Today, we feature Kayden Heinz (he/his), a rising junior Writing Arts major. We strive to amplify all student voices, all year-round. To be featured, please contact rowanblog [at] rowan.edu.
Kayden discusses how Rowan has helped him to find his new sense of identity and community amongst those on campus. He also goes into how we as a campus community could break the current stigmas as well as improve class dynamics here at Rowan University for the LGBTQ+ community to make sure all students who identify as any pronoun, gender or orientation feel welcome and inclusive.
Tell me how does Pride represent you and your story?
I’m transgender who identifies as a man. So I’ve related and connected with a lot of trans masculine men, especially because I know a lot of the people who I know personally have kind of questioned themselves as far as their sexual orientation as well, to which I relate back to the most in the reflection of my own journey. So that intersected with my question on which gender I preferred to date as well. There’s the transgender and bisexual experience that a lot of people with the same way of identifying all have in common. There are some differences, but at the end of the day Pride and what it stands for and the history behind that word of Pride that all makes us all as a community stand together and relate to each other.
Within some households, some of their children grow up in certain environments to which they are molded to not accept an another way of lifestyle that is out of the norm from what certain parents teaches us. Could you explain to me how the emotional process you experienced within yourself and your environment during the time of when you were still trying to identify who you truly were?
For me it was very hard to come to terms with my sexuality because on both sides of my family I was the first granddaughter, so my femininity and birth was celebrated. For example whenever I showed up to family gatherings, my family would be like “Oh finally, the girl is here!” So on my end, I was going against what I knew my family was expecting and wanting out of me and just figuring it out. I kind of felt placed into a box, where even when I was still identifying as she/her I personally felt like I did not fit into that box. I was always kind of tomboyish, so I always felt like no matter what I was never what they were expecting.
Do you personally feel like the best acceptance is self acceptance and the acceptance within your community? Or having the the acceptance of those around you in your community but also close loved ones?
I feel like because that box [of gender] was established, stepping out of it almost made me feel like I would be a disappointment to those people closest to me. I felt like I was almost leaving behind who they thought I was due to the fact that was the number one characteristic that they knew about me was my sex and almost stepping out of that was just kind of where I questioned to myself: where do I go from there? As someone who has just recently come out, I’ve learnt to basically take everything one step at a time and I’m not trying to push myself to do everything all at once, and carry out my journey by taking baby steps when it comes to my new sexuality and I genuinely wanna protect my mental health and that’s my main priority as of right now. I think it’s really important to find your community that will support you, because you could only accept and love yourself so much if everyone around you is telling you who you are is wrong. Most queer youth grow up in communities that are telling them that they are wrong, and their sexuality or gender is taboo. So I stress the importance of finding that community who supports you as you go through the tough times of not only figuring out who you are, but also what you are.
What are a few stigmas within your community that you want to share a message about, on campus or within society today?
Transmen could be feminine, and transwomen could be masculine. Makeup and dresses does not make or break what your gender is; it’s what you feel on the inside and not how you present yourself and if you’re not able to present yourself in the way that you want to quite yet then that’s completely okay. There are many resources on campus, but the most important thing is to always have a sense of safety when it comes to disclosing your identity as well, especially if you know if you are in an environment where you know it’s not safe to come out.
How do you personally feel about the LGBTQ+ community here on campus, and do you feel as though you are being seen and heard across all departments here on campus? If not how could they personally do more to make all feel welcomed and accepted?
Before I was a Writing Arts major, I used to be another major in a STEM field. So being able to experience both class dynamics between both majors, I couldn’t help but to notice the difference between the approaches when it comes to the discussions about the LGBTQ+ community. In the classes I previously took, I noticed less of a range of discussion on the topic at hand – it was more of a binary male versus female, to where I found in the writing classes it’s more of a welcoming approach of them genuinely wanting to learn more of what do you identify as, pronouns, and preferred name – which to me is showcasing on how they could make you feel comfortable and heard. There are many clubs and organizations like PRISM, that you could join as well as events being hosted where you could find others within the community. There are also very supporting resources on campus as well like the Wellness Center, for an example for those who identify as transgender there is a group therapy program as well as a therapist who directly works with the group for those who prefer more of a one-on-one session.
Describe to me your first year experience on campus as a transgender man compared to now – what were your challenges and setbacks and what were the moments in which you thrived.
When I first started here at Rowan University, I identified myself with a different name and was previously using they/them pronouns and was living as more of non-binary person. I was very overwhelmed with college after doing online school for two years due to the pandemic. I had a bunch of things lined up for myself like working a part time job. Also, at the time, I signed up for the transgender group therapy here at Rowan, to which I personally found to be really helpful because Rowan offered a space for me to really express on how I was truly feeling about my gender that I did not feel necessarily comfortable talking about with who I was living with and also due to the fact that I sort of distanced myself from my previous friend group. So I felt the strong need to find that community that I knew would support me.
If you could give any advice to a student now or any incoming first year student who is currently figuring out their identity of who they are, what would it be and why?
As much as the thought of this could be absolutely terrifying, you have to start firstly by attending events on campus or even within the Glassboro community. Social media also plays a big part as well, with people speaking about their own experiences. That’s where I personally figured out when I was transgender due to self-questioning my own identity and why I was feeling that way about myself. I also did my own research to help me to finally place a label on why I felt how I felt or questioning who I truly was. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I kind of felt comfortable seeing other people’s authentic life’s through themselves before I could do the same for me as well. I strongly suggest taking baby steps, before you fully could be loud and proud with your identity for yourself personally as well on campus.
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Story by: Tatiana Retamar, rising senior journalism major
Photos by: Valentina Giannattasio, rising junior dance and marketing double major