Editor’s note: The following article won first place in the Online Feature Story category at the Tennessee AP College Awards on April 8, 2017.
It’s a simple move but an everyday fear. He stares blankly at the doors before him. He’s paced there for an untimely amount already.
To the right, a symbol paints an individual in a triangular shaped dress. The word, “women” reads above the unwelcoming shape.
To the left, “men” stands atop the rectangular being.
The dress of the woman intended to distinguish between the two sexes.
A blonde-haired beauty saunters past him. She looks so California, with her freshly-highlighted hair and high cheekbones radiating with plum blush.
With no doubt, her flashy Jimmy Choo’s lead her toward the right. She pushes the wooden door. He wishes it were just as easy for him.
But he’s not a woman. He never has been.
He turns to the left and anxiously approaches the distant and cold doors of masculinity.
Belmont student Kameron Johnson, assigned female at birth but now, and always, identifying as a man, lives his life in constant paradox.
“I would rather be honest with who I am and have people question the validity of my identity than constantly lie to myself and live in my own personal hell,” he said.
Kam, short for Kameron, has a baby face and square shoulders.
His hair, a pixie-cut of dappled blue, matches the color of his eyebrows. A smear above his right brow indicates the freshness of the dye. The blue inspired by his favorite fictional character, Teddy Lupin. Kam lives by the J.K Rowling series.
His vibrant red shirt reads “Trans Lives Matter” paired with his black beanie. His 1-inch white gauges rest heavy on his earlobes.
Seemingly intimidating at first glance, he answers a phone call from his best friend. His phone case decorated in an array of colorful rainbows and unicorns. All intimidation is gone.
He promises to give her a ride home as soon as he’s done. She’s sick, he explains, and apologetically proceeds with the interview.
As a reader, the questions roaming through your head are probably far too intimate and inappropriate.
What bathroom does he use? Does he date girls or guys? Is he, y’know, a man everywhere? During the one-hour time slot allotted for the interview, Kam was open, raw and nothing but honest. He wants to tell his story wholeheartedly.
To get started, it’s important to know that Kam protrudes confidence in his newfound self.
But he hasn’t always.
Flashback 17 years before Kam embraced such assurance as a man, and was instead seen as a girl.
His personality as a child was normal; he grew up in the church, surrounded himself with friends and felt at ease in his upper-middle class home. No abuse, no traumatizing experience, no nothing.
However, at the early age of only 3, Kam insisted that he was going to be a boy when he grew up.
“If you would ask someone to draw what they look like, they would draw someone about their age and their gender. I only ever drew boys and ones that looked just like me.”
Todd and Kellie Johnson, Kam’s parents, recount his childhood and what they thought was just a tomboy on their hands.
“When we played Lion King together, I would play Mufasa and he would always want to play Simba. He never wanted to play Nala or any girl character for that matter,” said Todd.
And Kam related to his friends who were boys significantly more than girls. He wanted to play Pokémon, not dolls.
He declined a handmade dress from his grandmother, something she had made for all of her nieces- what she had considered him at the time.
Kellie remembers his words precisely.
“I just remember him looking right at me and saying, ‘Dresses are toxic.’”
Quite the vocabulary for a 4 year old.
As Kam grew older, puberty hit and his body developed in an uncomfortable way. While most girls were embracing their newfound curves, Kam tried everything in his power to conceal them.
He wore two sports bras and aspired to dress more masculine.
Even in high school, he never quite outgrew his tomboy stage, his mother recalled.
“The high school he went to had pretty rigid gender roles. Boys played football or basketball; the girls wore Hollister and had ponytails. Kam didn’t fit into either one,” said Kellie.
He felt more confused and overwhelmed with how to identify himself.
After suppressing his feelings of peculiarity from the other girls, Kam met a man who identified as transgender.
Transgender became a word that soon grew of great significance to Kam, a word that finally provided him an identity.
“I started Googling the hell out of it. I was thinking ‘is this what I am?’ and then realized, ‘this is me.”
Kam found resources to embrace his newfound word. He spent hours dedicated to researching and learning more.
Then, he bought his first chest binder and it became his saving grace. He finally felt comfortable in his clothes and how he looked in them.
After his friends gave him the nickname “chameleon” because of his color-changing hair, he began going by the name Kameron, a name significant to him because of its Scottish heritage.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what his real name was.
He twists uncomfortably in his chair and puts his hands on the table.
“Not something you normally ask after someone’s legally changed their name. It just doesn’t matter, this is me now,” he said politely and matter-of-factly.
He smiles gently and the interview proceeds.
Kam’s senior year of high school, he hinted to his mom about his trans identity. While she was supportive, he denied the truth so he wouldn’t jeopardize his relationship with his family.
