Professor transitions to true self

Butler professor Grayson Barnes opens up about his transformation.

by Emily Beckman

As a young girl, Helen Barnes would tell her parents that the body she was in felt all wrong. Now, Professor Grayson Barnes is happier than he has been in a long time.

Childhood
Until her third grade year, Helen Barnes dressed like a boy. For a number of years, she got away with asking people to call her Buddy. Then eventually she was forced to get cat-eye glasses, and her mother told people there was no one in their house by the name of Buddy, that the person who lived there was a girl and her name was Helen.

“I felt my entire life that I didn’t fit in, in very specific ways. I liked girls, but I wasn’t gay. I liked doing boy things, but I wasn’t a boy … I knew I liked girls, but I wasn’t a lesbian. I didn’t realize that there were alternatives until about 20 years ago,” Barnes says.

Eventually, Barnes hit puberty, concerned the changes that were happening to her body would be what she was stuck with forever.

“All through my life, it was kind of like once in awhile I would hear this voice in the back of my head saying: ‘You’re really a man; you’re really a boy,’” Barnes says.

Becoming Grayson
Three years ago, Barnes began going to therapy.

“About a year ago I decided to actually make some changes, and I started with dressing more masculine,” Barnes says. “I went through my closet and got rid of my girly
clothes. I had cut my hair earlier in the year … I had really long hair and wanted a more
masculine hairstyle.”

On Oct. 13, 2014, Barnes went public.

“I came out on Facebook and came out to my colleagues big time,” Barnes says. “There
was a school meeting … so at the meeting on my name tag I crossed out the name Helen and wrote in Grayson and thought, ‘This is it, the world’s gonna know,’ and I have been so much happier ever since.”

In May of 2015, Barnes began taking hormones. Since then, he has seen some changes
in appearance: his shoulders have widened; his pants size has dropped; and he had to buy a razor. In addition, he has undergone changes mentally.

“I think that I retain a lot of the strength and intellect of the person that I was before. But
that person was extremely unhappy; extremely unfulfilled. And I think now I am very happy and I can see where I can go. And previously I felt I had kind of hit the wall,” Barnes says.

As a man, Grayson says he notices that people treat him differently.

“It’s weird because I notice that as a woman I would be at meetings and people wouldn’t listen to me. I would say something and the man next to me would repeat exactly what I said and people would listen to him. It’s not necessarily in the educational setting. [Now] they listen to me more. What I say is taken with a little more thinking, without being brushed off. Which is weird because if someone has something to say it shouldn’t matter what gender we perceive them as, we should listen to them all very carefully.”

The name Grayson was inspired by a number of things. It reminds him who he is and who strives to be.

“I guess my personal style is exemplified by my name, that I chose, that I’m using now, because not only am I thinking of myself in a gray area, and a son whose father’s middle name is Gray, it makes me think of grace. It reminds me to be the son of grace and to be graceful and thoughtful and understanding and gentle,” Barnes says.

Barnes knows the kind of person he strives to be.

“I want to be, or continue to be, a kind and sympathetic man, strong, but open and generous and all those things. Those strong sides of masculinity that we tend to not see, and oftentimes I think as men, we’re educated not to use. We’re supposed to be forceful and loud, well, what about being strong and gentle at the same time? And funny. I want to be funny. Or funnier. I think I’m kind of funny already, but it might be jokes that only I get.”

Impact of Teaching
Since he was young, Barnes knew he wanted to write. He studied art and creative writing at Wichita State University.

“I had a vision I would die over my typewriter,” Barnes says.

Eventually, he combined his love of art and history and earned a degree in Art History.

Through soul searching, Barnes says he realized that he was pretty good at helping people and decided to be a teacher. He currently teaches Humanities 1, Humanities 2 and Art Appreciation. He still continues his passion for writing by writing articles for The Liberty Press magazine.

“It seems that what I believe about teaching is when we have something in our heads it makes us contributors to society,” Barnes says. “If we think about things instead of react to things like an amoeba, then were also making better decisions; people aren’t controlling us.”

Impact of Art
Since he was seven years old, Barnes has been going to museums.

“One of the things that I notice a lot is I pay attention to everything, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I have spent most of my life looking at stuff. I gauge people when they walk into a room … I look at colors out the car window,” Barnes says. “I think what art has done … it’s allowed me to be an observer. It makes me look at people, because people are the most important subject.”

Support
Through the stages of his change, Barnes has had support from family, friends and the
Wichita transgender community. Before starting the process, Barnes talked to his dad who told him, “You are my kid and I love you and you need to do whatever you need
formation to do to support your physical and emotional self.”

Barnes says he is appreciative of the support from his father, a conservative Air Force veteran.

“Truthfully, if he hadn’t been supportive of this, I don’t know that I would have even started,” Barnes says. “Because I love my dad and he’s important to me. When I grow up I want to be like him; I’ve always wanted to be like him.”

His friends and roommate have provided a supportive network as well.

“I have friends that I have known for 20 years now and they are behind me 100 percent,” Barnes says.

In addition, Barnes is a part of WiTCoN, the Wichita Trans Community Network. WiTCoN alternates between informational meetings and social gatherings for transgender people and their allies. The group provides him mentors, as well as allows him to be a mentor to others.

Violence Against Transgender People
Barnes explains that transgender people have recently been a target of hate crimes.

“There is a societal danger to people who don’t fit some sort of norm or box, so the possibilities of physical violence are everywhere,” Barnes says.

He also says that there is a pornography industry that uses derogatory terms against
transgender people.

“I would say that we certainly have a problem in our society, that people will hate a trans person yet they want to go to bed with a trans person. Or they want to watch a video of a trans person having sex,” Barnes says. “To me that’s a sign that we’re seriously broken. And if we are objectifying people like that, we are distancing them from ourselves. And it makes those people, who should be recognized as people, much easier to hate, kill [and] destroy. And I think about that every day.”

Advice
Barnes has pointers for anyone who is going through the same thought process as he did.

“Make sure you have a support group in place. Find people who support you. If you have any doubts at all, make sure you get a therapist. Be careful in how you progress. Understand that the choices you make are going to impact the rest of your life.”

Friends to transgender people can help as well, Barnes says.

“And as far as everyone else who has a friend who’s trans: be there. You may not know exactly what it is that they’re going through, but you can validate their process and tell them that you love them or care about them.

If they need a bathroom escort, go with them. Don’t be afraid to be friends with trans people and defend them just as you would defend your other friends,” he says. “And If you have a friend who is going through the transition process … this isn’t you, this is them. If you’re still confused about what you can do as a trans ally … come to a WiTCoN meeting, come with your friend, it takes all of us.”

graysonbarnes2
photo by Allanah Taylor
graysonbarnes1
photo by Allanah Taylor
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