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Activists share stories of growing up transgender during talk at Lawrence High School

Jay Pryor speaks to an audience of students, parents, staff and community members Wednesday night at Lawrence High School while Stephanie Mott, seated, watches on. Pryor, of Lawrence, and Mott, of Topeka, visited the school Wednesday to share their experiences growing up transgender in an effort to raise awareness of LGBTQ-plus issues facing those in the Lawrence community.

Stephanie Mott spent her childhood playing dress-up. Every single day, she’d put on her “Steven Suit,” not for fun, she remembers, but out of necessity.

“It was a costume,” Mott told the crowd of about 50 parents, students, staff and community members gathered Wednesday evening in the Lawrence High School auditorium.

A costume, she said, that meant survival in 1960s Eudora, where Mott grew up as “Steven,” the name that appeared on her birth certificate.

For more than a decade now, Mott has lived openly as Stephanie, a proud transgender woman who for years struggled with substance abuse, homelessness and suicidal thoughts stemming from her complicated relationship with her own gender identity.

On Wednesday, Mott celebrated her 12-year sobriety anniversary by speaking with fellow transgender activist Jay Pryor in an effort to raise awareness of the challenges faced by those in their community, including transgender students in Lawrence’s school system.

It wasn’t easy for Mott growing up, she said, even in a spot as idyllic as her family’s farm in Eudora. She was also raised Christian, and has spent much of her adult life struggling to reconcile her love of God with the notion that her very existence as a transgender person was blasphemous.

“If you believe in God the way I do — the way I did — as the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present creator of the universe, and simultaneously believe in God as not liking you, as seeing you as an abomination, it’s a very difficult place to be,” Mott said.

But church, she said, also ended up being her salvation — in more ways than one. About 10 years ago, while living in a halfway house for recovering addicts, Mott discovered a small church in her adopted hometown that seemed to accept her just as she was.

She remembers one of the other congregants, another transgender person, guarding the bathroom while she changed into her first dress, a thrift-store find she’d selected with help from a friend. Later, in the church’s sanctuary, she was embraced and congratulated by the pastor and fellow church members for deciding to make that step.

Mott now describes the experience as life changing.

“It didn’t have to be church,” said Mott, who now works as a therapist at the Topeka facility where she once sought treatment years ago. “It could’ve been a college classroom. It could’ve been a high school auditorium.”

Like Mott, Pryor struggled with his identity growing up in small-town Kansas. He was suicidal and alcohol-dependent throughout much of his adolescence, at which point he simply thought he was gay.

It wasn’t until years later, after a stint in the psych ward at age 18 and later discovering the classic novel “Stone Butch Blues,” that he began to consider the possibility of gender fluidity.

“When I was a young person, I didn’t have a ‘me’ on TV. There wasn’t a young butch on TV,” Pryor said. “There was nobody that looked like me. And I felt like I had no future.”

The only future Pryor saw for himself, he said, was prison. It was either that or suicide.

But things eventually got better. Pryor took his first shot of testosterone in 2001, and in 2003, married “the love of (his) life.” He has young kids of his own now, and works as a speaker, author and life coach — both locally, where he remains the “go-to guy” on transgender issues, and nationally.

“As a trans person, there’s always been that desire for me to be out. And not just because it’s a powerful expression of who I already am, but also because I want young people to get that it’s possible,” Pryor said. “I want you all to get that and know that it’s possible to be a transgender person and thrive. And not just thrive, but absolutely love your life and be powerful.”

Pryor and Mott both reminded the crowd to be kind when dealing with transgender people, particularly young people still figuring out who they are and who they want to be.

In a 2015 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having attempted suicide. Ninety-two percent of those individuals reported having attempted suicide before age 25.

“It is our job to come at these kids with compassion, kindness and maybe curiosity — but certainly kindness,” Pryor said.

Comments

Jeremy Smith

How come the liberal nuts are not outraged by this talk containing God in a public school? Is it because they are transgender that they get different rules? Do not get me wrong, I believe God should be in every school, public and private but if this were some conservative activist there would be protests and investigations into religion being used in a public high school.

2 weeks ago

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Martin Brody

Because the event was held after hours and attendance wasn’t mandatory.

2 weeks ago

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Ray Mizumura

The conservative nuts were outraged because God didn't strike the school with a bolt of lightning during the event.

2 weeks ago

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Scott Burkhart

I'm a conservative nut and I wasn't outraged at all.

2 weeks ago

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Peaty Romano

Sadly, it was their belief in god that that caused them so much pain early on. Driving them to the point of considering and attempting suicide. Being brainwashed at an early age is a sad thing. I was in the audience last night both Stephanie and Jay were excellent speakers. I'm glad I went.

