Transgender student suffers for identity

Tyler McNeil

Managing Editor

Lex Alston said some students and professors still refer to him as “she.”After years of fighting to be considered a man.

“Whenever somebody says ‘she’ — it hits like a bullet. It hurts,” said Alston.

Although Alston still gets offended by hearing female gender pronouns shot in his direction, he avoids retaliation. “We were taught to look at a chest and see if there’s boobs and that means they’re a girl,” said Alston.

In an effort to appear male beyond pronouns, Alston wears two chest binders (a broad bandage or girdle that encircles the chest) daily to flatten his chest. As a result of wearing two binders, Alston has cuts, bruises and skin discoloration around his skin.

“You’re really not supposed to wear two at a time but I can’t really go out of the house without two at a time,” he said. He washes his chest binders nightly. If they don’t dry by the morning, Alston refuses to go out, sometimes missing class.

Alston looks forward to taking testosterone injections to make chest binders a thing of the past. Along with his physical transformation, he also hopes to make a legal change from his birth name, from “Alexa” to “Alexander.”

“Not everyone can pick their name. I don’t want to pick my name, I just want to make it male,” he said.

When Alston was younger, he used female bathrooms. Although he generally uses male bathrooms now, he tries to avoid public bathrooms whenever possible unless accompanied by a friend. “I walked into a [men’s] bathroom a few days ago because I had to pee. I saw a guy right there and I walked right out,” said Alston.

Growing up, Alston took every opportunity to present himself a boy. He started identifying as “Lex” at 10. As a child, he often wore cargo shorts and avoided makeup.

He played sports and talked about girls, despite often being excluded from boys’ circles. He recalled that growing up, he tried to compensate for not being male. “I identified more as a tomboy when I was little, but there was nothing I could do that I knew of to actually be a boy,” he said.

Alston faced the challenge having to wear dresses to school under his school’s dress code every day and tried to push the boundaries of what he could wear. From kindergarten to eighth grade, Alston encountered other obstacles figuring out his identity at Saint Pius Christian School in Loudonville. “Sexuality wasn’t really talked about [at Saint Pius]. It was a ‘you don’t go there’ thing,” he said.

In December 2010, Alston recalled being uncomfortable at a mass at Saint Pius where the priest censured the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. “My ears got hot. I felt both mad and ashamed,” he said.

As puberty hit, Alston, confused about his gender, would wear tight clothing to present himself as a female but would live another life online, identifying on social media and on internet games as a male. “I feel like I’ve been able to explore my gender and sexuality because of the internet,” he said.

Since his first period hit eight years ago, Alston said that having an active menstrual cycle has been increasingly difficult to talk about. “I don’t even want to give people the idea that I once identified as a female,” he said.

Growing up, some adults would often attribute his behavior to body image issues. “My teacher sat me down in a room and said, ‘I’m uncomfortable with my body. I can relate.’ I was thinking ‘No, you can’t, lady’,” said Alston.

When he was 13, Alston started growing more comfortable with being transgender but recalled being unready to allow others to know. He continued fighting the school’s dress code up to his middle school graduation. “They told the girls to come in with a skirt or a dress [and] they told the boys to come in with slacks and a t-shirt,” said Alston. “I came in with slacks and a t-shirt.”

That summer, Alston cut his hair, wore excessive layers of clothing and started identifying as transgender before having a new beginning at Niskayuna High School. “Everything changed that summer,” Alston said.

Starting in high school, Alston became active in raising transgender awareness education and supporting LGBTQ efforts. He started participating in Niskayuna High School’s Visibility Club and attended meetings at the Pride Center in Albany. “I wanted to be Co-President of the Pride Alliance because I know that transgender people get overlooked,” said Alston.

It wasn’t until three years ago that Alston started becoming more open about his sexuality, after a friend of his came out as gay. “After that, I felt okay with it. I don’t have to like girls because not all boys like girls,” said Alston.

Coming into high school after he started identifying as transgender, Alston was drawn into theatre with a passion for music, as he loved performing and being able to assume male roles. He found acting closer to reality. “I related to it because I feel like I’ve been acting like someone else I haven’t been my whole life,” he said.

In the future, Alston fears his career prospects in theatre as a transgendered male.“It’s really scary. I don’t always know if I’ll have a career,” he said.

Alston, who hasn’t had a relationship since middle school, struggles with intimacy as a transgendered man. “I worry ‘will they be disgusted with me?’ and ‘even if I tell them, will they be grossed out by me?’,” he said.

Despite struggling with relationships, Alston said that social anxiety has never been a problem. “I don’t think being transgender defines me,” he said. When meeting new people, Alston often tries to avoid telling others about his identity, so people have the opportunity to see him beyond being transgender.

If born male, he said that life would have been easier but also that he could not imagine living without years of struggling. “I feel like having gone through everything I’ve gone through … it’s given me the opportunity to not make assumptions and want to get to know people,” said Alston.

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