The summer between middle school and high school is a classic opportunity for teenage reinvention — a chance to experiment with eyeliner or lose the last few pounds of preteen baby weight. And for Mel, that summer marked the beginning of his transition from female to male. It was when he first went to the mall with a friend with a plan to get a buzz cut, despite his parents’ explicit instructions not to. Mel had kept his hair short since starting middle school and usually wore boyish clothing; still, the buzz cut was a symbolic divide. With two older brothers, he was regarded as the baby of the family and his parents’ only daughter. You’ll look like a boy! his mother warned him. Which was exactly what Mel hoped for — to more easily pass as male in public and in school around his new classmates. “‘What’s wrong with looking like a boy?’” he remembers asking his mom. “I just didn’t feel it was a problem.”
Not usually one to disobey, he looks back on that period of his life as his “rebellious stage." But what drove him to cut his hair that day wasn’t an urge to break the rules; it was a growing discomfort with his feminine body and a feeling that he “had to do it now.” The night he cut his hair and came out as transgender to his parents, he posted a selfie of his new look on Facebook. He already felt more confident. Mel started hormone replacement therapy his sophomore year and had his name and gender identifier legally changed when he was a junior. The more his classmates and teachers acknowledged him as a boy, the more comfortable he became.
With the help of some friends, he created a safe zone for other LGBT students at his high school by starting a Gay Straight Alliance chapter. “We were supposed to get a petition ratified to show that there were people on campus where would be interested in joining,” Mel says. “Our goal was 200, and we had like over 500 signatures — so many people were receptive to the idea.”
When Texas students in other cities have tried to create GSA groups in the past, they’ve often faced challenges. After all, this is one of 32 states where you can still be fired for being openly transgender, and one of 29 where you can be fired for being gay or lesbian. It’s a place with abstinence-only sex ed and daily pledges to the state flag, a place where traditions like homecoming are not to be tampered with. Yet the Houston-metropolitan area — which includes Mel’s hometown of Sugar Land — has proved more open to change. Mel’s high school is part of the Houston area’s Fort Bend Independent School District, which is the most diverse district in the state.
“When you have culturally diverse people living next to each other, working together, being educated together, you’re opening doors for other elements of diversity to be exposed,” says Fiona Dawson, an LGBT activist and producer of TransMilitary. She says this kind of diversity leads to more openness when it comes to accepting same-sex relationships, or transgender people. “You see a lot of progressive activists and people who are actually speaking up and making equality happen in Houston.”
Mel was nominated to his school’s homecoming ballot by the members of the GSA, and at first, he says, he didn’t care that much about winning a popularity contest. But he began to see it as an opportunity to become more of an activist — for his GSA friends, his school, and for the transgender community nationwide. “I wanted to show that a guy like me can live a normal life and still be visible in the community and be widely accepted,” Mel says. “I think that is an incredible feat.”
In the wake of Mel’s win, classmates have embraced him. “People are still congratulating me at school,” he says. “People are starting to realize what a big deal it was for this to happen.” The first GSA meeting after homecoming drew more students than ever before, and transgender guys have been messaging him on Facebook and Tumblr, asking him for advice and thanking him for being so vocal.
The night of the homecoming football game, Mel wore purple as an homage to the GSA friends who nominated him. Mostly, though, he wasn’t an activist; he was a high-school kid. Waiting with the nine other members of the court and their parents, he had a feeling he was going to win but tried not to get his hopes up — he didn’t want to be disappointed. He took a picture on his phone right before walking out onto the field. “This is gonna be big,” he remembers thinking. “I want to have this moment saved.”
Most Viewed Stories
Bernie Sanders Wore the Only Appropriate Outfit to Trump’s Inauguration
Kellyanne Conway Goes With a Subtle Look for the Inauguration
15 Protest Sign Ideas for the Women’s March on Washington
Here’s the Official List of Speakers for the Women’s March on Washington
The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for the Women’s March
Thousands of Women Are Descending Upon Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March
Everyone Is Handling This Week Differently
The Complicated, Controversial, Historic, Inspiring Women’s March
Tiffany & Co. Unveils New Collaboration With NYPD: Branded Barricades by Trump Tower
This Conspiracy Theory Will Change How You Feel About the Bachelor Villain
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.