By Gia Drew, Program Director at Equality Maine
About Gia (She/Her/Hers): Gia was one of Maine’s first OUT transgender teachers and one of the first transgender coaches in the country. Originally from Boston, Gia has called Maine home since 2002. After earning degrees from Syracuse University and Savannah College of Art and Design, she was a high school teacher and coach for twenty years, teaching in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, and Maine. Outside of EqualityMaine Gia is an active athlete and writer.
By senior year in high school, I had it all. I was class president, captain of both the football and track teams, leader of my catholic youth group, elected lieutenant governor at Boy’s State, got decent grades, partied a little on the weekends, had a girlfriend, and a reputation.But I went to school everyday afraid, afraid that someone would find out by secret, that I like both boys and girls, and that I was really a girl on the inside. Imagine that, there I was, one of the most popular and strongest boys in high school, and I was afraid.
By the time January arrived I wasn’t dating anyone. I had cheated on my girlfriend at a New Year’s Eve part at my friend’s house, and she of course found out about it. She was a sophomore, smart, athletic, and had sincere brown eyes that matched her shoulder length hair. We flirted at the end of my junior year and starting dating before summer vacation and her trip to Israel.
She confronted me when school restarted on the following Monday, and standing between the rows of the purple lockers of Riley House and the royal blue lockers of Palmer House, dumped me and I knew I deserved it.
So it was a surprise to receive a flower in homeroom a month later on Valentine’s Day. It arrived with a note, signed “secret admirer”. I cut the stem and pinned the pink carnation to my white button down shirt. Wearing it made me smile, what could go wrong? I went to art class then English, and no one said a word.
At lunch I walked down the stairs into our crowded cafeteria only to be immediately confronted by a group of jockey guy friends lead by Tony. He saw the pink flower and didn’t like it. In fact he wanted everyone to know.
“Hey, what the fuck are you wearing, you fucking faggot” Tony yelled, his voice echoing across the cinder block walls of the cafeteria for everyone to hear. As a crowd quickly gathered, Tony lunged toward me and grabbed the flower, ripping it from my shirt and shouting “take that off you sissy!” in the process.
He succeeded and in doing so, tore open my shirt, exposing my chest. What he couldn’t see or anyone else for that matter, was my heart was breaking.
Enraged, I lunged at Tony, but before either of us was physically hurt, we were separated by a few teachers and escorted to the principal’s office. We waited a little while, but once the principal arrived, Tony calmed down and apologized, but I couldn’t, I was still on fire. The principal, Mr Adams, wanted me to accept Tony’s apology, but I couldn’t. He also wanted to know why I was so mad, “you could have really hurt tony” he insisted.
I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell him what that pink flower really meant to me. That it was a small symbol of the girl hiding inside me. He wouldn’t understand.
My mother picked me up because we both got suspended for fighting. In the car her silence was a sign she was visibly upset, “what are we going to tell dad?” she asked
“I don’t know… I just lost my temper, I guess”
She replied, “why does this keep happening?”
I couldn’t tell her.
Twenty-five years and Ten Months Later
It was an early January morning in Maine and the temperature outside was somewhere below zero. I don’t think it matters all that much once the mercury drops below freezing; it was cold. I was sitting in my truck trying to find the courage to walk across the parking lot and go inside. I had cafeteria duty at the high school where I had been working for eight years. During my time at this school and at all the other schools where I taught in my 20 year career I was seen by everyone as a man, but that was all about to change.
By the fall of 2010, I was emotionally exhausted and came to the realization that I needed to be honest with myself to save my life. But those words are easier said, than the reality of showing up to work as a high school teacher and coach, now as a woman with no warning. That morning I wore a cute scarf and hat, pretty jacket, skinny jeans, painted nails, and boots with fur on top.
Sitting in my pick up, I began to doubt I could actually go through with it. 7 o’clock became 7:05, then 7:10, and 7:15. I had been sitting so long the window had frosted so much you could scratch the glass with your nail. I took a deep breath and decided to go for it. I turned off my car and walked towards the cafeteria, across the snow covered high school parking lot with my head down.
Once inside the warm building I tried not to make eye contact with any students. I dropped my bags and took off my coat and put them in the same location I’d had been leaving them all year. Of course, I thought they were all staring, but in reality they were probably too busy copying each other’s homework to notice me. I headed to the door on the other side of the cafeteria by the school lobby where I usually stand with a few other teachers. I looked up, and said good morning and apologized for being late. There was a pause, as they scanned my new appearance, but thankfully only talked about the weather.
Across the lobby I noticed a student, and she had noticed me. Oh shit, I thought. She had been in my photo class last semester, and I knew she could be a loose cannon. She was a tough and attractive girl, who wielded a lot of power on campus, and could make my life a living hell. She then whispered something to her friend, and I thought, oh god what’s next, what was she saying? They headed my way. Was she going to laugh, make fun and tease me in front of a hundred students and teachers? All of a sudden she was in front of me, looking me up and down. Then she smiled and spoke quickly before the bell rang, “you look cute; I like your boots,” and walked away.
In that moment, on that frigid January morning, a lifetime of fear about being myself began to melt away. Imagine that, a few kind words from a student were the some of sweetest and most encouraging words I had ever heard, and I haven’t looked back since.