I knew that my likelihood of being able to wear a dress to court was pretty slim. I wasn’t that naïve. At the same time, I resented the notion that at no time in my future legal career would I be able to acknowledge, honor, or share the full complexity of my identity—that, by choosing law, I was relinquishing the right to ever be fully myself in my professional career.
I came out as transgender at age eighteen. Shortly thereafter, I began to transition socially and medically. I quickly realized how much of my “self” I had been unable to acknowledge in my yearning to be recognized as anything other than what I knew I was not—a girl. Early in my transition, this manifested as a desperate need to be recognized as male. Later, though, as I began to “pass,” feel comfortable in my own skin, and recognize the face looking back at me in the mirror, I also found myself exploring what I had long ignored: my femininity.
Exploring my femininity was a radical act. Transitioning provided me with the comfort and courage to disregard my fears—the fear that painting nail polish on my toes would give those around me an excuse to misgender me; the fear that donning a dress would undermine my identity as “not a girl”; and the fear that wearing makeup might somehow make me “less trans.” And, my newfound freedom led to another development: in addition to “he/him/his,” I embraced “they/them/theirs” as pronouns. I had realized that I do not fit squarely within the gender binary, and I had begun to embrace myself in full.
After a few years of living with this unparalleled authenticity, the idea of “going back into the closet” was an entirely unwelcome one for me. During law school orientation, I donned my suit for the class photograph and wondered if the credibility and reputation I hoped to establish with my peers would have been destroyed before they even knew my name if I had worn a dress to the event instead. I wondered how the judges addressing the first-year law students during that week of welcome would react if they noticed my nail polish and earrings in their courtroom. Somehow, despite my generally masculine gender expression, I was completely preoccupied by the concern that I might never be seen as a credible, reputable, and successful lawyer if I acknowledged this facet of my identity.
Within the first few weeks of law school classes, I sought advice from the first professional connection I had made in the legal world: my legal research and writing professor, Rebekah Hanley. I picked nervously at my fingernails as I waited for her office hours to begin. I was overwhelmed, shy, and incredibly nervous about the response my questions might receive.
Professor Hanley will pick up the story from here.