On Being A Transgender Journalist

Crossword editor Mao Reynolds writes about his experience as a transgender man.

It’s hard to be proud of something I can’t control.

From seventh to 12th grade I attended a private Catholic school and had to take a religion class every year. Those classes were usually spent memorizing the number of books in each Testament and watching cringey movies with thinly-veiled allegories for Jesus. But some classes were more intense.

One of my teachers said the deadliest of the seven deadly sins was pride, especially the kind of pride preached by the LGBTQ+ community. Even though Pope Francis has been campaigning for LGBTQ+ acceptance since coming to the Vatican, many Catholics — and Americans as a whole — still disapprove of who I am.

Sixty-two percent of American Catholics think gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll. The same poll found 43% of Americans as a whole think social acceptance of trans people is happening too quickly and 38% think acceptance has gone too far.

I’m a transgender man. I’ve felt disconnected from femininity since I was little, always choosing sneakers over fancy shoes, pants over skirts, the boy’s Happy Meal over the girl’s. I even remember when I told my mom I didn’t want to start wearing training bras.

“I want to be like Peter Pan,” I told her. “I don’t want to grow up.”

I didn’t want to grow up if it meant having to be someone I wasn’t. Now, with one year left until I graduate college, I’m still struggling to accept the person I am — but I’m working on it.

Last year, on the first day of Pride Month, I officially came out. I’d been out to close friends and my siblings for several years already, but this was the first time I really made a statement about my identity. I still remember the way my finger shook as I posted the announcement on Instagram.

As big of a step as that was, I still struggle with talking so openly about myself like this. I hesitate to correct people when they call me a “her.” People are more likely to assume I’m a lesbian than a man. And sure, I like to wear makeup, but a bit of eyeliner shouldn’t determine your gender.

I used to worry much more about “passing” as a man. I filled in my eyebrows, lowered my voice and wore two sports bras on top of each other to hide my chest. Now, I just care about feeling comfortable, but I still have days where even the idea of wearing a dress makes me queasy.

On a more serious note, transgender Americans have had a hellish year so far. In 2024 Louisiana, Ohio and Wyoming joined 22 other states that have policies limiting gender-affirming healthcare, according to health policy organization KFF. Advocacy groups are still mourning Nex Benedict, a nonbinary Indigenous teenager who died after being beaten in their high school bathroom, as well as six other transgender people murdered this year.

Even worse, many news media don’t report adequately on trans issues — or they ignore them all together. Last year, GLAAD issued a statement about The New York Times’ poor journalistic practices when it came to trans healthcare, and tabloids like the Daily Mail regularly peddle transphobic rhetoric.

This makes me concerned for how myself and other young transgender journalists will do once our careers take off.

I’m lucky enough to write for The Phoenix, which encourages a diversity of news coverage — including drag shows and the women’s studies and gender studies program — and instructs reporters to ask for the pronouns of anyone involved in a story.

This isn’t just about using the right pronouns, though. I’m also lucky to be part of the Trans Journalists Association, a nationwide organization fighting for equitable treatment in the field. It offers a style guide for coverage of transgender topics as well as a community space for reporters to support each other’s work.

Despite the Catholic Church’s official positions about things like gender-affirming surgery, I have hope for the future of Catholicism. Just last month, St. Patrick’s Cathedral hosted a funeral for transgender activist Cecilia Gentili and, despite officiants ending it early and online backlash, I can’t imagine something like that happening 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

I fondly recall one teacher at my high school who proclaimed his support for LGBTQ+ students while being a devout Catholic. He always said he had a man-crush on Pope Francis. I never took any of his classes, but support from someone like him — an authority figure, an older person, a Catholic — had a bigger impact on me than any fear mongering religion class.

This piece is just a blip in the larger conversation about transgender people’s portrayal in the news. However, it’s a massive step for me, someone who’s spent so long ignoring and hiding who I am. I’m done being silent — I’m ready to say, once and for all, this is me.

Feature image by Amber Cerpa / The Phoenix

Mao Reynolds

Mao Reynolds