Living as ‘Trans’ in Northeast Arkansas

by Destini Lattimore
Delta Digital News Service

As the transgender population in the United States continues to increase in number, individuals on the state and local level are calling for their communities to as well.

The transgender population nationwide has increasingly become an important sector of the population. In fact, a 2016 study found 0.6 percent of adults in the United States identify as transgender. A separate study conducted in 2018 by the University of Minnesota concluded that about 3 percent of teens identified as transgender.

Luke Smith and Mason Graves* are no different. The two teenagers both said they feel as though they have always been different from other kids, and growing up in their respective hometowns was no easy feat.

“It’s a very small town, everyone there has the Confederate flag hanging from their house,” Smith said of his hometown, Booneville. “There was like a 1-to-1,000 ratio of ‘I’m very different from everyone here.'”

Graves said he had a similar experience growing up in Missouri.

“I’m actually from Southeast Missouri,” Graves said. “I went to school in Donovan and it’s one of those towns where everybody knows each other. If you’re different, it’s a 50/50 chance, either everyone loves you and thinks you’re interesting or you’re bullied.'”

While both of the teens had similar experiences as they grew older, their child lives were very different. Smith described himself as a quiet, reserved child who preferred “playing adventures” and “rough-housing” than playing with dolls and dresses.

Graves, however, considered himself to be a loud and outgoing child. Although he was born female, he always saw himself as his “dad’s kid,” but he still enjoyed both traditional girl and boy activities.

Smith and Graves both found solitude in “coming out” to their friends before telling their family members.

“I actually told my friends first. I just remember it kind of hit me, we were in the middle of choir pictures, and I went up to my friends and was like ‘I’m a dude.'” Graves said. “I transitioned to telling my friends, at first. The first time I told my mom, I just told her I feel like a boy and she said ‘No.'”

Graves said his mom eventually started to come around and she is slowly trying to become more understanding. However, Graves’ father is still unaware and the teen is afraid to tell his father out of fear of his reaction.

“I also told my friends first,” Smith said. “I kind of had hints of it in the back of my head for a couple years but I didn’t realize it until about a year ago. Over Christmas break last year, I told my dad.”

Smith said he felt like his father knew he had to tell him something important and that his father thought Smith was going to tell him he was pregnant.

“He was very nervous. He thought that I was pregnant, he thought that I had done something,” Smith said. “So whenever I said it, he was kind of relieved but he also didn’t really understand.”

Smith and Graves both use he/him as their preferred pronouns and said this has caused issues with them, specifically in the classroom. Both teenagers have experienced being misgendered and both said they were afraid to speak up to correct the mistake.

Graves specifically endures this because, although he identifies as male, he often dresses in clothes that are deemed to be for women.

“I’ve had a pretty good experience here with telling people I’m trans,” Graves said. “But there are still people who don’t get it and they use she pronouns and I have to correct them.”

Overall, the two said they feel as though they’ve had an overall good experience in Northeast Arkansas and the community they have found with each other and their respective friends helps them maneuver through daily life.

However, there are still a number of strides individuals need to take within the region, throughout the state and nationwide. Primarily, the pair wants people around them to make an effort to ask people for their preferred pronouns and make a conscious effort to use them.

Graves said. “When you assume a trans person’s pronouns and misgender them, it’s really hard for them and can put them in a really bad mental state.”

Smith said he encourages people to ask questions if they don’t understand and have a genuine interest in learning about the trans experience.

“Asking questions is always a good idea if you have a transgender friend and you don’t understand something very well and you want to,” Smith said. “Generally, I’m always ready to answer a question to help people understand because I want people to understand.”


Editor’s Notes: *The names of individuals in this story have been changed to protect privacy. Featured photo by Ted Eytan [CC BY-SA 2.0]