“I told an older lady at a Chanukkah party that when I grew up, I wanted to be a boy,” Alex Myers says. “When that wasn’t an acceptable answer, I said I wanted to be the Lone Ranger.”
Myers, assigned female at birth, grew up in the town of Paris — that’s Paris, Maine. He says, laughing that he traveled to Norway, Sweden, and Paris without going more than twenty or so miles. (Maine also has a Sweden and a Norway.) He was a member of his town’s only Jewish family and grew up with what he describes as an affinity for labels. As a child he identified with the idea of a tomboy, then as a teenager experimented with the aesthetic of butch. It was only the summer after his junior year that Myers realized that the word he was really looking for was “transgender.”
He recounts that the first encounter he had with the idea of being transgender was at a pride parade in Boston with a youth group he was a part of. He was marching as a lesbian, a cisgender girl attracted to other girls who dressed in flannel shirts and had close-cropped hair. His group marched between an organization called Lesbian Avengers that sported shaved heads and bare chests and a group of happy, tattooed women who called themselves Dykes on Bikes.
And it was then, talking to those women, that Myers thought for the first time that he did not have the same pride in femininity as they did. “For the first time,” he says. “The world saw me as a boy. And that just felt so good, so right, that I decided then and there that I couldn’t go back.”
Myers graduated from Phillips Exeter in 1996, the school’s first transgender student. After a phone call to the dean two weeks before school opened, he began to live his life as male at Exeter. It wasn’t easy – the girl originally in his double opted not to room with him and he had more than a few teachers struggle with his pronouns. But Myers lives by the philosophy that “If people don’t get it, you need to say: let’s talk about it.”
He tells two stories that he feel exemplify his experiences at Exeter. “A woman saw me on the stairs in Hoyt, my dorm, and said ‘Oh, it’s so nice that you’re helping your sister move in!’” and then, “I wanted to get voted ‘most changed since freshman year,’ and I didn’t get it. I complained to my friend, who laughed in my face and said ‘Are you kidding? You haven’t changed at all!’”
To Myers, those two stories represent how transgender identity should be understood. There is the external of gender, how you look, and the internal of gender, how you really feel. In returning to Exeter to speak this summer, Myers answered many questions clarifying what he thought gender really was.
“How do I define gender? I try not to,” he said. Myers is a presence who combines both warmth and intellect in the way he talks—He heads a transgender affinity group at Exeter during the regular session and he has a spectacular talent for reaching out and articulating the feelings of confused youth. No question is too weird or stupid around him. When asked about specifics regarding his transition, he responds “Testosterone is a great drug, I recommend it,” which sends the room into gales of laughter. Tensions fell and the basement of the Academy Center became a space for understanding and support this Tuesday.
In a world where identity is becoming increasingly malleable for young people, voices like Myers’ are incredibly important for students to hear. During his presentation, he’s asked his best single bit of advice for transgender students.
Myers thinks about it for a moment, and then says to a room of young people who have made the choice to listen to his story and empathize, educate, and explore in their own lives: “Advocate for yourself. That is how minds are changed.”