Transgender Students Shine a Light on Personal Experiences and Hardships


Freshman Leo Steger faces the world as an openly transgender man.

Riley Keiter, Writer

Freshman Leo Steger changed his name in eighth grade. He had been thinking about it for years, but only then brought up the courage to take that momentous step. After years of being known as a girl, he knew he wasn’t truly that person–he wasn’t truly a girl.


“I always described it as wet slime being shoved into your mouth–whenever I’m called ‘miss’, ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘girly’, ‘sweetie’- all these things that people just say because they assume…that person is a girl. It kind of feels like someone’s shoving wet, heavy slime and it’s just sitting in your stomach, and you feel awful, but you can’t do anything about it,” Steger said. 


Many teenagers in America, and even in West, have made this decision before; however, it’s uncommon to hear their stories. This can leave people wondering–what does it feel like to have ‘gender dysphoria’? Why do ‘dead names’ matter so much to the trans community? What is it like to come out to your family as transgender?


Steger has experience with many of these questions. For example, Leo had to come out to all his family–first his mother, and then his father and stepmother.


“My mom didn’t react that well,” said Steger, “She had one nonbinary person at work who was [rude] to people who weren’t good with pronouns, and she reflected it on me. But she was also scared that I was gonna get hurt because of being trans, and the journey it would take me on.”


Steger’s Mom has since been more accepting of his transition, and he even plans on asking her to change his name on school records. However, his stepmother still isn’t as supportive.


“My stepmom, I could tell from the beginning, was very transphobic,” Steger said. “I can tell that she purposefully emphasises on ‘she’ or ‘her’… and sometimes when they’re mad at me I can tell that she uses those words more. Which sucks, and it’s really awful and really rude.” 


He has received support from others, Steger says Oz Powell has been a huge inspiration for him.


Oz Powell is also a transgender boy at West. As a junior who has been transitioning since middle school, and started testosterone shots last year, he has lived through much more of the transgender experience than Steger has been able to.


“A kid bet me $10 that I would be a girl again someday,” said Powell. “My immediate thought was ‘What causes a person to say that?,’ but then my second thought was ‘I’m gonna win this bet.’”


Powell also has his own interpretation of knowing you aren’t truly a girl.

“The way it really feels is like an episode of a cheesy cartoon,” said Powell. “Two people are lying on medical beds, a big machine switches their brains, and they spend the entire episode trying to figure out how to live in someone else’s body.”


He specified on what it feels like to know you’re not a girl, but not be able to change it.


“In your brain, you picture yourself as completely masculine,” Powell said. “But the second someone misgenders you, you completely breakdown yourself…I didn’t even think my voice was feminine, but it was really high compared to other guys…Also, my hands are small. Guys always seem to compare hand size–especially to girls–they say ‘Your hands are so small compared to mine!’…Mannerisms are completely different between biological females and biological males. There’s lots of training you do on how to stand properly.” 


However, it seems that West has been a rather accepting community to transgender students so far– especially theatre.


“Everyone in theatre has been so sweet; everyone’s using my preferred name!” Steger said. “Even one time during a theatre [Zoom] meeting–my dead name was on the screen, but Brandon [Heflin] just said ‘Leo’ even though my dead name was right there. Even though you could see it and accidentally read it, you paused and though ‘no, that’s Leo’.”


The community also changed his outlook on coming out to teachers and student peers, not just family and friends.


“This is the most comfortable school that I’ve been at; to the point where I was planning on coming out senior year…but I’m considering just coming out sophomore year,” Steger said. “As long as you’re still just you, I think people don’t really care.” 


Powell feels similarly about the community. After spending years in it, he agrees that it’s better to be yourself.


“There is absolutely no reason to be scared or afraid,” Powell said. “Even if some people don’t like you or who you are, there will be hundreds more that will like you for who you are. The world is not as scary a place as it looks.”