Former AU Student Body President Comes Out as Trans
For three years, American University rising senior Sarah McBride led the fairly ordinary life of a D.C. college girl. She studied hard for her political science classes, went out with friends, served as president of the student government and hung out with her boyfriend on the weekends.
“I’ve known I was a girl since I was three or four years old,” says Sarah, who lived as Tim until early this May.
She recalls a childhood memory of watching a sitcom and asking her mother what to make of a transgender character on the show. As her mother explained that some people feel like they were meant to be a different gender than their birth sex, Sarah’s heart sank. “I knew I would have to tell her this someday, that I was this thing I saw on TV,” she says.
Because she was active in politics in her home state of Delaware, Sarah worried that coming out as trans might hamper her chances of making it into public office later in life. She hoped that if she stifled her desire to live as a woman, the feeling might eventually go away.
Sarah used her role in student government at AU to work toward a more just campus, leading a successful fight to establish gender-neutral housing options on campus—an effort that she says only highlighted her own internal struggle.
This past December, Sarah’s impetus to come out as trans arrived in the form of a Christmas gift: a button-down shirt. “It represented such a vivid contrast between where I was and where I needed to be,” she says.
Sarah’s family met her new identity with support and love, giving her the confidence she needed to consider coming out to her campus community. As student body president, she knew rumors would swirl, so she wrote an editorial in The Eagle to tell her story in her own words. The article quickly went viral nationwide.
“I saw it as an opportunity to raise awareness around trans issues,” says Sarah. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive--I haven't experienced any negative responses so far. It's so humbling. I've gotten hundreds of Facebook messages from people I've never even met.”
Many have reached out to offer Sarah well-deserved congratulations for the courage it took to come out in such a public way, making Sarah aware of her own privilege as a white, upper-middle class student leader with a wide-reaching support network.
“People talk to me about the bravery I’ve shown in this situation, but I don’t think it’s anything compared to a young LGBT person coming out to a family that might kick them out, or a trans adult who might get fired from their job,” she says. “That’s silent bravery, and those people need the kind of support that I’ve gotten.”
Though she no longer feels committed to running for office someday, Sarah still wants to make her mark on the world through politics. As an intern for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, she’ll spend this summer supporting the campaigns of LGBTQ candidates, a cause that reflects Sarah’s own struggle to make her old dreams of holding political office mesh with her identity as a transwoman.
When she thinks about her future, Sarah’s emotions are mixed. “I’m anxious and nervous. I’ve had this privilege of being perceived as cisgendered, and now I’m losing that privilege,” she says. “But mostly, I’m just looking forward to living the rest of my life as my true self.”