Journalist of the Year Portfolio

Alex Myers Transcription

Alex Myers Interview Transcription

What are some of the things you recommend schools like mine approach issues like these?

I think even the way you are describing this, framing this, says a lot about how one might or might not approach this topic because you’re talking about issues and problems, so you’re framing it in a negative way from the very get-go. I’d rather say that one thing that single-sex schools can do is they can think about how and why they would include gender nonconforming individuals. That’s a very different frame of mind than saying this is a problem and we need to address it. I would say the very first thing to do is ask A: “Why would we do this work?” and B: “Do we want to do this work?” I would point you right back to your school’s mission and the reason why your school was founded and ask “What is it saying there? Is it saying we are a school for boys and these are the things we believe boys need in education? Is it saying we are a school that helps each individual student become their best self? What’s the vision that you, at St. Mark’s, embrace, and how do gender nonconforming individuals fit into that?” Are you a school for people who are masculine, who are biologically born male, who identify as boys? Those are three very different values and depending on how you answer that would be how you would then respond and say “This is what we need to do to our school culture to make our school more inclusive and open.”

How does your experience at Exeter fit into this narrative?

When I first came out in 1995 it was very much like “You, individual transgender student, are a problem, and we need to figure out which team you’re gonna play and which dorm you’re gonna live in.” And now the shift has started to be, “Boy, every student on this campus has a gender identity and every student needs to have a good experience regardless of their gender identity.” And I think the major shift has been realizing that changes in locker room privacy, bathroom use, and dormitory housing decisions affects not just transgender students, but every student at the school. For instance, at sm, do you have a locker room in which boys are supposed to change? “Yes” Are there boys who should be changing in the locker room but choose not to? “Yes.” Are those boys transgender? “No not all of them” Exactly! You have cis-gender, maybe-straight boys at your school who are not using the school space. That’s the issue, it has nothing to do with transgender people, it has everything to do with cis-gender identity. You need to go in there and say, “What’s going on in our school culture that some kids feel ‘I don’t belong here, I don’t feel safe here.’? And how can we address the issue.” That’s the way I say this is not a transgender issue, this is a school culture issue, and I think that Exeter has started to do that work.

In your opinion, is the best way to approach this through creating policy or through a case-by-case evaluation?

I often find when I work with schools they’ll say something like “We support the whole learner” or “We want students who have demonstrated academic strengths and are up to the rigorous environment of St. Mark’s” That’s the language that’s on the website and the view book, but in reality, on a case-by-case basis, a student needs accommodations for extended time, or audiobooks instead of written material. The school is gonna do that on a case-by-case basis. That’s pretty typical for schools. Same thing with gender. The language — especially if you are going to remain a “single sex institution” or “boys school” — needs to be specific, “St. Mark’s is a school for those who identify as boys, SM is a school for those who are born male, etc.” And that’s going to be complex and difficult but super important for the school to articulate and make known. And then on a case-by-case basis they’re gonna say, “You know what? You weren’t born male, but you transitioned and living as a boy, and we would regard you as fitting into this community,” and that’s gonna be case-by-case. But the school needs to articulate it so that, if for no other reason than marketing, people can know whether “this school is for me or is not for me.”

Often times, the controversy at schools comes through issues with traditions. How do you think schools can reconcile a need to maintain community traditions while still helping individuals and their needs?

That’s a really sticky question. For schools that are all-gender schools it becomes slightly easier. At a school where you just have a single-gender model the question becomes “Are there any students who are uncomfortable or unable to express themselves because you’re allowing only one end of the binary in your dress code?” And the school might say “You know what we’re a boys school” and enforce a certain dress code, and that’s a decision for the school to make, and a girls school can say the same thing. However, if a school says “We’re an all-boys (girls) school and we are open to a variety of gender expressions,” then the school has the challenge of articulating the degree of formality. You’d say — the biggest challenge for me was that I was the first one in both high school and college and it meant that I did a lot of education and explaining. People came up to me saying, “what do we do? what do we do? what do we do?” And everything was a problem. And everything needed to be solved. And that inspires me to do the work that I do, trying to get schools ahead of it and not put all the burden on the transgender student who already has enough on their plate because they are coming out. The school needs to be ready for them. The school needs to say in advance to them coming out — or even in advance of a student applying to the school — “we are ready for you, we know who you might be, and what you might need, and we’ve got it in place.” So that the student can have as smooth sailing as possible and not be in the position of constantly explaining and having to ask for basic services.

From a national perspective, what's on your "to-do" list — what are the issues we currently need to address as a country related to gender identity?

In the state of New Hampshire there are still no basic civil rights, protections for transgender people. A restaurant can refuse to serve a transgender patron, and that’s completely legal. You can lose your housing because your landlord doesn’t like transgender people, and that’s completely legal. These are basic civil rights. Another thing is violence against transgender people, and particularly against transgender women of color. An enormous number of transgender women of color are murdered every year, and those that arent murdered suffer horrific acts of violence. It’s a problem that goes back to policing, education, etc.