For last night’s Brodie Family Lecture, entitled “Telling the Story of Gender,” Alex Myers did just that.
A transgender advocate, English teacher and the director of The Mountain School in Vermont, Myers spoke to a crowd of students, professors, parents and alumni gathered in Kresge Auditorium at 7 p.m.
“I’m a novelist, and I’m an English teacher, and I think in the realm of stories,” Myers said.
He recounted stories from his early childhood through his coming out as the first openly transgender student at Phillips Exeter Academy and, later, Harvard University. Myers recalled an early memory of questioning his gender identity at a friend’s birthday party.
“An adult would ask me the quintessential question: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Myers said. “And I will answer, probably having eaten a bit too much birthday cake, ‘I want to be a boy.’”
Myers was brought to the College by the education department’s Brodie Family Lecture Fund, which hosts one or more speakers annually to address subjects in contemporary education. Ted Brodie ’52, an overseer of the College in the 1980s and parent and grandparent to Bowdoin alumni from 1976 to 2009 began the lecture series in 1997.
Professor of Social Studies Charles Dorn organized the lecture. He emphasized Myers’s expertise and potential contribution to Bowdoin’s scholarship on education.
“We have a relatively small department—we have three tenure track, now tenured, professors. So we’re not able to, within the department, represent all of the many different subfields,” Dorn said. “This lecture can bring people to address the college community on an area of education that we would not normally be able to focus on.”
Describing his time in school, Myers told stories of finding a role model in “tomboyish” country singer k.d. lang while in middle school and hearing the word transgender for the first time—and quickly coming to identify with it—while in high school.
Myers said that seeing role models from the LGBTQ+ community is important for helping young adults understand and accept their own gender identities.
“You have to show [kids] that you can grow up to be transgender, and it will be okay,” he said. “They can grow up to be loved and just regular adults.”
Dorn noted that this year’s choice of speaker fits within the recent political context of school districts grappling with gender identity.
“We’ve been doing this for over twenty years, so we have a rather established routine for how we go about doing the logistics,” Dorn said. “Now, there are issues and controversies with school boards and districts around gender identity in schools…. And so the choice was pretty clear.”
Myers noted that his career has been fraught with political complexities surrounding his gender identity with instances of parents complaining to administrators about his transgender identity. More recently, he has consulted school directors located in largely conservative areas on supporting gender non-conforming students all the while navigating legal or cultural constraints. At one Jesuit all-boys school, Myers advised educators on supporting a transgender student in her coming out.
“The fact that she came out and that the school called me to say how do we do this right, shows that educators are inherently caring individuals,” Myers said.
Myers is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book, “Supporting Transgender Students,” which Dorn’s Contemporary American Education class read and discussed this week in advance of the talk. He encouraged his students and members of the broader community to hear Myers speak.
“We encourage education students and all of our coordinate majors and minors to come…. We put up posters around campus and we send the word out to local schools and school partners that the education department works with closely,” Dorn said.
During the Q&A period of the talk, a multitude of community members—including alumni, students in Dorn’s course and parents of transgender students—asked Myers about his lived experience and life in the classroom.
Markiane Rivers ’27 attended the talk to get a taste for the education department. Rivers hopes to take Contemporary American Education as his first education course next semester.
“I wanted to learn more about the topics I will touch on [in the class],” Rivers said. “I was interested in how the discussion was framed. [Kids] spend so much time in schools. Seeing how educational settings are a place for learning about gender is really important.”
In closing his lecture, Myers emphasized educators’ role in guiding students to identify and tell their own stories of gender identity.
“If you’re a teacher or administrator, what’s your student population, and what’s the diversity in that population, and can you find the right story for each of your students to bring that experience home?” he said.