Herman’s life began in a well-to-do family in Arlington, Virginia. His father, a successful lobbyist, and his mother, a devoted attorney, held strong beliefs about racial justice in America. Despite their privileged lifestyle, they were determined to ensure their son’s success. However, from an early age, Herman failed to demonstrate exceptional talents according to private educators.
Frustrated by these assessments, his mother insisted on exposing him to numerous cultural and artistic activities, hoping to uncover hidden abilities. Yet, Herman remained mediocre at best, leading to a childhood filled with constant pressure from his parents. As a result, he became inhibited and self-conscious, lacking the confidence to explore his own interests.
At the age of 18, Herman entered Brown University, where he encountered an intense focus on social justice ideologies, mirroring his parents’ beliefs. In his freshman year, he enrolled in an English class that would challenge his perception of literature and his own identity.
The class was taught by a transgender professor who had strict guidelines for readings. To Herman’s surprise, all works by “White cisgender male” authors, including classics by Shakespeare, Dickens, and Chaucer, were banned. Instead, the class was to focus solely on readings by women, people of color, and gender-fluid individuals. The professor placed particular emphasis on Leslie Fienberg, a transgender author who referred to themselves as “ze” and identified as a revolutionary communist, even though much of their writing focused on LGBTQ+ issues rather than strictly on communism as a historical ideology.
As Thanksgiving approached, Herman found himself brooding over a recent midterm in which he had to summarize the key findings of Leslie Feinberg’s works, particularly “Stone Butch Blues” and “Transgender Worries.” He questioned why Feinberg insisted on being referred to as “ze” instead of a “he” or a “she.” These thoughts led Herman to reflect on his own motivations for potentially undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
Yet, the thought of what his parents would think loomed large in his mind. They were clearly not progressive enough to embrace such a decision. What about his grandparents? Grandpa Jack, a war veteran, had fought in the Korean War and was severely wounded in Vietnam. Grandma Stacy was a devout Orthodox Presbyterian who upheld traditional roles. Their acceptance seemed unlikely.
In his contemplation, Herman dwelled on the concept of the “oppressive patriarchy” that Leslie Feinberg supposedly suffered and pondered why Feinberg declared themselves a “revolutionary communist.” His English professor had even played an out-of-context clip by Hugo Chavez, who spoke of facing execution and vowing to die on his feet, inspired by the memory of Che Guevara.
Feeling a sense of urgency, Herman made a bold announcement during the Thanksgiving gathering. He revealed that he was contemplating gender reassignment surgery and demanded to be referred to as “ze” instead of “he.” The revelation shocked his grandparents, who were mortified by the news.
The fallout from Herman’s announcement was enormous. The tension within the family grew, leaving Herman feeling even more isolated. In response, he took a vow of silence, resolving not to speak at the next family gathering.
The decision to remain silent became a turning point in Herman’s life. It served as a form of self-protection and a rejection of a world that he believed saw him as unworthy. As he retreated into silence, Herman sought solace and respite from the conflicting narratives and expectations that surrounded him. However, little did he know that this vow of silence would only deepen his isolation and hinder his ability to challenge the oppressive ideologies he encountered.