At Reunions, you gave me a gift that is beyond precious. Our 35th was my first class event since graduation. I had taken my diploma with you as William Thomas White. I returned this year as Tina Madison White.
I was terrified!
I need not have been. Your gracious reception and gentle inquisitions brought welcome relief. And I thank you. But you gave me so much more.
Discussions of transgender people tend to focus on the visible drama: our change in appearance; the discomfort others feel; the violence and discrimination we face. But our greatest drama isn’t one you can see.
For most of my life, I wanted nothing so desperately as to be a man — to be a sturdy comrade, a loving husband, a gentle father. The knowledge that I wasn’t one haunted my every day.
I tried everything to fix myself — sports, therapy, medicine, prayer ... marriage. I even joined the Ivy Club, hoping that its gentle fraternity might cure me.
I did all this in secret. Not even my family must know. The one “manly” thing I could do was to protect those I loved from my shame. So it was that I wandered the halls of Princeton.
When you travel the world as someone not you, you live a life of solitary confinement. Nobody knows who you are; their expressions of affection cannot touch you. I never felt, for example, the embrace of my mother’s “I love you’s.” She was loving someone not me.
I couldn’t even have a relationship with God. It wasn’t that God wasn’t there; it was that I wasn’t.
Such solitary confinement is profoundly dehumanizing. It will destroy anyone. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court asserted that to express and share our identity is a human right. I am here to say that it is a human necessity.
When I finally graduated from Princeton, I wanted nothing more than to put my past behind me. I had experienced alienation, shame, and isolation. Who would want to return to that?
Such was my state of mind as Reunions approached. It wasn’t you I didn’t want to return to. It was myself.
But, over the weekend, something wonderful and unexpected happened. With each of our conversations, I felt decades of sorrow and alienation melting away. For the first time in my life, you were talking to me! For the first time in my life I was at Princeton!
And that was your gift. While the rest of you were celebrating your 35th reunion, I was finally attending my commencement. You supplanted decades of sorrowful memories with ones of warmth and happiness. In three days, you returned years of my life to me.
And I thank you.