By: Cardozie Jones, Manager of Youth Programming
In November of 2014, the Live Out Loud team attended a panel discussion called Transgender Perspective: In and Out of the Workplace in which transgender women from various walks of life shared their stories and experiences. After an insightful and inspiring evening, one of the panelists, make-up artist Ally Castillo, left our team particularly moved. Her openness, perseverance and vulnerability made her the exact type of role model Live Out Loud wants to connect to the students in our school programs.
Last week, Ally accompanied me to the GSA at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. The topic at hand was Living Authentically. Ally, only having decided to fully transition to living a fully expressed life as a woman in the last year, was the perfect person to speak to students about the choices, the gains, and the challenges that accompany living authentically.
Roosevelt students had no trouble weighing in on what authenticity means to them. “You get the satisfaction of being who you truly are,” one student said. “I’ve seen teachers try to be some type of way they clearly aren’t comfortable with being,” another student added, “And it looks exhausting.”
I also asked students what challenges one might encounter in the face of choosing authenticity. We wouldn’t be talking about it if it was easy, I told them. One student offered a particularly provocative response. “One of the challenges of living authentically is that you’re faced with the reality of who you are, and that can be scary.”
This was a perfect segue for Ally to share her experiences with the students. Like many of us, Ally has spent a great deal of her life placing the needs of others before her own need to be authentic. Sometimes, she says, it’s about sacrifice. There were other times, however, when she found herself asking others for permission to be herself. This, she has learned through the guidance of her sister and confidant, is unacceptable. “You don’t ask them for permission,” she shared, “You just show up and be who you are.” As a speaker, Ally can’t help but to be the sensitive and vibrant woman she is, and as I gazed around the group, it was clear that that energy was being reflected on the faces of the students.
A final thought shared by Mr. Cacioppo, the GSA advisor, was that being authentic is also the pathway toward having authentic relationships with others. As students navigate high school and the scary adventure that lies just beyond it, this is such an important lesson for them to carry with them. The daily choice to be authentic is one that permeates every other aspect of a person’s life and, in the long run, will allow them to live a life that they can be proud of.