Cicada Scott, the winner of last year's Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, wrote an eloquent essay about life as a non-binary gender teen. In light of recent news about the rollback of federal protection for transgender students, Cicada's reflection on the power of understanding one's own identity is more timely than ever. Read our Q&A with Cicada and check out this year's prompt for the 2017 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest. Submissions are open until March 15. Students and teachers will have the chance to win more than $25,000 in scholarships and awards.
Did you have reservations about sharing something this personal so publicly? What did you hope others would take from your essay?
When I wrote it I only expected my teacher and the judges to read it so that took away any real fear of it going public. I was a bit nervous about the response when I did make it to the finalists, but it was short-lived. In the end, I'm happy that my message could spread so far. My hope was to open others' eyes to the issues that trans and gender non-conforming people face in today's world, because they often get swept under the rug and boiled down to debates on bathrooms and pronouns. I'd also hoped it would inspire people to do some of their own research, because I can't claim to be the only perspective on transphobia and it's hard to fit centuries of discrimination into 500 words!
What has the response been from your community? How is your community still shaping you?
Overwhelmingly positive! There are still people who stop me to tell me how much they loved the essay and a lot of them have stories about the people they shared it with, which are always my favorite. However, most still describe me with the wrong pronouns or gendered language, so, in a way, not much has changed. People are still trying to define me with their terms instead of mine but it's also brought support from unexpected places and strengthened some bonds I already had. It had perfect timing as well because I was going through some rough times when I submitted it and knowing so many people were behind me really helped me through it.
What advice do you have for other transgender students who are grappling with some of the same issues as you?
First of all, you are valid. You are the only one who can dictate your identity. Secondly, make sure you have a hobby that's entirely unrelated to gender! It's very easy to frame ourselves entirely in terms of being trans, but if you can cultivate a section of your identity that has nothing to do with that then it does wonders for stress relief and self-esteem.
What advice do you have for others who are trying to better understand what it means to be transgender?
Most importantly, don't assume! While it's often referred to as the transgender community, there's really not much unity at all. Trans activists are an excellent resource, but a lot of trans people don't appreciate being questioned, so Google is always an excellent backup. Be sure to listen more than you speak. And, finally, don't ask someone about their genitals! It's invasive.
What did entering this contest and writing this essay teach you about yourself?
It taught me to take myself seriously and that there's no shame in speaking out. It also taught me to write for a bigger audience than I'm expecting, because you never know when things might take off. I still wish I'd actually mentioned the term "non-binary" somewhere in my essay for people who are new to the subject. I'm taking these lessons, along with some newfound confidence, with me into the future. I'm not sure where this chapter of my life will take me, but whatever happens, I want more than anything to make a positive impact in the world around me.
The 2017 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest is now open for submissions. Check out this year's prompt. Students, share your voice with Facing History for a chance to receive great scholarship awards. Teachers: Know a student who should apply? Share the information with them!
This was originally posted on June 7, 2016.