Their families are supportive, their schools are trying, and their futures are bright. Is it a sign that society is being fixed?
A Conversation With Staley Munroe
Prizm creative director Staley Munroe sat down recently with three fellow transgender Ohioans to talk about their lives, their experiences and their hopes for the future.
Zane Stapleton, 18; Allison Kurtz, 17; and Riggins Vaughn, 14, are out—since ages as young as 11. They have parents and siblings who love them. They attend schools, even if it took some searching, that are supportive.
Every day has its challenges that they face with courage and a determination to remain authentic. They’ll be honored on June 23, along with other young people who are part of Southwest Ohio’s new Living With Change Foundation, as grand marshals for Cincinnati Pride.
Here is a portion of Staley’s conversation with Allison, Riggins and Zane. It might not illustrate every trans person’s experience, but we think it offers a hopeful glimpse of what’s possible when families and communities embrace LGBTQ youth.
Staley: Middle school for me was a nightmare. High school was kind of a nightmare, maybe a little bit better. Tell me about the culture of your schools. Have people been supportive? Have your friends gone on this journey with you?
Allison: I went through Catholic schools up until sophomore year of high school, at which point I came out as trans and they disallowed me from returning. So that was fun…
Staley: How did you come into your current school situation?
Allison: It was the nearest public school, and they were very, very helpful. Very considerate. Lakota West (in suburban West Chester) is like a dream school.
Staley: How about you, Riggins? What’s it been like being around a bunch of middle schoolers?
Riggins: I kind of came out and I kind of told people to call me this and that in 7th grade. It was kind of when I was having some questions about myself. … From intermediate school to middle school it was a different school, so new people, so I could then come out and it was a little better.
Staley: A fresh start…
Riggins: But it was still the same, kind of. People talked. I knew. People talked behind my back and stuff. It was difficult at first. My friends, I kind of told them before school started, “Call me by Riggins now, say he, him. My friends were really supportive. I had none that were like, “I’m not going to do that.” What was harder was just the people at school. I didn’t get my name legally changed until maybe half-way, three-fourths way through the 7th grade.
Staley: How did that feel when it was official?
Riggins: It was amazing. It was awesome.
Staley: Feels so good, right? You’re celebrating that now, aren’t you, Allison?
Allison: Just yesterday. It was interesting…. It wasn’t that interesting. It was only us in this tiny little courtroom, and the judge had just had mouth surgery, so she was like, “I can’t smile, but I’m very happy for you.”
Zane: I love that.
Staley: Zane, tell us a little about your social interaction when you chose to present yourself authentically and what the response was.
Zane: So, I came out when I was 11. I actually found out what the term transgender meant from YouTube when I watched a little documentary called “Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change” that showcased these other trans kids. I was like, “Wow, I feel like they do.” I thought about it. I felt it in my soul that this was probably what was going on. So right then and there, I sat my parents down and like, “Look, I’m this.” And then at school, I was also like, “Hey, you know, this is what’s going on.”
Staley: At 11?
Zane: Yes, at 11. Which didn’t go so well, probably because no one really knew what transgender meant. No one really knew what that was or anything of the sort, so it was very hard. My friends were as supportive as 11-year-olds could be without knowing what it was.
Staley: Do you think the older people in your lives were thinking it was a phase because you were so young? Or do you feel like maybe your peers thought this was like make-believe?
Zane: Yes. To both. The school was not so much a phase but like, “You’re confused. … You hang out with primarily boys and maybe they’re wearing off on you.” And my friends, some of them were like, “That doesn’t even exist,” and I’m like, “Yes it does! It was on YouTube!”
Staley: What are the ways you’ve seen the dynamics in your families change since you’ve transitioned?
Allison: Nothing much has changed in my family. … It’s the same way it’s always been. They swapped out brother for sister. And like, Allison. The only difference is my dad calls me sweetie instead of champ.
Staley: I love that. That’s so great. How about you, Riggins?
Riggins: My mom and my step-dad, they were on it, like, immediately. If they screwed up, they were like, “Oh God, I’m so sorry. But it wasn’t like they would screw up all the time. They got it down. My grandparents, they got it, they were totally accepting, but you know, they were a little slow. They screw up sometimes.
Staley: How about you, Zane?
Zane: When I came out, my mom was also immediately on it. … My dad was a little bit harder to deal with. He didn’t exactly accept that I was changing from his daughter to his son. He came around, but it just took a lot longer. I had two brothers. One of them is all right. He calls me Zane, he/him/his, all of that stuff. My other brother, unfortunately, passed away in 2016 from a drug overdose. He was always like standing up for me and making sure that my friends acknowledged me this way. He like actually threatened to beat up some of my friends for being disrespecting toward me!
Staley: You mentioned your father coming around. What advice do you have for people who have someone they love who comes out to them?
Allison: It seems a lot more daunting than it is. It seems like there’s trip-wires everywhere and you don’t want to set them off. Really, it’s just as simple as, do not refer to them with male pronouns and terms. Just don’t describe them in that way. And the opposite for trans men.
Riggins: If they screw up, like with my grandparents, it’s fine. They called me (my former name) for like 12 years and she and her. Think of it as like, it’s just the opposite. You kind of just erase the opposite gender, like for you, male, or for me, female. Don’t erase those memories, but just focus on she is he.
Staley: I tell people to think of a butterfly. You know, a caterpillar is a caterpillar, and it’s meant to be and that’s great. It was made to be that. And then when it turns into a butterfly, it’s now a butterfly, you know?
Zane: Remind yourself you’re also kind of going through a transition yourself. … You may have to remind them to give you gentle reminders: “Hey, I prefer this, this, this and this. Because it definitely does take time to rewire how you address someone, especially with parents, because you have been addressing your child as so-and-so for so long, and now they’re different and they’re going by these new names and pronouns.
Staley: Allison, you had a big day yesterday. Zane, you’re graduating from high school. Riggins, you’re going to start high school. You all have big things going on right now. How do you feel about your futures?
Allison: Every day’s going to be another change, and every day’s going to be a new challenge to tackle that change, and I’m OK with that.
Riggins: I see myself participating in Pride things, transgender things. I see myself helping others who feel the same as I do.
Zane: I went from wanting to be a doctor to wanting to be a professional ballet dancer. … Hopefully I can show people you can truly do whatever it is you want to do. It’s up to you.