My high school had always been non-traditional. We had a homecoming soccer game instead of a football game. We had all known each other since sixth grade since my school was a public charter that funneled its middle school students to its high school. Our trophy cases were filled solely with chess championship awards. It would make sense that this oddball high school would produce the county’s first Transgender Homecoming King.
My campaign slogan was, “I treat girls like goddesses”. Not to cut the male-identifying gender short but my campaign staffers (read: me, myself, and I) figured that the number of girls outweighed the number of boys in our graduating class, and therefore the former should be my target demographic. I think it actually was a good strategy. As a young transmasculine individual, I had lived as a girl for a good amount of my life. On top of that my peers, for the most part, understood my gender identity only in spirit. I was considered a lesbian who simply lived as a boy. It wasn’t quite on the money, but it made me relatable to girls and I could relate to what it’s like to live as a girl. For all intents and purposes, I was the prettiest boy available with the perks of neither having a dick nor being a dick.
Ultimately, I won because I had such a great support system among the students. Even if they didn’t exactly understand what being transgender meant, they understood me on their level while also honoring my feelings and struggles. The only negative remark I got when word came out I was nominated for king came from one kid, and I don’t even remember the shade he threw at me because it came from somewhere small that felt insecure about being “showed up” by someone born female. I feel that if school staff paid closer attention to who was running for king I would’ve been given a hard time by some teachers. I’ve sat through so many awful classes where teachers talked about how gay or trans people “feel that way” because of some traumatic experience as a child. The sheer luck of the entire homecoming committee being student-run saved me from a lot of harassment from adults.
A couple of days before the homecoming dance, the student government president took me aside and told me I won. It wasn’t out of excitement, but of concern for me. It was an open secret among my peers that my parents and I didn’t have the best relationship. They (peers) knew how I changed into a binder at school to hide from them, how I skipped class because I was too distressed to focus, and how much I hated having to go home at the end of the day. The president was giving me a cautious way out, a warning, and I will always have so much respect for him for thinking of little ways to protect me.
I feel that me being the first Transgender Homecoming King was something Prince George’s County didn’t want press spotlight on. As a transgender child of immigrant parents, one would assume I’m some kind of diversity card to advertise. I don’t want a lot of spotlight on it either, but for a different reason. I want to normalize my existence. I understand the importance of being visible – seeing people who were like me and had the shared experience of being trans/nonbinary let me know that I was “okay” and that I wasn’t “bad”. At the same time, however, I was a kid with an unstable home life. I couldn’t afford to be written about or have a platform to share my story on. Seventeen-year-old me wasn’t thinking about implications or making some political statement – I just wanted a personal success. I couldn’t be that lucky kid whose parents gave the go-ahead to have hormone therapy or surgeries and then skip on over to PFLAG meetings. I am a kid from a tiny island country with parents who grew up in a world that saw transgender people as monsters.
I think my life at the time could’ve been summed up with how the dance ended. I got a text from my mother saying that she was on her way to pick us (me and my sisters) up. My skin went cold and something sour started in the back of my throat. Two days prior to the dance, I stashed away an outfit for homecoming in a friend’s locker. I figured my parents would only let me leave the house in a pre-approved outfit, and I wasn’t going to spend my night looking and feeling like an unfinished Muppet. I rushed back to the bathroom to peel back my masculine layer and apply a false front. I forced dangling earrings into my ears and slipped back into the outfit that showed off my more feminine features. I shoved my Converse, chinos, and Oxford back into a trash bag then stuffed it into that same friend’s locker. At this point, I was left standing with the crown and sash that declared me Homecoming King. There was no way I could bring it home. Could I just throw it away? I eventually passed it off to a friend. He kept it in the trunk of his car until it was safe for me to retrieve it. With that taken care of, I waited with my two younger siblings at the school’s entrance.
My heart pounded against my chest and I couldn’t stop rocking on my heels. I also couldn’t stop smiling. It felt so good to smile that night. On the car ride home, my youngest sister gave me a “look”. Earlier, when I swapped outfits, she walked past my friends and I and said: “Why do you look like you need Jesus?”. She realized she had said it loud enough for my friends to also hear, so she flipped to a smile and hurried away. Now in the car, I had no friends to have my back. When this conversation began:
“What happened to your crown?” she asked.
My throat went tight. “What?”
“Your crown,” she repeated.
Dizzy, I said. “I don’t know. Put it down somewhere. Someone probably took it.”
My mother looked at us from the driver’s mirror. “Why did you have a crown?”
My middle sister, and the one who actually crowned me that night, jumped in. “She won homecoming court.”
That was perfect. Homecoming court. It was perfectly vague. It was safe.
My mother’s gaze raked me. Finally, she said “I didn’t know you could do that? What foolishness was losing the crown?”
It was the response of someone who did not have a cultural understanding of what homecoming was. It was perfect. We drove home in mostly silence that night. I, was particularly exhausted from a night that was scary, messy, beautiful, and perfect.