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Episode three of 'TEA: the Transgender Experience in Arkansas' featuring Grayson Brown

Sophia Nourani

Grayson Brown: "I knew something was weird, at probably like [age] 12-ish. And like at 12,13, around then, I thought maybe I'm nonbinary, just like, not a girl. And so I started experimenting with that. And it felt not quite right, but better. And then one of my best friends in the world, he came out as a trans guy, and I was like, oh, that's yeah, that's me too."

Sophia Nourani: "And sort of going off on that, when you were a child, did you prefer to wear your hair or your clothing in any particular way? And do you wear chest binders?"

Brown: "Yeah, I do bind. Which is interesting because some people think it's super counterintuitive. Like it's terrible for your body. Which yeah, maybe a little bit. But so is feeling terrible, just like walking around every day [not binding]. But I just keep my hair short. Clothing wise, I usually wear baggy clothes, just to hide my chest and, like, the way I'm shaped, more either, like, masculine or unisex clothes, bigger clothes, stuff like that."

Nourani: "When did you come out to your family? Can you describe that experience and their reaction?"

Brown: "Yeah, so I came out to my family first as nonbinary. I don't want to say they didn't care. They didn't have much of a reaction though, because they didn't think that it would be anything lasting. They thought it was just, like, I wanted to do something a little fun. So they didn't really do much with it. They just kind of said, okay, you go do your thing. But when I came out as a trans man to them at age 13, they still thought that it was just like something that would go away in a few weeks. Obviously, it did not."

Nourani: "Right. How did coming out to your family compare to your experience with coming out to friends?"

Brown: "A lot of my friends at the time were queer in some way. A few of them are trans, so they were really accepting. Some of my really close friends were like ‘Okay, cool. You're a dude now’. It wasn't a big thing, they were just saying ‘It's cool, that's who you are to us.’ My family was more like, whoa, like pump the brakes. My family is much more, I don't want to say conservative about it, but like not super receptive."

Nourani: "The Arkansas legislature enacted a law, Act 542, 'The Given Name Act,' which bans teachers and other school employees from using a student's preferred pronouns, or name unless the school has written permission from a parent or legal guardian. Did you obtain permission? And are your teachers respecting your pronouns?"

Brown: "Yeah, so the way that the bill sounds [is] very scary. What I did in years past, I just email my teachers and say, hey, this is me, different than the roster. But this year, I had to email them and say I have written consent. All my teachers are very respectful and accepting. A lot of teachers that I have, if they have trans students who don't go by the name on the roster that don't have written consent, they will just call them by their last name, instead of using their 'dead' name and outing them and making them feel bad. School isn't the greatest place to be a trans person. But my teachers do make it a lot better by just helping me out, just that little bit, by calling me by my preferred name, my actual name."

Nourani: "Another new law, Act 317, known as 'The Bathroom Bill' bans students from using a multiple occupancy bathroom or changing area inconsistent with the sex listed on their birth certificate. If a student doesn't want to identify as male or female, the law stipulates that the school shall provide a reasonable accommodation, such as a bathroom or a locker with space for only one person at a time. How has Fayetteville High School accommodated you in this situation?"

Brown: "It's a massive campus, [with only] one bathroom that I can use, because it is a single bathroom that's available to students. So there's like one time during the day when I'm close enough to reasonably go to that restroom and not take like 15 minutes out of my class. So it is very irritating that they don't have more accommodations."

Nourani: "So you plan to obtain gender affirming medical treatment after you turn 18. What sort of medical treatment do you want to pursue? What does that look like for you?"

Brown: "Yeah, so, the number one thing would just be testosterone and hormone replacement therapy. Once I turn 18, the second thing is top surgery, a double mastectomy is the medical term. That's my biggest area of discomfort, is my chest. So as soon as possible, I'm booking by myself for surgery and getting that done."

Nourani: "So what are your interests in and out of school?"

Brown: "So inside of school, academically, I am really interested in social sciences, like sociology, psychology. But outside of school, or outside of academics, I am in choir. And that's a really big part of me. It's just something that really means a lot to me, a really great community, something I really, really enjoy. I like listening to music, I write a little bit of music, and sing. I'm beginning to learn guitar, even though it's very iffy. But it's getting there."

Nourani: "Have you attended any LGBTQ plus pride events in Fayetteville?"

Brown: "Yeah, I went to one. I think it was the summer before last. I went to the Pride Parade. This summer, I was not able to make it, unfortunately. But, yeah, the stuff that we have here in Fayetteville, for like Pride and inclusivity, is, I think, a lot better than almost all of Arkansas can boast. So it's really good to be part of it."

Nourani: "What do you want to do after you graduate high school?"

Brown: "I don't know where, but go to college and get my undergraduate in social work. And a minor in either gender and sexuality studies, or LGBTQ+ studies, and then get my master's in social work. And like my end goal, like when this happens, it's a success point, is a private practicing licensed clinical social worker. So like, when you think of therapy, kind of like that."

Nourani: "So you've lived in Fayetteville your whole life. Do you want to stay in Arkansas?"

Brown: "I love Fayetteville. I really do love it here. I do not want to stay here. It's just not really for me at this point. I love Arkansas, genuinely I do. Arkansas does not love me. Like, it's just not really a place that can accommodate me anymore."

Nourani: "Do you have any advice or any words for trans-youth that are having similar experiences to yours?"

Brown: "I can't say much because I've barely lived it. But it can be the worst ever to be trans, especially in Arkansas, and especially as a teenager. But it's also so fun. Like it's just, it's a really, really great community. You can make a lot of really great friends. It's a very unique thing to experience. And I feel like even in the times when it's really hard, just like you're getting through it, and you should just be happy with what you have. And this unique part of you that no one else understands, which again, can be not great, but it's also super cool."

Nourani: "I like that."

Brown: "Yeah."

Nourani: "Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you wanted to share?"

Brown: "Yeah, actually, I was thinking about it over the past week. Like the way that being trans can affect, like, relationships. I feel like a lot of people don't talk about it. [As for] romantic relationships, my dating pool is basically only other trans people. Dating a cis [heterosexual] person can be terrifying, like in the sense that it's very easy for them to not see me as a guy. And so my dating pool is teeny tiny. There's a lot of trans people at Fayetteville High School, but compared to how many people are there, it's really not that many. So just being trans can be a very, very limiting experience. It can be very restrictive. That's a part of it that I feel like a lot of people don't really talk about much."

Nourani: "Okay. Well, thank you for sharing that."

Brown: "Thank you for having me. It's great to be here."

Nourani: "Of course. Thank you for speaking with us."

That was 16-year-old Grayson Brown, speaking with host Sophia Nourani for KUAF's Listening Lab series, "TEA: the Transgender Experience in Arkansas." "TEA" was filmed by Emerson Alexander, edited by Sophia Nourani, and produced by Jacqueline Froelich. To view this episode and previous episodes search TEA on Listening Lab.

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Emerson Alexander is the coordinator of KUAF's Listening Lab.
Sophia Nourani is a KUAF producer and reporter.
Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for Ozarks at Large.
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