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  • Riley Jay Sironen

Thoughts While Researching (09/24/2022)

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Foreground is a wooden coffee table with an open notebook and pencil, an open laptop that displays a slideshow from a lecture, and a maroon-colored water bottle. In the background is an indoor, wood-burning stone that is lit. The wall is of wooden paneling.

It's a blustery, rainy day in Northern Michigan, and I am making the most of my indoor day doing homework and research while my two dogs nap and my partner takes the day to relax. And while I do this, I cannot help but think about all the work that got me here. As I read about lived experiences in the autism and transgender communities, I recall a conversation with a friend a week ago about all the work I did in my undergraduate program - mostly without realizing it and wishing I had recorded it the way these scholars did.

When I came out as transgender, I instantly poured that part of myself into all of my school work. Class projects, shows I wanted to co-direct, roles I wanted to play in productions, work I received through the university, and conversations with peers and faculty in the theatre department. I wanted to not only feel safe in these settings I faced every day, but I wanted others to feel that way without doing the work. Through my position at the LGBT Resource Center, I helped with a project to allow students to enter their pronouns and their chosen name into the university's enrollment system so professors could see them on the roaster on the first day of class. This allowed students to skip the uncomfortable conversation of coming out to their professors if they did not want to. In our theatre department, I helped create an initiative to make restrooms and dressing rooms genderless so that students could use or change in whatever space they felt most comfortable in. In my final year, I went to classrooms, department-wide faculty meetings, and events and conferences to speak on how to make classroom environments safe and inclusive for transgender students. The part that still feels crazy is that I did all this without hesitation. I was driven by my passion of coming out and finally feeling free; I wanted others to feel that way too. (Some of the stepstones to these events can be seen on my YouTube Page here - including a project called Everybody's a Little Gay: Transitioning in a Changing World and another called How Beautiful the Ordinary.)

My point in all of this is I thought I had lost that passion. And for a minute, I had. Near the end of the previously mentioned timeline, I had a handful of life events happen, and soon, I lost that light to do the work. I still knew the work was important, but I did not want to be the person to do it anymore. Part of it was my mental health (something I discuss in the first episode of a mini-series live stream I created called Evening Vibes), and, as time went on, I did not want to be "the Transgender Guy"; I wanted just to be me. And during this last year, I have gotten to be that. I have mentally reinvented myself and have started to love the person I am becoming. I am finding who I am with my identities, but without them letting control my entire existence.

Being back in school, my passion for creating spaces for others as I go through my growth and new self-discoveries has been fully relit. As I continue researching my topics of interest, I can tell in my searches and note-taking that I will only be growing from where I left off in my work during my undergraduate studies.

Feel free to share below your thoughts on my post, ways you've dealt with the feeling that your identity controls you, or what you've been working on in life in general!

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