For a long time, I have hesitated to put my gender identity on my professional website. The first move I made, without much fanfare, was changing my website from SamanthaLyon.com to Lyonideas.com. This was 100% related to the fact that though Samantha is my full name, it has never been used to accurately describe me. I go by Sammy Lyon and though I thought that was “unprofessional,” it is truer to my identity. This small change was only one of many to come.
As my career as a consultant and educator has flourished, my attention to my gender identity has flourished as well. Even though I always received comments from loved ones in my life about my gender fluidity, it took me a long time to start to identify as gender non-conforming, or genderqueer. I went to a women’s college, and I affirmed my right to be “a different kind of woman.” Who cares if I was masculine? I could still be a woman. In the years following college, my gender expression (the way I present myself physically and in mannerisms) has progressed to be more masculine. My great (and stylish) friend took me shopping, and when I discovered that I could actually wear clothes from the men’s section of H&M and Gap (in this skinny jean era, labor practices notwithstanding), I started to feel a new comfort in my body that I don’t think I ever felt before.
I continued to teach and lead workshops at conferences around the country, and though it’s clear from my appearance that I am not a “typical” feminine woman, I never really addressed this in my workshops. It just was who I was and I didn’t really care what people thought.
It was probably my decision to undergo top surgery–also known as a double mastectomy–that forced me to really grapple with further defining my identity. Why am I having surgery if I don’t care what I look like?
I grappled with this choice for almost two years. I went to therapy with a wonderful counselor who let me talk and work through my fears every week, I had energy sessions with a teacher and healer to dig deeper, I attended family constellations, spoke with my friends, journaled, kept audio diaries, saw a holistic doctor, and just explored the idea of whether surgery was the right choice for me. What did it mean to have surgery and not identify as a man? To not fall into the category of “female to male,” or someone “born in the wrong body?” To be genderqueer?
In the end, 2014 was an amazing year of self exploration. I am now ready to look outward in the world. My partner Sofia, a longtime program manager of youth programs at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and I are going to be moving together into the work of school trainings for educators, students and parents. It is 2015, and this has never been more needed. There is enough conversation around gender & youth that people are starting to want more information, and yet there is also so much to learn. These are our lives–we have been living them whether or not you knew about us. I didn’t choose to have gender nonconforming feelings, but I choose them now. I choose education, I choose openness, I choose loving myself enough to share my personal identity with you.
I have now come to identify as trans, not meaning “from one gender to the other,” but trans as its own gender: a third gender. I learned this from my friend one day, and when I heard it it just felt right. Also, I am transitioning into using they/them pronouns. For example: Sammy is an educator. They love to share ideas and collaborate with their brilliant colleagues!
Since being open about my gender fluid identity, I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with students and colleagues about gender that I feel are making a positive impact. Students have already come up to me and said, “Oh my gosh I feel the same way! Please, can we talk about this?” I’ve had teachers ask me lots of questions, not out of any sort of disdain but out of love and curiosity. I am clear that part of what gave me the courage to be out professionally is spending most of my time at a school where I really respect the leadership and work with incredibly dedicated colleagues. This supportive environment is definitely one in which I feel I can grow as a multifaceted educator.
This post is just one of many more reflections to come on the intersections of gender and education. If you are interested in learning more about gender fluidity, there are plenty of resources online. Tumblr is a great place to search, as youth are really at the forefront of smashing the gender binary. And this does not come at the expense of other issues such as environmental, racial and economic justice, and centering women and women’s experiences. The conversation around gender is not intended to distract from the myriad of issues I work with educators and students to address, but to add to the fabric and the richness. I look forward to what is to come.
Note on 2/15/15: For an excellent resource explaining ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun see “How using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun can change the world,” by Davey Shlasko.