Fighting a battle with himself and with society, the summer before high school, senior Connor Grimsley changed his life, and the lives of those around him.
Around age 14 most teens begin to discover their identity, the things that make them unique. For Grimsley it was a never ending search.
“I felt misplaced, I felt sort of like I wasn’t who I was supposed to be. I was distanced from others because I couldn’t even feel my own self. I was sad and I didn’t know who I was. I hated myself to sum it up,” Grimsley said.
Growing up he always knew he was different. He was more interested in boy activities than girl activities. He was not interested in Barbie dolls and did not play with them except for with his sisters. Even then he would only play with them if he could be Ken. He liked sports more than makeup or dresses. And he had more guy friends than girl friends. All of these were examples of what made him different. But it was after watching a youtuber who was transgender named Benton the summer before his freshman year of high school, Grimsley understood why he may be different.
He said what the youtuber was saying made sense and applied to him. He realized then that he might be transgender too.
“Looking back, all the signs were there that Connor was transgender, I just didn’t get the clue. He hated dresses…pink and purple were not- allowed in his wardrobe. More often than not I was buying clothes in the boys section from age six on because that’s what he liked to wear,” Grimsley’s mother, Christy McClary, said.
Being transgender was still a fairly new idea in society and it was not something many people talked about. It wasn’t until around 2015 that it started becoming a conversation topic. Grimsley had no idea his family’s views on being transgender and the thought of what his family was going to think was something he couldn’t fathom.
“When I came out to my mom, she was supportive about it. She told all of our family over Facebook. My grandma unfriended her, called her a horrible mother. My uncle stopped talking to us, my aunt, my entire moms’ side of the family stopped talking to me and my mom. But my dad’s family, on the other hand, was 100% supportive,” Grimsley said.
Although expressing who he was and his transition caused him to lose half of his family, that did not hold him back. He has a tremendous amount of support from the rest of his loved ones. And his peers are also very supportive.
“I got treated with more respect, and I wasn’t talked down to anymore. Like you know the whole mansplaining thing, that never happens to me now. And when I approach another guy they automatically reach their hand out to shake my hand where as before they wouldn’t shake my hand,” he said.
Everything really started to change in Grimsley’s life after he came out. He changed his name, was able to express himself freely as the person he knew himself to be by dressing the way he wanted to and participating in things he enjoy wanted to. People even saw him differently than before. He was not a shy, introverted middle schooler anymore. He was outgoing and vibrant to those around him.
When he was still living his life as a girl, it was like people weren’t taking him as seriously and didn’t treat him like he was as mature. People would put him and his thoughts to the side.
Grimsley perceives himself as “definitely much more confident” and “much more present, and I just feel like I’m more here now, instead of by myself in my own little bubble; I feel like I’m more out there.”
“He now is confident, happy, and knows who he is as a person. It amazes me every day how different he is now that he is his true self,” McClary said.
Telling others you’re transgender is difficult because “it is not something you just bring up in conversation.” he said.
Many people close to him didn’t know about his transition.
“My girlfriend right now, she didn’t even know until my birthday,” Grimsley said, “She told me that she was 100% surprised, that she never would have guessed.”
His girlfriend, Kickapoo graduate Lauren Smittle, supported his journey from the moment she discovered he was transgender.
“At first I was like “what?” but then really thinking about it I was like “he’s a regular person like anyone else and there really isn’t anything much different about him than anyone else,” she said.
Keeping his past to himself has prevented a lot of discrimination that others who have transitioned have received. He has not been hated or bullied for who he is by his peers. However, being who he is has prevented him from participating in certain activities.
“When I came from Cherokee to Kickapoo, before the school year even started, I met up with the counselors and the principal, I told them I wanted to do tennis. They told me that they would put me on the girls team because it wouldn’t be “fair.” So even though I wanted to do sports I didn’t because they told me I would be put on a team where I wouldn’t be comfortable,” Grimsley said.
He had played tennis for fun and wanted to try out playing on a team. He didn’t think who he was would prevent him from participating, but he understood why. He included that he cannot join the military because he is transgender. He is also afraid it will affect his other career option of being a teacher.
His only other encounter of discrimination was on a choir trip. Although he does not personally refer to these encounters as discrimination. “I’d signed up to be in a room with one of my guy friends, but I wasn’t allowed to according to school board rules. So I was put in a room by myself on a separate floor because it was too late to put me into my own room on the same floor,” he said.
Grimsley is also very involved in the GSTA club at school, He and the GSTA club participate in activities with the LGBT community. He sees and hears discrimination from the others and wants those who encounter it to hear his message.
“What they have to say doesn’t matter because if you’re who you are that’s just how it is and you can’t change that. That’s just a part of who you are and you can’t change who you are. You can’t just think oh I wanna be something else and just flip a switch. It doesn’t work. You can’t just chose to be gay or transgender or whatever. You are just who you are,” Grimsley said.