a transgender or gender non-conforming status.
Currently, Stone is on a waiting list at Resource Center Dallas, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service organization that offers LGBT services to the community, to see a doctor who can prescribe the testosterone. Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for the center, said that based on the number of transgender people in the nation, North Texas probably has a ratio equal to the number mentioned at the national level. Last year, the center’s clinic saw about 120 people, McDonnell said.
“There have not been a whole lot of studies done regarding the LGBT community,” McDonnell said. “Coming out is still very much a process, and some people may be further along than others.”
Stone has also taken the step to schedule surgery at the end of next spring semester in Florida, and his family has begun therapy sessions to help the transition from daughter to son.
“My mom’s the slowest, but she apparently had a breakthrough about two weeks after our first family session,” Stone said. “She apparently looked at my sister and said, ‘Have you talked to your brother lately?’ That was a big moment.”
It’s the family support, Ingram said of Stone, that has given him confidence to embrace who he is.
“We’ve talked about his family a lot, and having the acceptance of his family and the way they’ve really stepped up and have been supportive has just really made any worries wash away,” Ingram said.
It’s that confidence that’s inspired one of his friends to be more proud of himself, as well.
Sociology senior Chad Austin said he fell into his major because he was interested in learning about non-conventional families.
“Being a homosexual myself, I gravitated away from the nuclear family stereotype,” he said.
He met Stone after joining and becoming an officer for the Gay-Straight Alliance on campus.
Austin said he had no idea Liam is a female-to-male transgender person.
“I’ve made the comment that he’s courageous in what he’s doing, and he spoke to me and said that insinuates that there’s something to be afraid of,” he said. “And I think being able to look at such a small minority, even in the LGBT community, and be the face of that on campus, that takes a lot to be this voice.”
But Stone said he isn’t the face of the community on campus. If anything, he said he’s simply embracing who he is.
“As a part of the LGBT community, we all have our own coming out,” Austin said. “And it’s all unique, and you don’t ever really stop coming out.”
The funny thing is, Austin said, Stone has never officially come out to him.
“I’ve never had to question him,” Austin said. “He’s smart, he’s driven, he’s involved and he’s courageous, and I respect Liam because he just wants to be who he is and he’s proud of that.”
Aside from the steps he’s taken, Stone said one of the biggest has been talking with his father about the transition.
“I’m so glad we did the family therapy, because Dad doesn’t talk,” Stone said. “But we started talking about bonding things, and at the end of one of the sessions he was like ‘OK, sometime, and it doesn’t have to be today because I know your semester is busy and you have things you need to do, but at some point, we need to go to the bar and have drinks as men.’ ”