This story is about probably the first openly transgendering student at Missouri Valley College and the reporter who took the profile story assignment for the campus newspaper and a documentary film project.
Story by Kathrine Flores
While lots of people know someone who is gay or lesbian, only 8 percent, according to the GLAAD website, know someone who is transgender.
Imagine not feeling like you belong for as long as you can remember. To be as young as 3 years old and feel trapped in a body that never felt like your own.
This is how Alexis Boff described her feelings.
“I never find anything that is lasting. Nothing that ever makes me feel content…happy,” she said. Alexis is now transgendering from male to female. But, like her life, it is a path of challenges and obstacles.
According to Onlinelibrary.wiley.com, “Fifty-five transgendered youth reported on their life-threatening behaviors. Nearly half of the sample reported having seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter reported suicide attempts.”
The website continued, “Factors significantly related to having made a suicide attempt included suicidal ideation (forming ideas) related to transgender identity; experiences of past parental verbal and physical abuse; and lower body esteem, especially weight satisfaction and thoughts of how others evaluate the youths’ bodies. Sexual minority status is a key risk factor for life-threatening behaviors among transgender youth.”
THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD
Alexis Boff was born William Alexander Boff and attended Missouri Valley College for a month and a half of this 2013 fall semester. She was born male but, as young as 3 years of age, she knew that she didn’t want to be in the body that she was born into.
“When I was little, I would rather stay inside and play dress-up…Put on makeup,” Alexis said, adding that she was always jealous that other girls were “different than I was.”
Alexis knew that she was different at a very young age. Her biological parents are conservative Baptists. With her parents being so conservative and her biological father coming from the military, Alexis was unable to confront the fact that she was “different.”
Not only did Alexis’ parents avoid the aspect that she wanted to stay inside and play like all the girls were, they made Alexis “go outside and do what the other little boys were doing.”
Alexis said that during her childhood and youth, she experienced abuse and obstacles, and that eventually she ended up in foster care and was adopted by her foster parents.
By the time Alexis was in high school, she was still unsure about why she felt the way she did. She didn’t know if she were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
During her sophomore year, the courts sent her to the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch in Brighton, Mo. Alexis stayed there for the remainder of her sophomore year and her entire junior year.
“I learned that it was okay to be bi or gay,” Alexis said.
UNDERSTANDING HER FEELINGS
Alexis came to the conclusion that she was bisexual by the time she was a senior in high school. At this time in her life, she was secretly cross-dressing and wearing women’s underwear and jeans. Once she finished high school, she attended Missouri State University and that is when she fully began to wear women’s clothes.
Though Alexis is more comfortable in women’s clothing, she still has to keep a few clothes around that are for men.
“I do have guy clothing. There is still stuff…like, say I go try to get a job at a restaurant, I would have to wear guy clothing,” Alexis said.
When Alexis finally came out as being transgender in January 2013, her adoptive parents cut ties with her. “They knew I was bisexual, but they kind of accepted it as a side-effect of the abuse. But me wanting to go through with a sex change…and me wanting to live as a woman, they couldn’t accept that.” Recently Alexis decided that she wanted to try to reconnect with her adoptive family but she doesn’t want them to believe something that they don’t. “I don’t want to come across as trying to force them to believe something…they don’t believe,” she said, adding that they believe she is making a wrong choice, even though she doesn’t think being transgender is a choice.
“I remember being this way before my abuse,” she said, adding that it was an early feeling and not caused by something else.
Alexis has encountered what anyone out of the “norm” would encounter. People made rude remarks as she would walk by and whisper comments when they thought she couldn’t hear.
“I just ignore what other people say,” she said.
Alexis was convinced by her friends at Missouri State to celebrate Halloween for the first time in 10 years. She said they dressed her up as a girl and, when she went out, everyone thought she was a girl until she spoke. “I had no problem wearing a tube shirt,” she said, adding that “I felt completely comfortable in it.”
Alexis was unable to pay off Missouri State, so she didn’t attend the next semester.
COMING TO MVC…
A few months later, Alexis’ friend wanted to visit his fiance in Marshall. Alexis wasn’t doing anything at the time, so decided to accompany him for the ride. Both of them hopped on their bicycles and started pedaling. Alexis and her friend rode bikes from Springfield to Marshall. The 150-mile trip too a total of four days. They left on a Tuesday night and arrived on a Friday morning.
Once Alexis arrived in Marshall, she applied at MVC and, to her surprise, she was approved. Knowing that she was transgender, a college official asked where she would feel more comfortable living. Alexis chose to live in the women’s dorm, where an agreement was made that she could live there without a roommate and she wouldn’t be able to share a bathroom with anyone.
