Sabrina Symington reflects on her LGBT history, and shares a pivotal moment in her past that influenced the way she lives her life now.
The turning point in my own Queerstory happened back when I used to teach martial arts professionally – something I experienced both in my old life, and after I transitioned.
In my old life, there was a kid among my students who was exploring their gender. Nothing revolutionary – just a change of name and attitude. Dealing with a case of “the genders” myself, I supported them every chance I could, and we became friends.
When I left that job to live and work in Thailand, my young friend cried and said “Why do you have to go away? You’re the best teacher here!”
While I was away, I somewhat unexpectedly began my own gender exploration and started transitioning to be my true self. Over there I could change myself in a state of safety, anonymity. Tucked away from the world I knew and that knew [old] me, and returning home unrecognizable to those who knew me before.
I went back to work as an instructor, and other than those who were explicitly told, my students were unaware that I had once taught them before in another life. Stealth, they call it. Living and working as yourself, maintaining strict secrecy over your past, telling nobody that you are trans.
One Friday evening, a teenage boy walked into my class. When he told me his name I froze. I recognized the chosen name, and the unmistakable lisp, of my young friend from before – now standing here before me a young man. My overwhelming joy at seeing that my young friend had found himself was matched by my own fear of being ‘outed’. So I choked down my happiness and pretended this was our first meeting.
The class turned out to be just me and him. One on one classes are great – they give you a chance to give a student your full attention. Not to brag, but it turned out to be a killer class. Near the end of the session, with both of us rolling on the floor and laughing after a jump kick practice that devolved into some silliness, I looked at that child’s smiling face and realized there was no way I couldn’t tell this kid who I was.
So, I did the scariest thing a trans person can do, and outed myself. He was just kid, and trans himself, but telling one person leads to telling others and then your secret is out and your covert existence is ruined for good. But I had to tell him.
He immediately responded, almost incredulously, with the question: “You’re transgender?”
I said yes, and then watched that boy’s face light up like I have never seen a person’s face beam ever before or since. Because he learned that not only did his favourite teacher come back, but that she turned out to be just like him.
After that I dropped the whole stealth thing.
Not all of us have the privilege of safely being out, but I refused to live that isolating life anymore, which programs you to think there’s something wrong with you, that you need to hide from the world. I’m out and visibly trans, not for the gaze of cis people, but for my young friend. For every trans person. Just by existing in public we show each other that we’re not alone. That there is nothing wrong with us. Nothing we need to hide, especially from each other.
This next gender-ation of queer and trans kids already fills me with so much hope. They are so smart and compassionate, and they have no taste for the injustice that so many of us have had to endure. I can already tell that, when they come of age, they are going to be fighting on the front lines of the human rights battles we fight as a community today. That makes every one of us who is visible and available a martial arts teacher of sorts.
Sabrina Symington is the author of First Year Out, a striking graphic novel that follows Lily, a trans woman, as she transitions to become her true self.