2 weeks ago

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Charlie Dominguez

Not making excuses for any group. But speaking for myself, we all have a lot to learn and accept what we already knew, just didn't have a real identity, a vocabulary for trans...at least I wasn't aware.
All of us have the inalienable right to be happy in our world....bottom line, we have that right.

2 weeks ago

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Scott Burkhart

I would disagree that it was their belief in God that caused them pain. It was their misunderstanding, through, I'm sure, no fault of their own, of what God is and what God isn't. Sadly, many well meaning people establish their idea of God and then project it on everyone around them. I give you the Westboro Baptist Church as an example. What this usually serves to do is give Christianity a black eye and fuel anti-Christian rhetoric. We can all agree that most Muslims do not wish to kill homosexuals and transgender individuals. Similarly, I think we can agree that most Christians do not wish to ostracize homosexuals or transgender persons from our midst.

2 weeks ago

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Ray Mizumura

Anyone who truly believes in an omnipresent, omniscient God would have the faith that God is already present in every school, public and private, regardless of the school's policies or politics. So, there shouldn't be any problem. Let God handle it, Jeremy.

2 weeks ago

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Bob Summers

What's your secret.

Tell how you know there is no "omniscient God"

Start with evolution.

2 weeks ago

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Ray Mizumura

I didn't say that, Bob. Learn how to read.

2 weeks ago

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Pete Kennamore

Or perhaps they just hate the stupidity and evil done by people in the name of whatever version of god they believe in?

2 weeks ago

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Scott Burkhart

Believers in God have no corner of the market on stupidity and evil doers. People that don't believe in God have a lot of culpability in that arena.

2 weeks ago

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Peaty Romano

I have no idea where you get your information but that is just not correct, We are not absolutely certain. I will change my mind if you give me some credible evidence. I do think it's highly unlikely though. You can't prove a negative so it's up to someone to prove there is. So far that has not happened. Also, you can't hate something that isn't there.

http://www2.ljworld.com/users/photos/...

2 weeks ago

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Scott Burkhart

Here is how I would reply to you, Peaty Romano. There have been great thinkers/philosophers down through the millennia that have pondered the existence of God. A great deal more have tried to describe what "God" is. I think the greatest explanation of all of this lies in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. To truly understand the "Summa Theologica" and the thinking behind these writings would take years of study and discussion with philosophers that are experts in Western Civilization literature. In today's world of immediate gratification, here comes Peaty Romano demanding "credible evidence." Well, Peaty, I will leave you with this one thought to ponder; The proof and understanding of God resides on the far side of reason. That is to say, when there is no other explanation, when all conscious reasoning has been exhausted, therein resides God.

2 weeks ago

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Pete Kennamore

"That is to say, when there is no other explanation, when all conscious reasoning has been exhausted, therein resides God"
That may well be the dumbest thing ever posted to this award winning forum.

2 weeks ago

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William Cummings

The statement that you referred to is actually a fallacy known as Argumentum ad ignorantium or appeal to ignorance.

2 weeks ago

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William Cummings

Perfect example of the fallacy of Bulverism.

2 weeks ago

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Brock Masters

This will come s no surprise to those who read my posts - I am a conservative. I also support the rights of transgendered people and people of other sexual orientations to live their lives free of harassessment and to full protection and privileges of the law.

I also believe that God loves all of his children.

Now, with that said, I also believe a person can and should raise issues about transgenderism that challenges it. Without challenge we just have group think and that is dangerous.

For example we know we have people struggling with their gender identity. As compassionate human beings we should care about their pain and work to help them alleviate it. My question is we know the mind and body are in conflict but why always assume it is the body that is “wrong” and that physically changing the body will resolve the conflict and ease the pain?

Also I oppose hormone treatments for children. This isn’t anti-transgender but based on a belief that children are not developed adults and artificially delaying or changing their development does more harm than good. Be nurturing and accepting to them but let them develop naturally without chemicals being pumped into them

We need to be truly tolerant, not just to those with whom you agree.

2 weeks ago

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Michael Dennis

Really, this is where we're going with this story - the nature of God and religion in the schools? It's just unbelievable some times, the degree to which everyone is just talking past each other from within their political perspectives.

Jay and Stephanie are profiles in courage and perseverance.
Stephanie, in particular, and her KSTEP organization are forces and treasures of this region.
Their messages of acceptance and equality are priceless and I am thrilled that at least some young people were exposed to them in that auditorium.

2 weeks ago

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Peaty Romano

Stephanie's story was nothing short of incredible to get to where she is today.

2 weeks ago

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