Alex Myers on Gender Identity, Language, and Expression

When Alex Myers was in middle school, a teacher brought a k.d. lang CD to class. On the cover stood a woman who looked like a man. For the first time, Alex said, he received “an echo from the world.” Until k.d. lang, Alex had never seen himself in anyone else—not a parent, or a friend, or even a character in a story. Born Alice Myers in Paris, Maine, Alex knew from a very young age that despite being raised as a girl, he was, deep down, a boy. Through childhood and through most of his time as a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, he searched for an identity that fit; he clung to the word “tomboy” and entertained the idea of “lesbian,” though he knew these terms weren’t quite right. Finally, as a teenager, Alex met other transgender people, and he gained the courage to come out to the world. He returned for his senior year at Exeter as a boy.

On January 29, Alex Myers spoke to Roxbury Latin students and faculty on the topic of gender identity. His presentation was one in a series of guest lectures this year, as part of the Health and Wellness program for students in Classes I-IV. Following Alex’s talk, boys from RL’s oldest four classes broke out into discussion groups with faculty moderators to share their reactions and discuss gender expression and stereotypes in their own lives.

In telling his story, Alex shined a light on the many ways in which our world sorts by gender. Upon returning to Exeter for his senior year, for example, Alex was faced with countless complicated decisions: In which dorm would he live? Which bathrooms would he use? On which sports teams would he play? At the same time, he was going through the process of amending countless government forms, including his birth certificate, passport, and driver’s license. Throughout the process, he was struck by how pervasive gender is in our everyday lives, and just how often we divide ourselves into these two categories: male and female.

His journey inspired Alex to teach, write, and speak on the topic. At RL, he spoke about gender as both an internal understanding of ourselves and a social and cultural construct that varies greatly through time and place. As evidence of this he presented a young photo of FDR looking very conventionally “male” for 1884: in the photo his hair is long; he is wearing a white frilly dress and black “Mary Jane”-style shoes; and he is holding a brimmed hat with a ribbon around it. What was “masculine” then, Alex pointed out, is considered decidedly feminine today. The way we perform gender, therefore, can change and evolve.

In trying to understand his lineage as a transgender person, Alex has conducted extensive research on historical examples of transgender individuals.His 2014 novel, Revolutionary, was born out of this research; it explores the life of Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man in order to fight in George Washington’s army. In publishing the novel, Alex puts forth a story that could one day serve as the echo a young person is desperately searching for.

Today, Alex is a writer, teacher, and speaker. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard, a master’s in religion at Brown, and an MFA in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Alex teaches English at Exeter, where he lives on campus with his wife, coaches JV girls’ ice hockey, serves as an adviser to the school newspaper and to the Gay/Straight Alliance, and plays tuba in the concert band. He travels the country speaking to young people and adults about the myths and realities of being transgender, sharing his story, and educating on topics such as gender inclusivity, supporting transgender students, and the craft of writing.