For a year, I taught three days a week and washed windows two days a week and looked forlornly at a thesis I knew would never become a book. I was lucky, though, in that I had so much support as an adjunct. I had a terrific teaching mentor with an open door, and another guiding mentor who knew I was trans and spoke with me frankly about how to handle myself professionally in the English department. He warned me against coming out to my (mostly white, straight, rural-raised) students too soon, and helped me figure out how to be true to myself and remain employable at the traditionally conservative university.
I wasn’t physically transitioning, and wasn’t sure I ever would. In 2007, I was still afraid of telling my family, afraid my girlfriend would leave me, afraid that I would face violence, afraid I’d never be able to get a job if it turned out I couldn’t pass as a man after all. And on top of that, I wasn’t even sure I was a man. To be trans in 2007 was to be headed for top and bottom surgery, testosterone, and the ability to go stealth as soon as possible.
There were virtually no people talking about nonbinary identities, and there were very few doctors in the Austin area who would even entertain the idea of prescribing testosterone. Even fewer who would feel okay prescribing T to someone who could only be sure that the identity of butch lesbian woman was not an identity that fit anymore. Any time I broached the subject with trans folks online, I was told I simply wasn’t trans if my endgame wasn’t passing as a cis male.
That year at Texas State, when enrollment dropped and I went from teaching a full load to two classes, I started considering teaching high school. I found myself thinking about teaching as much as I thought about writing, and the act of teaching students rhetoric had sharpened my own skills so much that I knew I could become a better writer if I kept pushing myself pedagogically. I’d had a few queer kids come out to me, too, after guessing that I was a safe person to talk to. The idea of getting to know students for longer than a couple of months a year appealed to me, and I wanted my own classroom to create a safe space for kids who needed one. I know I needed one in high school, and I never knew where to go with my heaviest fears.
My sons were young and sorely in need of stability, so I began an online teaching certificate program and stayed late a couple of nights a week to audit a pedagogy class for high school English student teachers. I knew there was a teacher shortage in the counties surrounding Austin, so that summer, I applied everywhere I could.
The interviews that spring were perfunctory. I could tell I was a confusing applicant. I showed up in a thrifted (yet stylish) Ann Taylor suit and introduced myself as Jack. My hair was short, my glasses square. My publications and conferences had nothing to do with education, and the online teaching certificate I was going for sounded dubious. They did not find me charming. They asked about my name. They asked if I was married. They told me that they had three positions open and there was high turnover. They said I didn’t fit their community. They said I was in the running, but never called back
After a long spring of rejections, I resigned myself to another year of windows and whatever Texas State could throw my way. Then, at the end of May, I found Griffin School.
The private, nonprofit school was in its twelfth year of existence, housed in an ancient, broken-down one-hallway building. The long rooms had been bisected with styrofoam walls, creating smaller classrooms. There were murals all over the walls, and the carpet looked as though it had been salvaged from an abandoned frat house. When I dropped off my resume on a Thursday afternoon, a smiling blonde woman with a baby on her hip emerged from an office across the hall. I was about to hand her my resume when death metal began blasting from speakers just above her head.
Tall, happy teenagers tumbled from classroom doors all down the hall. There were a lot of hair colors and hoodies. Some piercings. I handed over my resume and tried to make out what the woman with the baby was saying, but it was hard to hear anything over the grinding screams of Cannibal Corpse.
I got an interview in August, but after an entire summer of thanks, no thanks, I decided to just dress like myself and not hold anything back. I went in wearing jeans and a nice button-down and was greeted by the director, who was wearing basically the same outfit. He didn’t ask about my name. We had an intense conversation about the needs of the Griffin students, those kids who who didn’t quite fit into public schools but were bright and engaged and needed room to figure out how to be themselves.
By August 9th, I was repainting my styrofoam walls and shelves. I put a couple of comfy chairs under the bank of casement windows. I quit the windows job.