Being transgender ‘doesn’t make me any less or any more. It makes me me.’

 Ari Bowman is shown in this photo, courtesy of his mother, Alisa Bowman.

Ari Bowman is shown in this photo, courtesy of his mother, Alisa Bowman.

Seventh grader Ari Bowman, 12, addressed the East Penn School Board on Monday in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Allentown. He was one of 17 people who spoke, encouraging the district to continue working toward an inclusive environment for transgender students. Published below, with the permission of Bowman’s family, is a transcript of his remarks.

Hello, my name is Ari. I am transgender. You might not know that from the look of me. I enjoy normal things. I play soccer; I like video games — just like anybody else.

I came out to all my friends over the summer, and they were all supportive of me. I change in the boy’s locker room and I have seen zero genitalia, which is why I do not understand why people would make the assumption that a transgender girl would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room.

I knew that I was transgender before I knew gender was a word, but I didn’t know how to express it. And my mom figured out that I was transgender when I was in the third grade. I started to use male pronouns in fifth grade, and I went by the name Ari.

I’ve had many people stick up for me. For instance if someone would comment an offensive remark on my Instagram post, I would get multiple text messages or phone calls saying that they would confront the person, but I never accepted any of those offers because I felt they were unnecessary.

I’ve also had my fair share of struggles. In first grade the girls would not let me use the bathroom, even though I had female genitalia. They only cared that I looked like a guy, and that made them uncomfortable. People would call me “she” when I was younger, and I felt uncomfortable because of that. I knew I wasn’t a girl, but I didn’t know what I was at that point. People would buy me girly clothes for special occasions that would get exchanged soon afterwards.

The hate that the transgender community has been receiving recently is terrible. People say things without an open mind as if we are not human beings like they are. And today people are valuing one another over not just gender and sexuality — what I am talking about — but also race, religion, looks, and even political stances.

No one is more important than another person.

When I see people say, “If you have male genitalia, use the men’s bathroom; and if you have female genitalia, use the women’s bathroom,” I don’t know what to say. If you think that genitalia will make someone uncomfortable, then think about the story I told earlier about the girls not letting me use the bathroom. They didn’t care that I had female genitalia. They cared that I looked masculine and was male at heart and they didn’t care about my body parts. What made them uncomfortable was my looks. And these were kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders — not grown adults who watch the news,

The East Penn I will always remember is the East Penn that has supported me from first grade until now, regardless of the fact that I am transgender. I remember winning the geography bee and everyone cheering when I walked into period two language arts class. I remember the end-of-the-year field day picnic with all my friends playing soccer and how fun that was. And I remember less than a week ago the joy I felt when I saw that my name was on the cadence list.

I remember all the friends I’ve had along the way, all the hugs I’ve had, and all the friends I’ll make in the future. Because my life doesn’t revolve around me being transgender. It revolves around my family, my friends, everything I love, and the conversations I have about algebra 1 honors questions.

As my mom likes to say, “People are afraid of things that they do not understand.” I hope you understand what being transgender means. It doesn’t make me any less or any more. It makes me me, and no one can change that.

Ari Bowman is a student at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

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