Despite housing accommodations by the college, personal problems arose, ending the enrollment of Alexis and leaving the film interviews of the profile assignment for reflection. Her brief enrollment had an impact on those who’d gotten to know her and upon learning about the issue of transgendering.
TRANSGENDER ISSUES: A FACT SHEET
Numbers: The GLAAD website notes that according to a Pew poll, 90 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, but only 8 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender.
According to information on the website Transgenderlaw.org, an estimated 2 to 5 percent of the population is transgender (experience some degree of gender dysphoria). The number of people who identify as transsexual and undergo sex-reassignment is smaller. Recent statistics from the Netherlands indicate that about 1 in 12,000 natal males undergo sex-reassignment and about 1 in 34,000 natal females. Over time, the gap between the reported numbers of MTF and FTM transsexuals is closing, according to information on the website.
Hate Violence: A nationwide survey of bias-motivated violence against LGBT people from 1985 to 1998 found that incidents targeting transgender people accounted for 20 percent of all murders and about 40 percent of all police-initiated violence, according to information at Transgenderlaw.org.
Academics: According to the pflagnyc.org website, LGBT students are twice as likely to say that they were not planning on completing high school or going on to college.
LGBT students are twice as likely to say that they were not planning on completing high school or going on to college.
Health: Gay teens are 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide and 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection, according to the PFlAG NYC website. GBT youth who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence are three times more likely to use illegal drugs.
Family and Shelter: The pflagnyc.org website also provides information about studies that indicate that between 25 percent and 50 percent of homeless youth are LGBT and on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care, juvenile detention, and among homeless youth.
Harassment and violence: Nearly a fifth of students are physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and over a tenth because of their gender expression. bout two-thirds of LGBT students reported having ever been sexually harassed (e.g., sexual remarks made, being touched inappropriately) in school in the past year. The average GPA for students who were frequently physically harassed because of their sexual orientation was half a grade lower than that of other students. (Website source: www.pflagnyc.org/safeschools/statistics)
A REPORTER’S NOTES…
When Alexis shared her story with me, I came to realize it was so much more than just a documentary as I had planned on originally doing. In the short time that she was here, Alexis taught me more than any class could teach me in the same amount of time.
Alexis was able to share life events that occurred, was never afraid to share emotion with me, and was completely open about everything she encountered throughout her childhood until the last time I met with her.
In the beginning, I went into the documentary project with an open mind. I wanted to see how she was treated around campus and how she dealt with different obstacles. To my surprise, she was very accepted at MVC.
The MVC students “are much more accepting to the fact that I dress the way I do. Springfield is stuck in their ways,” Alexis said.
Occasionally, I saw other students whisper when she walked by and start laughing when she passed by in the quad. I even heard someone call her “Peter Pan” one day when she was wearing her skirt. Alexis kept her head up and never let what anyone said bother her. I was very curious as to how she was able to keep her head up and show no emotion toward others. Her reply was gut-wrenching.
“I’m afraid that if I was to uncork the bottle of everything that I have hid away…that I would break down to the point where I…I would probably commit suicide. That’s what I’m afraid of. And if I kill myself, I won’t be able to help people,” Alexis said.
Alexis shared this with me on the last day on campus that I spoke with her. I also realized that I was interested in learning about her story and the issue of transgendering while probably most people have no desire to learn about it.
Alexis Boff’s story was the biggest learning experience that I have had this year. Alexis shared struggles that most people couldn’t imagine going through. Alexis said that all she wants to do is help people.
Alexis wants to get into an aspect of law, perhaps a prosecuting attorney for child molestation cases. “I want to get a therapist degree so I can offer free therapy for families that can’t afford it. Right now, that’s the only thing that makes me seem like I have value to myself,” Alexis said.
Alexis is no longer a student at MVC but, during her time here, she showed me and taught me about a lifestyle that I knew nothing about.
For me, majoring in Mass Communication which is a field about asking questions, learning new information, and having empathy in order to tell the stories of others, I learned. I also remember the quote from the movie “To Kill A Mockingbird” about how “you never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, crawl into his skin and walk around in it.”
Students and faculty who didn’t have the chance to meet Alexis and get to know her missed out on a really unique person. They missed out on learning about a lifestyle and expanding their view. “Diversity” is one of the core values of MVC. But, most of all, they missed the chance to engage themselves in a young woman’s life that was completely different from the “norm.”
If there is one thing that Alexis left me with, it is to not judge anyone because of how they look. There is a story behind EVERY person. Every person has their own journey. To be able to learn and expand our minds through their travels says a lot about our willingness to be educated.
South African leader Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”