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Commentary: Growing up trans

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Commentary: Niko Summers

Figuring out one’s identity can be a life-altering process. Mills College student Skylar Crownover sent us this commentary about how the way people perceive gender affects a very basic part of their day.

SKYLAR CROWNOVER: As I stand in the bathroom, hands soapy under the hot water, I can feel their eyes burning holes into the back of my head, while they try to decide what might be between my legs – as if it’s any of their business. I have never understood this impolite and intrusive behavior that has followed me throughout life. When did society deem it okay to recheck the sign on the door when you walk in and see me, or to directly say, “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom?” There has been no change in the force with which this question hits me as it repeats itself at seven, ten, 15, 18 years of age. In a society that insists bathrooms are based on biological sex, you are not allowed to ban me based on my gender. I wish I could say that this was uncommon – that these were isolated events, isolated to me – but bathrooms pose an incredible challenge to transgender and gender non-conforming people. When I was ten, I used to sneak into the men’s bathroom because it was easier. In the men’s bathroom, I wasn’t questioned. It was freeing. But that is no longer a safe option, so I am forced to endure the accusing, disgusted looks Bathrooms are not the place for society’s microscope. A little privacy, please?

We heard a lot about that sense of feeling out of place while we were putting this show together. Niko Summers recently shared his story with producer Noah Miller of San Francisco’s OutLoud radio.

NIKO SUMMERS: What I can remember from 6th grade through 8th grade is the boys asking me, “Why aren’t you hanging out with the girls?” because I would always hang out with the boys. They would get annoyed. They would get angry. They would get intimidated, and they would get scared because there was a girl hanging out with them. And girls aren’t supposed to play with boys in middle school, especially in 6th through 8th grade. Boys are staying in their own pack – they don’t let other girls in. And the fact that I wanted to be like them, the fact that I wanted to be a boy like them, was so confusing to them that it was like, “Just get out of here. Just don’t interact with us. We don’t have time for that.”

My name is Niko and I have two moms, Elizabeth and Sally. Sally is Caucasian and Elizabeth is African-American and they have been together for 35 years. They have 12 children. I have nine brothers and three sisters, 13 including me. So there was always around three or four of them living with me at a time.

Yeah, I have a very big, queer extended family. So, I live in a Victorian house, which has many rooms – and me and three of my brothers shared a room. I would always see my brothers working outside with big power tools and all this cool stuff, digging up lots of dirt, their muscles going, throwing the ball for the dog, and doing all this stuff.

I always grew up around that, lots of masculinity. And I was just this little girl, trying to figure out where she really belonged, if she was really a she, and stuff like that.

At first I came out as a lesbian because I wanted to keep my femininity. I wanted to keep every part of me that was feminine, and I didn’t really know what trans was. I was kind of timid to what that would be for me, and what that would be like. But because I was attracted to females and I saw that my brothers were always bringing over girls, I thought, well, maybe I should just be a male.

As my brothers moved out, I became really more comfortable with myself and who I was. I had to go through people teasing me about not dressing my gender, not looking like my gender. I started becoming more aware of why am I doing this; is this okay; is this right for me?

The fact that my parents kept encouraging me to do all these things and to keep myself involved, made it hard for me to feel like I was not supposed to be doing it. Two of my most proud supporters were supporting me with this.

Niko Summers is a youth leader and producer at outLoud Radio. He spoke with outLoud radio’s Noah Miller.

If you or someone you know is 24 or younger and interested in taking part in this LGBTQ youth media project, go to outloudradio.org or contact outLoud Radio on Facebook. 

Crosscurrents transgender
Holly Kernan is the architect of the award-winning Public Interest Reporting Project. She is currently news director at KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco. In 2009 she was named Journalist of the Year by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Kernan teaches journalism at Mills College and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and has taught at Santa Rosa Junior College, Youth Radio and San Francisco State University's Lifelong Learning Institute. She lives in Oakland with her husband, Mike, daughter, Julia, and retired greyhound Benjamin Franklin.