“I think she was really confused and worried that she had done something to hurt me in some way, or it was her fault,” said Kam.
He hoped to find his inner femininity in college and looked forward to attending Belmont University.
He was housed in a women’s dorm his freshman year. Halfway through, he decided to be honest with himself and his parents. As much as he tried to accept his assigned sex, he knew he was not a female.
He wrote a letter to his parents explaining his true identity and why he felt the way he did.
“It was shocking, it wasn’t that we didn’t see any of this coming, but we thought about Kam as a daughter for 18 years. There was a mourning there for our daughter because that’s really what we lost through the whole process. The person hasn’t changed or gone, but your expectations and thoughts of how you think about that person does change,” said Todd.
Thoughts like walking their daughter down the aisle and being present at their daughter’s first pregnancy contributed to the mourning.
“We have talked about what it’s like not having a daughter, but instead of shopping for a wedding dress with him, it will be for a tux,” said Kellie.
Although initially appalling for both parents, their love for Kam was never in question.
“Kam is our child and we were going to love him regardless. The love and support for Kam never changed. We never disowned him. That never crossed our minds,” said Kellie.
Although Kam was forced to live in a women’s dorm his sophomore year, he identified as a man and requested male pronouns.
There is no transgender housing available on campus.
While housing became only one issue, the physical transition proved to be another. The financial support from his parents was significant in helping him through the process of physically becoming a man.
Insurance covers nothing. Another problem.
In May of 2015, Kam started taking weekly shots of testosterone in his leg.
“He’s a real big baby. He still can’t give himself the shots, so I have to do it for him. It’s pretty funny,” said Kathryn Koon, Kam’s best friend and now off-campus roommate.
Koon noticed that Kam’s voice dropped substantially between the months of May and August.
“His face and jaw squared out. He’s not far along on the facial hair, but he has a happy trail that he is now very proud of.”
Although a generally supportive transition from his family and friends, Kam admits to some hesitance from family members.
He receives the support and encouragement from most friends and peers at Belmont, but worry and doubt still overcome him at times.
“Before I started passing, it was always me standing in front of the bathrooms and wondering do I risk getting the s*** beat out of me and go into the men’s bathroom, or do I go into the women’s bathroom and feel really bad about myself?”
To those itching to know, he uses the men’s restroom.
Even an everyday occurrence such as visiting the cafeteria often turned into a highly anxious place for Kam.
“I love the women who work in the cafeteria, but it was always a daily hell to have them call me Miss.”
Casual misgendering transpires daily. “I can sympathize all I want, but I’ll never be able to empathize because he experiences a lot of struggles that I’ll never even have the opportunity to struggle with,” said Koon. “That’s part of the cisgender privilege, the fact that I can’t even begin to understand.”
Cisgender, a person whose self-identity coincides with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.
With the help of the testosterone, Kam finds it easier to pass as male and doesn’t experience the same problems he once did in his earlier stages.
In addition to his testosterone, Kam legally changed his name after a long and tedious process last year. He anxiously awaits chest reconstructive surgery this summer.
“I can’t wait to have the ability to run around shirtless and you can bet that I’ll be flaunting the hell out of it. I will intentionally wear my shirts way too low and get those tank tops that come way too far down on the sleeves.”
He is unsure whether or not there will be more surgeries in his future.
In an attempt to relieve the intense conversation, Kam flaunts his bracelet tied at his left hand.
A black string tethered to a silver circle etched with “one day closer.”
Carefree as ever, Kam gloats about his transgender boyfriend, Michaël who lives in France. A giggly schoolgirl smile overcomes him as he explains that Michaël’s bracelet matches his.
Although Kam identifies as queer, not all trans people are. Their sexual orientation lies in whatever their own interests are.
Through the support from his relationship, his family and friends, Kam rests assured in his time at Belmont.
He serves as the vice president of Bridge Builders and heavily involves himself in the LGBT community.
“I’m really lucky Belmont has Bridge Builders. As someone who still identifies as a Christian, it was really important to me to maintain that spirituality with my trans identity. Bridge Builders has reduced that anxiety and has told me that these two things don’t have to conflict,” said Kam.
Kam hopes in telling his story, he can influence and shed light on the transgender community at Belmont.
“I would like people to understand our gender identities are not some crazy choice we made to be different. I think God made me exactly like this for a reason, I don’t believe there is anything else involved.”
He negates all the stereotypes associated with the transgender community.
He is not confused.
Not a misfit.
No different from anyone else.
“I am finally at peace with myself. I had a lot of self-esteem issues growing up because I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel good. I’ve never been a pretty girl and I tried, but it made me so uncomfortable,” said Kam.
“I can see people further along this path and know that eventually I’ll be comfortable daily with who I am, a man.”
Article and photo by Taylor Andrews.