My Name is Dante Santos

Disclaimer: I’m writing this piece about my own experiences. This is not all transitions. This is about one transition – mine. My opinions are not intended to represent the opinions of any group of people or persons.

My name is Dante. I was born and raised female, but I will graduate college as the man I have always been. I think this is the simplest way to describe my transition. Practically everyone at Olin transforms in one way or another during their time here. Some emerge from their high-school shells. Some grow ridiculous facial hair. Others discover a passion for robotics. My transformation has been, and will continue to be, logistically and culturally more complicated than these examples. I have been on hormones for over six months now. At this point, I’m presenting (perceived as) male full-time. Still, whenever I hear people say “excuse me, sir” and “he was first” and “ask him” my heart jumps and I try not to grin like an idiot. Transitioning from female to male has been, and will continue to be, a long and arduous journey, but I chose Olin to be the place where I would transition, and I believe I chose correctly.

Before we begin my story: There are a few massive misunderstandings in our culture about what it means to be trans. Unfortunately, due to the perceived awkwardness of the subject and its relative newness to the social consciousness, it’s often difficult to have a conversation about the truths of being Trans. Here is a crash course.

The words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are frequently used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Sex is physical. It is the appearance of your body – your chromosomes and genitalia. It’s usually binary, whereas gender is much more difficult to define. Gender is a multi-dimensional continuum that has nothing to do with the colors you like or whether you played with dolls or trucks as a kid. It is what it is – a facet of identity, like your desired major or favorite food, needing no justification or defense. Culturally, the two descriptors are linked because people are usually raised into a gender role that matches their sexual characteristics. This, however, is not always accurate. Even if a person isn’t trans, they’re not likely to fit inside the strict cultural boxes of girly or boyish.

march2013_dantequoteIt is also important to remember that gender and sex do not immediately indicate sexual orientation or sexuality. During transition, sexuality may change, or it may not. No matter the situation, it is incredibly difficult to accurately and non-offensively describe these aspects of a person’s identity. For instance, a MTF (male-to-female) transgender woman is not “a gay man becoming a woman to more easily be with men.” Her sex (male at birth), gender identity (female), and desired partner’s sex or gender (male) are all separate. The terminology is not interchangeable. Referring to her as a man at all (gay or not) is unspeakably offensive.

Our cultural awareness of transgenderism is relatively new. It is so hard to be politically correct. The best any one can do is be respectful. If you are unsure of what pronouns to use with someone, ask them politely which they prefer. If this seems inappro priate, use (as grammatically incorrect as it is) “they” and “them.” Do NOT use “it.”

The term “trans” is usually a shortened version of “transgender” which is a catch-all for gender variant flavors. On the other hand, a transexual person has a gender (identity) directly contradicting their sex (physical attributes). Often, transexual individuals will choose to transition (culturally, hormonally, and/or surgically) in order to outwardly represent their internal gender identity.

I’m chronically flippant and irreverent when it comes to the trans scene, and I believe firmly that if you take yourself too seriously and don’t have fun the world will never listen. I tend to refer to all “gender variant” or “trans” people as Gender Fabulous. This is not a widely adopted practice nor encouraged for the general public.

So what’s my story? First off, there is no archetypical “trans story.” There is an incredible complexity in each individual case far beyond “I played with dolls rather than trucks so I just knew.” Having said that, my story is as typical as it gets.

On the playground in 3rd grade, when the boys and the girls formed teams and had little war games, I was always a double spy. I always hated dresses and never played with dolls (though this probably had more to do with me being a super-practical engineer rather than a boy). I had trouble telling the difference between boys and girls and – most telling of all – I always hated my body.

It was at 13 that I realized then that I preferred being a guy to being a girl. I was writing living fiction – I invented a bunch of fake online personas and made them interact on public forums. In time, all the female personas faded away and I was left with just the males. They were just easier to be.

My living situation at the time didn’t allow me much freedom of self-expression, so I continued living as a girl until I came out to my father and his family on Christmas in my junior year of high school. I was lucky. They were all extremely supportive and caring people and the news was greeted with a mixture of “well, duh!” and “interesting…” and “so… what now?” Basically, the best anyone can hope for. My dad reads all the books and goes to all the talks and joins all the groups. He’s probably more active in the community than I am at this point.

Once I got out of my hostile living situation, I started shifting to a more masculine appearance and looking for colleges. I knew coming in that Olin accepted and even supported all sorts of atypical student behavior. I didn’t keep secret the fact that I was trans, but it wasn’t public knowledge for my first two years here either. Everyone who knew was respectful and supportive. Nobody who learned reacted negatively. So, at the beginning of this school year, I had no reservations about sending out an all-students email briefly explaining my situation and how I would prefer for everyone to call me “Dante” and use male pronouns for me.

I didn’t consider this to be a “coming out” notice or some high-horsed point of contention. It didn’t cross my mind. I just thought it would be unreasonable to expect people to refer to me differently when I hadn’t even asked them to.

That’s why, when responses started pouring in, I was dumbstruck.

I got emails congratulating me, thanking me for sharing this aspect of my life with people, and most frequently, telling me I was brave. It hadn’t even occurred to me that courage was required to send out that email. It was only once five different people had replied saying how brave I was that I realized how well this captures the amount much faith I have in our community. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that an Oliner might have reacted negatively to it. Deep down, I knew that even someone in as precarious a position as mine had nothing to fear. That is how good you are.

Needless to say, it warms my heart. Professors have politely asked me what I prefer to be called, after hearing something through the grapevine, and now they get my name right more often than my friends did at the beginning. Nick helped me get a medical single and AJ went out of his way to change the name slip on my door. In less than a semester, almost the entire community has changed what they call me.

In my time here not a single person has called into question my identity or acted towards me without respect. We all do our best to be our best, living to the standards set by the Honor Code and by those around us. Olin is the most caring and supportive place I have ever been, and I am incredibly happy that this is where I chose to be.

Thank you, Olin. I appreciate it.