Mel Gonzales, a transgender high school student in suburban Houston, didn't want to win a popularity contest. He wanted to prove a point: that a female-to-male trans student could become homecoming king. Surprisingly, it worked.
Classmates picked him as homecoming king on Friday surprising him, he says, and showing that underdogs sometimes really do win. More than that, Gonzales says, winning the crown proves that acceptance is growing for people who identify "outside of the gender binary."
We chatted with Gonzales (photo right), a 17-year-old senior at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, about winning, what it means for LGBT students and how other students have reacted.
What's your reaction to being crowned Homecoming King?
I was crowned at the homecoming football game on Friday, September 12. As the court and I lined up on the field, I tried to disconnect myself from the idea that I would probably win, just in case I didn’t. That’s probably why I was actually stunned when they announced my name. Apparently, the crowd was incredibly loud, but I didn’t realize that at the moment. I was stuck in my own little world, with my hand covering my face and my arm around my mom. Yes, I was very much elated, but I personally have some sort of defense mechanism where I handle any sort of emotional shock very calmly. Rather than, “Oh my God I can't believe it!" I was more like, “Wow… this is pretty cool. Just wow.”
Houston is a conservative place. Sugar Land, where your high school is located, even more so. Were you surprised at being crowned?
As I was born in Houston and later moved to Sugar Land, I never considered my home to be “conservative." Fort Bend is one of the most culturally diverse districts in America, so in my experience, the diverse population also has varied political ideologies. Because of this, Stephen F. Austin High School definitely emphasizes respect and tolerance and actually welcomes the unique. If I didn’t think that the student body was accepting enough to vote me into homecoming court, I would not have campaigned.
You write on Facebook that you haven't received any blowback during your run for Homecoming King. Did that surprise you?
It’s occasional that I get negative comments online, and very rare to hear them said to my face. The day after I published that post on Facebook, I found that there were multiple aggressive remarks on Twitter, which I was unaware of, since I don’t tweet. However, many more people apparently stood up in my defense in comparison to them. I half-expected for someone to key my car in the parking lot or something indirect, but nothing but positivity has occurred in person. I think that opposition does not feel comfortable stating their opinions, which I don’t think is right either. I am receptive to any criticism, as long as it is respectful of the other party.
What does this mean for transgender students? Or other high school students who might be struggling with gender issues or questioning whether they are LGBT?
The continually positive reception to transgendered people as homecoming royalty – congrats, Scarlett Lenh! – proves that the country is moving towards acceptance for not just those who are not heterosexual, but those who also identify outside of the gender binary. This win proves that through hard work and standing firm for what you deserve, you have the potential in you to be so much happier and successful beyond your imagination. Many of our admirable role models have made it to the top from humble beginnings. Why can’t it be you? Breathe, take baby steps, and pull your shoulders back. Confidence intimidates and strikes awe, and it will get you to places you didn’t think you could go. If any LGBTQ individuals ever need help, I can be easily contacted on Facebook.
Any other thoughts you'd like to share for the story?
I don’t feel as though I deserve all this credit in comparison to the LGBTQ youth I personally know. Although I’ve had my fair share of adversity, my transition was surprisingly so smooth. “Mel” was already an old nickname of mine. I have always looked masculine, so 99 percent of the time, I passed. My parents allowed me to begin hormone replacement treatment at 15, despite their own continual difficulties accepting me as a third son. I am so blessed that these opportunities popped up for me; however, all of this is atypical of trans and queer youth. I have not had depression so severe it led to self-harm. My family has not shunned me from our home for shaming them. I never needed to hide from my loved ones in fear that somehow they would erase any sort of relationship we had built over the years. But way too many people that I know have experienced these tragedies.
As much I am honored to represent this community, I am not the one that others should be congratulating. The real winners are those who tell themselves to get out of bed and go about their day, despite the heaviness in their feet and hearts. This love and praise needs to be directed to those who sincerely need it.
When I began to identify as male, any sort of confusion over my gender gave me anxiety to the point where I compromised, letting people call me whatever made them most comfortable. My advice to anyone stuck in a rut is brilliantly summed up in this quote by Robert Fritz: “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that’s left is a compromise.”