Back in March, I wrote about the legislative situation created by Kansas' discriminatory bathroom bills. I felt like the environment was hostile, not only in the number of dangerous situations it could present for me, but also for the way the poorly-written legislation would have held my school accountable, too.
Personally, it was a question of whether or not I could stand the threat of being publicly raked over the coals, the public opinion, or the press, just for needing to use the bathroom.
But Kansas' legislation didn't just stop there. It also would have held my school financially liable for my bathroom break to the amount of $2,500 per incident reported by any student.
In papers around the area that covered the legislation, including the Topeka Capital Journal, the Lawrence Journal-World, and others, some commenters even joked online that an enterprising student and a transgender person could make a bunch of money by abusing the policy as written.
There are a lot of reasons I was hesitant to go back to Buhler, though, even beyond the legislative concerns. I was worried about how people - former friends and strangers alike - would respond to me as a transgender woman in their little home town.
I was also worried about my own ability to handle the emotional stress and anxiety of putting myself at risk in that environment, in particular, where the list of allies I could count on would be incredibly short, especially with no working cell phone signal.
There was a reason I waited to come out after I left home, after all: my own safety and survival.
Part of my hesitation was being worried about how my former classmates would handle my transition in person, too. You know, the actual stuff like pronouns and things that go beyond looking furtively at my Facebook profile and translate into how they treat me when I'm standing in front of them.
Many people were incredibly sweet. Some didn't interact with me at all, and still others were pointedly indifferent to my presence. There were some incidents with my pronouns -- even with my fierce-and-feminine presentation (shown above), which is a phenomenon that confuses me to this day -- but in general, most everybody let the reunion happen without making my transition one of the issues we collectively needed to address, which was nice and refreshing.
After the morning parade, during which the few members of our class that actually showed up to ride on hay bales at 9AM waved at the downtown onlookers for the Buhler Frolic, I was really hot and sweaty. The weather forecast (which is always a lie in Kansas) had said it'd be cold and comfortable, so I brought winterized leggings. Mistake.
I went home to change and eat lunch, but made sure I returned before our tour of the renovated school in the early afternoon. Genuinely, I was curious what was different about our old school, and the answer was literally everything, which I found strangely comforting.
You see, I have a complicated relationship with walking around locations where a predominant portion of my time there was before I came out. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I was afraid of how people would respond to me, so it became easier over the years to just avoid situations like that, telling myself 'You'll be much happier at home by yourself anyway, so don't bother."
It was almost what stopped me going back for my reunion, too.
During the tour, I found a microscopic window of time, maybe just a few minutes in total, when I talked with Mr. Adkins about my hesitations and how I was glad the legislative situation in Kansas had been resolved in a way that let me come back for my own class reunion.
He shared my puzzlement that the legislation seemed to think people needed to be told where they could pee, although we came to different conclusions.
"I just don't think any legislative body has any business telling us where we need to do that," he commented.
I agreed with him. I told him that for my own part, I thought I was the only person who needed to make that determination. He smiled and gestured to some of my former classmates who were spilling out of a nearby classroom to continue the tour.
"Well, what about letting these people have a say," he asked.
And here's where it hit me that coming home for my reunion would mean more to me than I'd ever realized before: most people don't know a transgender person. Recent Pew research data suggests that 3 and 10 Americans know someone who identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming.
In my graduating class of maybe 150 people, I was that person for many of these former classmates and teachers, statistically speaking, so my presence mattered just by virtue of representing my people and our opinions. Normally, too, I'm the first woman to militantly guard the line protecting my own equality and bathroom rights.
But I backed off in that moment, my comments and responses tempered by the respect I still have for a former teacher, because that relationship changed the nature of the conversation and made it more personal, more real.
It wasn't about rights or equality, in those moments, based on a statistically-supported need felt by a marginalized community, it was about supporting me, and finding support in a community that recognizes me as a valuable person and one of its own, whether they like it or not.
I felt sad coming to this realization because so many other students in so many other schools across the country won't have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of environment. It was neat and strangely enlightening that at least in this case, my home town homecoming was a pleasant surprise.
Additionally, I'm aware that I'm a white trans* girl, in a community that is itself 96-percent white, so for many of these people, my passing privilege affords me the ability to go unnoticed when I want in a way that many of my brothers and sisters won't be allowed. While my particular interaction wasn't problematic, it's not hard for me to imagine how many of my non-white transgender and gender non-conforming friends might be treated if they'd come along for the ride, particularly those with much less passing privilege. It's a sad thought, to say the least.
For the first time in a decade, I looked at my yearbook photos this weekend. It's incredible, it's sappy, and it's stereotypical, I know, but it still feels fitting to put this photo here, at the end of this post about my high school reunion.
It's hard to see, but this is the same AMAB girl from today, just back when I was in fifth grade. I was a cutie even then, though.
Maybe someday I'll do a full trans* timeline photo. Until then, this will hafta do.