Male on campus, female back home


Alex Smith hasn’t always been Alex Smith.

And he still isn’t in all situations.

A senior and a double major at Detroit Mercy, Smith was born female into a conservative-Catholic, “two-cow farm” family.

Smith – the name is a pseudonym – went to a private school, wore the skirted uniform and grew up a girl.

“I went to a Catholic school from K-12 and wore uniforms until my senior year. I never had a chance to think about what people thought about me,” he said. “I used to dress really feminine. You know, dress really cute and stuff like that.”

It wasn’t until freshman year of college that Smith started realizing something wasn’t correct.

Others saw Smith as female.

“But I knew I wasn’t cisgender,” Smith said.

It was a slow discovery.

“Going through the different labels didn’t sit right with me and it wasn’t like there was a true moment (before college) where I knew I was male,” Smith said.

That moment came early last year while sitting with a friend on the back porch singing songs.

“I was singing a musical that was predominantly sung by a guy,” Smith said, “and my friend looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re a dude, right?’ and that was the solidification of ‘Oh yeah, I’m a dude.’ ” 

Currently, Smith, 21, still considers himself to be in the closet and is only comfortable being out on campus and in small groups. Wanting to become a teacher has made the transition more difficult.

“If I would’ve figured it out sooner, I would’ve started transitioning sooner and do a full transition,” Smith said. “But trying to do that as I’m starting my career, I would never get a job. And that’s my reality at this point.”

Going back into the closet for his future is going to be difficult, but Smith is preparing to do it.

The biggest issue is switching from masculine pronouns back to feminine ones.

When Smith visits home, he gets a glimpse of what the future is going to be like because his family doesn’t know that he is transgender.

“Here on campus, I got people to use masculine pronouns,” he said. “But when I go home, all that is gone. It’s all very feminine. Going home and realizing that people around me don’t see me as male (but) only female, that is where a lot of my issues come from.”

Campus offers a safe haven for Smith.

Most students are accepting of his being transgender.

He has encountered a few students who are not.

They present “minor” challenges, he said.

“It’s a toss-up of 50/50 for students,” Smith added. “They can go either way. I know some other students in my position have gotten into verbal arguments over gender and LGBTQ stuff.”

Off-campus Smith has faced some trials, like gaining the confidence to use the proper restroom but immediately having it shot down by the glares he gets when walking in.

“I have paired-anxiety so the main reason I haven’t faced a lot of things is because of that,” Smith said. “Since I am not fully out yet, I still actively go by a feminine name.”

Compared to other people in his position, Smith said he feels blessed.

“I know people who’ve been physically beaten for these types of things. Also, the sexual assault/rape rate for transition people is (high). One out of every two are going to be sexually assaulted in their life,” Smith said.

Smith said transgender is just a word to describe people who have been (or currently are) in transition.

Denying someone’s else’s identity is cruel, he said – as in “someone calling your name and expecting you to respond to it… (Then) when you tell them they’re incorrect, they tell you that you are in the wrong.” 

Smith said that the LGBTQ movement has helped open doors for people to be who they are.

 “It sucks being someone in a place where you are expected to act a certain way and do certain things,” Smith said.

He offered support to those struggling by quoting the TV show “Brooklyn 99.”

“Every time someone steps up and shows who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place,” Smith said, adding, “And, honestly, that’s my advice for everyone, not just the LGBTQ community.”