I was very fortunate to have the chance to go to Choate Rosemary Hall for high school. When I graduated in 1996 there was one openly gay student in the school and three openly gay faculty and administration on staff. At the time it was progressive, even groundbreaking, that the school openly supported gay-identified staff and students. I was always in awe of this support, but I couldn't have told you why it resonated with me. Now that I am out and openly living as a transgender woman, I get it.
This last weekend I went back for my 20-year reunion and was graciously welcomed by current students, faculty, and alumni as me, Natalie Egan. It was amazing on so many levels!
Here is what I learned:
1. Everything was normal. From the moment I called the school in February to let them know that I would appreciate it if they just got my name right on reunion materials (like my name tag), they were totally normal about the whole thing. They didn't treat me as an exception for one second, nor did they miss a beat. In fact, while this is the first year they’ve had openly transgender alumni attend a reunion, they have 10 current students that identify somewhere on the non-binary spectrum of gender identity. So, relative to many other schools and institutions in our culture, Choate certainly knows what they are doing to support trans youth and has already made incredible structural shifts to accommodate these students, their families, and their allies. For example, the school has made changes for gender equality in policies for bathrooms, dorm rooms, and sports teams. On my return, I got the chance to meet some of these students and I was so impressed. They were confident, smart, beautiful people who gave me such pronounced and far-reaching hope for the future.
2. People genuinely wanted to learn and be supportive. More than 150 alumni and current students showed up -- standing room only -- to hear me and my new friend Ali Fitzsimmons (CRH '91) share our stories about our "adventures through time and across genders", as it was cleverly billed. At the end of the Charlie Rose Q&A session, we received a standing ovation for simply being ourselves! Afterwards, one of the most senior alumni in attendance (a gentleman from the class of '49) came up to me and thanked me for teaching him something new that day. I told him to thank the school for continuing to introduce us all to new things that we don’t understand. "It is their job and we are always students." I found myself saying to him at the end of our conversation. It was such a proud moment for me and my affiliation with Choate.
3. Planning and communication are key. Going to your 20-year reunion or any major life event as your true self for the very first time, is a very big deal. While my situation may be a little unique with everything I have going on (launching trans.cafe and coming out as Natalie on my social networks only one week before the reunion), I found myself preparing for months ahead of the big event. The key was talking to other people to help me get my story concise, getting my look(s) right -- yes, every outfit was highly planned (thanks @MonicaPrata!) -- and thinking through all of the logistics that go into re-meeting your high school classmates and teachers for the first time. My advice to others on a similar journey: be ready to be on point, mentally strong, and to project a positive message every moment you are “on stage.” Remember, you will probably be the center of attention and conversation… own it!
4. New life in old relationships! One of the coolest and unexpected benefits of the weekend was re-connecting with a ton of girlfriends who, when I went to Choate, I was ‘good’ friends with but always wanted to be BETTER friends with! Words cannot explain the incredible experience I had bonding with all of them as my real self. I always knew the girls in our class would become powerful, confident women, and I am so excited to stay connected and continue to learn from each of them. According to their testimonies, some of them are even learning a few things from me too. Way cool!
5. Be ready for a hangover. OMG I am just recovering. Yes I celebrated with a lot of adult beverages that weekend, but the real hangover was emotional. It was so surreal to be back on campus as the high school girl I never got to be, and connect with it in ways that I never thought I would, and then have to leave so quickly. For a few days afterwards, I was bummed about this reality, but as with everything these days, I got over it pretty quickly. I don’t have time for any depressing shit these days. I have too much life to live and I am super excited to be an alumni and support the school any way I possibly can. Can’t wait to come back soon!
Love you, Choate!