Coming out as transgender senior year
High school seniors are counting down the last few weeks until graduation.
In the small township of Ida, Michigan, Alanna Roberts is looking back on a pretty big senior year.
She was the first student in her high school, and maybe even the whole township, to come out as transgender.
Those first few months were rough.
"A lot of guys threatened to rip out my hair extensions when I was like walking by,” she says, sitting on the front porch of the house she shares with her mom, stepdad and three younger brothers.
“A couple guys wanted to fight me because I had them. And girls would just be like, 'Oh my god, her tracks are showing, she doesn't even know what she's doing.' And just like stuff like that, you know? And I thought, well, this isn’t the worst thing in the world I could be dealing with, so I guess I’ll just deal with it.”
Last year, when she was still living as Damian, she went to prom as a guy – tux, short hair.
"A couple guys wanted to fight me...And girls would just be like, 'Oh my god, her tracks are showing, she doesn't even know what she's doing.' And just like stuff like that, you know? And I thought, well, this isn't the worst thing in the world I could be dealing with, so I guess I'll just deal with it."
After she came out as transgender, she started wearing a full face of makeup, hair extensions, and eventually, taking hormones.
During the transition, one guy compared to her Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs” – basically, a cross-dressing serial killer – in front of the entire class.
"And my teacher was like 'Go to the office!'” she says. “That was the first time I ever remember somebody like, sticking up for me and telling someone to go away, you know? I enjoy that!” she laughs.
Afraid of what people would think, but refusing to be ashamed
Before any of this, though, Roberts had to come out to her mom, Lindsay Bennett.
"That day when she told me, she just said: ‘Don't be mad, I hope you're not gonna be mad, don’t be mad ok?’" Bennett says.
Even when her eldest kid was really little, and still living as Damian – she never really fit in with the other boys. Even when Damian’s stepdad would take her fishing or try to get her into “boy things,” Damian stubbornly loved Barbies and makeup and Hannah Montana.
"And she would say all the time, 'I just wish that I was girl, so I could like the things I like, so people wouldn't be mad about it,'” Bennett remembers. “And that was coming from a kid, you know?"
Still, she says, having her teenager come out as transgender? That was hard.
Even Roberts says she sort of dumped it on her mom at all once.
"The minute I told her, I was like, 'Oh, I want hormones! I want hair extensions! I want this, that.' Like everything so crazy the moment I told her. And she was like, ok, chill out."
Bennett says she was hesitant.
"And I guess I kind of swept it under the rug for like months, because, I was too afraid. Mostly I guess I was too afraid of what everybody was gonna say and think."
"And I said 'Well you know, that's gonna cost a lot of money, you know? And I said 'I don't really know if we're gonna be able to afford all them things right now,’” she says. “And I guess I kind of swept it under the rug for like months, because, I was too afraid – mostly I guess I was too afraid of what everybody was gonna say and think."
But Roberts was persistent. So her mom started taking her to a therapist who specializes in transgender kids. They found support groups for families.
And eventually, Roberts’ therapist started prescribing hormones to help with the transition. From there, both mother and daughter say life got a lot easier, for the whole family.
Bennett says it was clear that her daughter was happier, more comfortable in her own skin. “She looked so beautiful,” she says.
So she made herself a promise: Even when Roberts’ transition was awkward, or uncomfortable, she would never be ashamed to go shopping with her, or post Facebook photos of her, or just say “I have a transgender daughter.”
"I just told myself from the start: if I'm going to be ashamed, then she's going to be ashamed of herself."
But things have been harder with Roberts’ dad. He lives out of state.
And on her 18th birthday, she says, she got a text message from him.
"When I saw 'Dad,' I got really excited, because I was like, are you serious? Because he, like, never talks to me!”
“So I go and read it, and he was like, ‘Happy birthday, you've grown in to be such a great young man,’ and all this stuff. And I was really frustrated and I was like, ‘If you were here at all the last six months, you'd know I'm not a young man and I never really was.’ And he was like, ‘I’m not gonna sugar coat anything: I was there 18 years ago when you were born, and you were born a boy.’ So that's just basically it. And that's the last time I've talked to him."
A prom dress, a boyfriend, and a future on her terms
But there's also been so much good this senior year, too.
At this point, most of the other kids forgets she’s trans, Roberts says. She feels like she’s finally blending in.
And she doesn’t want to ruin that by using the handicap bathroom the school gave her access to – so instead, she just tries not to go to the bathroom while she’s at school.
“I just hold it in until I get back to my house. I just don’t feel comfortable – I just don’t want people seeing me walk into the disabled bathroom, and being like ‘What? Why?’ You know what I mean?’
After school, she works and goes to cosmetology school at night. The whole family’s proud of how hard she’s working to get that degree – her grandfather picks her up from school and takes her to cosmetology classes; then her grandmother picks her up and brings her to their house, where she waits for her mom to finish work and finally take her home.
It’ll all be worth it in December, she says, when she gets her cosmetology degree.
And this year, she started dating her boyfriend – a guy she hadn’t seen since elementary school.
"My friend was like [to him] ‘Oh, have you seen Damian? He's trans now,’ And he was like, ‘Oh, ew!’” she laughs, thinking back on it.
“Yeah! He was like ‘Ew!’ But then, she showed him a photo of me. And he was like – OK. We started talking and he’s super sweet. He doesn't treat me like anything other than a girl. Which is great."
This spring, Alanna, her boyfriend, her mom and her grandma all went prom dress shopping.
She fell in love with a strapless, sparkly gown that brings out her blue eyes and long dark hair.
It was amazing, she says, getting to go to prom in this dress, with her boyfriend – just a year after having to go to prom in a tux, as Damian.
After high school graduation, Alanna wants to find work at a salon and support herself. She’s not sure where – she just knows, she wants to go somewhere new.
"I would get to start fresh,” she says, “and possibly not even have anyone know anything about my past. And just see me as any other woman.
“Like, it's not that I'm like, ashamed of being trans or anything. I just like blending in and not bringing any attention to myself. Because here I feel like if I go to the grocery store, everybody's staring at me.”
That's what she's most excited about, she says: finding somewhere she can just be Alanna.