GSA welcomes transgender guest speaker


Photo Credit: Patricia Whyte

Leo Caldwell (left) and his wife, Amy Caldwell (right) both spoke at the GSA assembly last Friday. GRHS was the first high school that the Caldwells presented to. “I want to be a safe place for people that need a safe place when I speak,” Leo Caldwell said.

by Patricia Whyte, Staff Writer

Transman and postgender activist Leo Caldwell visited the school on Friday, Dec. 11 to discuss with students his experiences and transvisibiliy in our society.

The assembly was hosted by the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club and all students were welcome. The goal of the presentation was to educate students about the transgender community and to reach transgender youth.

“I want to reach trans youth. I think that’s really important.” Caldwell said. “I want to show you a world that’s beyond the world you’re at right now.”

Both Leo Caldwell and his wife Amy Caldwell talked with students about the gender spectrum and what it means to be either male or female. The term gender spectrum means that gender is a continuum rather than binary, or that there are ways to identify other than just male or female. Over the course of two hours, Caldwell told students about his life and some of the things he’s learned from being a transgender man in today’s society.

Leo Caldwell, born as a female, comes from a religious family from Indiana. In the late 90s, there weren’t many resources for the transgender community nor was there very much transvisibility. Transvisibility is the presence and representation of the trans community in media and pop culture.

Caldwell told the audience that, at the time, transgender people were considered “freaks” and he himself was living with a lot of shame and secrecy about who he was. He described it as mentally and emotionally exhausting work just being himself. It wasn’t until college that Caldwell was able to embrace his masculinity. In 2007, Caldwell started his transition.

Caldwell also discussed coming out to his parents and his relationship with them now. “I would describe my relationship with my parents as awesome and awkward,” Caldwell said. Given their religious background, Caldwell found coming out to his family difficult. While they still struggle understanding each other at times, they have found respect for one another. “They’re not going to try and change me, and I’m not going to change them,” Caldwell said.

“Living your truth” was also a topic of conversation at the presentation. “To me, living your truth is listening to what you have to say about your life and where your life should go and be,” Caldwell said. “We have to recognize the space that’s right for us.”

Caldwell promoted that that “space” may not be entirely female or entirely male. He advocated that there needs to be more representation of people in the middle in our society.

One sophomore, Edison Donovan, agreed with the need for more representation.

“As someone who identifies as trans, I think this was really important, especially for allies in the audience, because we see another side of trans representation. We see somebody else who doesn’t necessarily conform so much to the gender binary,” Donovan said. “He talked so much about the gender spectrum and where he falls on it, and he says he sort of falls in the middle, and I think that the more trans narratives we get out there the better, so people know, especially young trans kids, know there’s not just one way to be.”

The event was funded by profits from the GSA’s recent t-shirt fundraiser. Many wore their GSA t-shirts to the assembly, creating a sense of community with the students. GSA co-adviser, Mrs. Nicole Rusin, found Leo Caldwell through a mutual friend and thought that students could learn form talking with someone who has experienced what he has.

“It’s a once in a life time opportunity. I think that it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and to speak with somebody who can educate you in a way that your teachers can’t. We don’t have any teachers here who are transgender, so what a great way to learn from somebody who is,” Rusin said.

Caldwell also publishes a monthly column in the Penscola News Journal and Courier-Post. Through these columns he is able to reach and educate an older generation of people across the country. “I want to spread the spectrum idea, and get more people on board with that that aren’t exposed to it,” Caldwell said.

By presenting to high school students, Caldwell is able to connect with a generation that he describes as more open and wanting the world to change.

“Presenting to you guys, it’s easy. You’re open to these ideas, it’s not an argument, it’s just excitement around the conversation,” Caldwell said.