Dean Hunter’s Winning Essay for HARO’s 2016 Scholarship for LGBT+ Alumni

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Dean Hunter is studying Communications at the University of Wyoming. He hopes to either investigate child abuse for the FBI, or go into nonprofit marketing.

Please describe how being LGBTQ* has impacted your education, both in a conservative Christian home-school environment, as well as the at the post-secondary level.

For an LGBT child in a conservative Christian environment, survival often means faking everything about themselves, including educational choices. For me, a bisexual transgender boy, this was certainly the case.

My parents said that they believed in me, but what they believed in was a farce. My parents, conservative, Bible-believing, believers in Growing Kids God’s Way, believed they were raising a girl, ignoring my uneducated and desperate attempts as a small child to tell them I was a boy. They educated me at home from the time I was learning object permanence to the time I graduated high school with about 500 other homeschoolers from our state.

From an early age, I learned to decode what they wanted to hear and see from me. I pushed the boundaries early on and asked them to call me boy names, and let me wear boy clothes, and expressed aspirations to do “male dominated” careers. I was a woman, they said. I could do anything I wanted – as long as I maintained a feminine appearance, and was prepared for a career that wouldn’t be too “butch.”

Exhausted from fighting them, I constructed a convincing caricature of a daughter they could be proud of. I figured pretending to be who they wanted me to be would take off some of the pressure. I pursued extracurricular activities that they approved of, rehearsing the right things until I almost convinced myself that I was satisfied with the educational and extracurricular pursuits my parents nudged me towards.

It was a game of survival. If I had ever come out to them, and insisted I wasn’t just a tomboy, but really a boy, I knew all hell would break loose. Dealing with undiagnosed depression, anxiety, and gender dysphoria was enough of a battle for me, so I continued to bury and hide my true self. I told my parents I wanted to be a writer because that was where I could construct a world where I could live out my dreams of being comfortable in my skin, and pursuing life without the weighty expectations my conservative Christian parents had. I put off taking classes and activities that would have enhanced my real goals in order to inhabit imaginary worlds where I could finally breathe.

I often wonder now if my parents had sent me to public school, as they later did with some of my siblings, if I would have done even better in school and found that I was not alone, not a freak, not something to be buried under a socially acceptable mask.

My internalized transphobia and biphobia crippled my ability to make good decisions and the pressures that made learning and existing difficult transferred to post-secondary education. Initially I went to community college, and then to Grove City College, to please my parents. My college career was interrupted due to financial difficulties, and then I was married, and then had a child.

The birth of my son set off a chain of internal events that forced me to finally confront the truth: I was bisexual and transgender, and had severe depression and anxiety that needed to be addressed. My ex pushed me to finish school quickly on an online school, to help support his career that was not paying our bills, when I should have been getting help. I turned to drinking, and failed out. We are now in the middle of divorce proceedings. I am in a heated battle to have equal access to my son, fighting bigotry in conservative Virginia courts and in my ex spouse.

This spring semester, I have finally enrolled in classes to finish my degree at the University of Wyoming while living with my parents. I am taking two 18 credit semesters and a two summer courses to finish by December 2016 and minimize the time I’m away from my child. To do that, I picked the degree that had the most appeal and will help me get back to my son as quickly as possible.

Now that I’m fully out as transgender and bisexual, I feel much more confident in my life. While there are still factors causing extreme stress, I am approaching these issues from a place of confidence in knowing who I am. I am able to seek the mental, financial, and academic help I need, whereas before, I was too busy hiding myself in shame to even know where to begin to look for help, or even to think I deserved help. The staff and faculty at the University of Wyoming have been respectful regarding my gender and name preferences, and that has helped me incredibly have the confidence to succeed.

In conclusion, while being LGBT during my earlier education in a Christian, conservative homeschool environment didn’t impact my grades negatively, or hinder me from receiving an education, it certainly influenced me to pursue paths and options and waste time on things my parents approved of, for fear of being found out and ostracized. I wasted years of time trying to survive, when I could have been working towards education and career goals that they deemed too masculine. Even now, I am making educational choices influenced primarily by being transgender in order to jump through legal hoops to have a fair shake at being involved with my son. Being a bisexual and transgender man has profoundly impacted my education.


Author: The HARO Team