NEW WAYS OF SEEING
Elliott Salmon shares how coming out as Transgender in an all-girls secondary school completely changed their life.
Portrait by Stefano Pappalardo.
If you were to ask me what I’m most proud of in my life, I would say my 18 year-old self. It may sound cliché and I know for a fact that younger Elliott would roll their eyes at this but it’s true. Everything that happened in my 18th year of existence is what has made me the person I am today.
You see, I had spent my last two years of secondary school fighting an awful inner battle with myself. I was miserable. I don’t think I have ever felt as alone as I did in those two years. I went to an all-girls secondary school where each person looked the same. They all wore make-up, they all wore dresses, they all identified with their assigned sex at birth. I was jealous of them. They don’t feel the way I do? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be a girl? Why is it so alien to me?
I grew up with cousins that were much older than me, so at every family gathering there would always be a discussion about what career paths we wanted to pursue. My answer was always the same, I wanted to move to Burbank in California and be an actor. I think we all believed it at one stage because I was so attached to the idea.
All those years of wanting to perform turned into me performing every single day for many years.
I’d take a deep breath before going into school every day and switch on my act as if it were a light switch. Around my friends I was known as the jolly and positive one who always had a smile on their face but once four o’clock came, I went back to living in total darkness. I felt like such a fake. People would tell me how great it was that I’m so positive all the time and I would smile and think “if only they knew the bigger picture. If only they knew it was a lie.” I never wanted to let my guard down and it was exhausting.
Being LGBTQ+ was never spoken about in my classes. I had one religion class in sixth year which was supposed to discuss it but instead the teacher told us what each letter stood for and drew a line on it after that. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t even know that you could identify as Transgender until I realised that I was.
I can only assume that I was simply a product of a less progressive era. Catholicism was still looming over schools and religion was also still very important. Things were moving very slowly but although it wasn’t spoken about, it strangely didn’t make me feel as though I couldn’t mention it.
Throughout my six-year stint in second level education, my teachers were the only people that I trusted. They helped me through some of the hardest moments I have ever experienced. So it makes sense that they would be the first people that I would open up to about this deep secret of mine. I chose six teachers I got along with the most and met with them over the course of a few days in between classes and after school.
I prepared myself for the absolute worst, and I still do to this day. You never know what kind of reaction you are going to get from people but with the handful of teachers I chose to tell, something within me could predict their overwhelming acceptance of me.
I’d gone to see the Chaplain once a week (usually during English) and in those 40-minute sessions, we prepared for my life outside of school. We had a plan in place that when I finished the Leaving Cert, I would reach out to BeLonG To and get the necessary information I needed to officially begin this journey. We talked about what this meant for me now that I would be coming out and living my life as Elliott.
I reached out to the six teachers that I told before I began writing this piece and some of them were surprised at the lasting impact their support had on me. I left school three years ago and owe everything to the conversations I had with them. One teacher told me that I should always endeavour to “wave my flag” and another told me to “be brave, be bold and change the world.”
I went to an all-girls school and this was the reaction I was getting from my teachers. It was amazing. I’d trusted them with everything that I had in me. I’d been vulnerable and deeply ashamed of myself. If it had gone negatively, I wouldn’t be writing this story. Scary to think that a few conversations can impact the rest of your life, isn’t it?
As things progressed after speaking with my teachers, before long the entirety of my year knew about who I was. Word spread like wildfire after a handful of people were told. I went home one day as Ellen and came in the next day as Elliott. Once I got over the initial shock of things changing overnight, I was blown away by the outpouring of support from the girls in my year.
I spent my last week of school as Elliott and it was the most validating and rewarding way to begin the next chapter of my life. On the last day, during the obligatory shirt signing, each and every person made sure to write my new name on my light green button-down shirt. I still have that special souvenir and I dig it out every now and then to read the messages of well wishes and love.
When you spend so much time dealing with something so personal, it really does feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders when you finally let other people in. I felt free for the first time in two years. People understood me and genuinely wanted me to be happy in who I am.
I have been told by one of my old teachers that in my school today, year heads can be told if someone wishes to be addressed by a new name or new pronouns. Your name can also be changed on the register. The school facilitates this and allows students to authentically be themselves each day. Trousers are now part of the school uniform meaning that your only option is no longer the dreaded long skirt paired with knee-high socks.
I was beaming with pride when I heard this. Times are changing and that is exciting. Do I regret that things hadn’t yet moved along when I was in school? No. Not even in the slightest. I got to where I needed to be. I met the people I needed to meet and despite everything, support was always and unconditionally there for me. I am eternally grateful for this period in my life that taught me so much.
I’m happy to say now that (almost) 22 year-old Elliott has made incredible progress. I now identify as non-binary which has allowed a lot more freedom in my gender expression and my identity. A few years ago I saw a life where I could never be happy, and mentally prepared myself for a life filled with debilitating self-hatred, now, with each passing day I am healing and happier in who I am.
For the first time in my life, I am proud of my queerness, something I thought I’d never get to say