Clinical Domestic Violence Specialist Aiden Ethington said people should be alert of others' gender.
"Be aware. Know what’s happening to transgender people and know why you should care," he said during a presentation Monday at Illinois Valley Community College.
"It’s the nice thing to do.”
Ethington shared his journey in a presentation he calls A Gender Journey, explaining his transition from female to male.
“When we in the transgender community talk about gender, it’s different than what you think it actually means,” Ethington said. “In the transgender community and the sociological community, it’s your sense of self, your identity; how you present yourself to the world. It’s what you show people.”
To be an ally to transgender people, Ethington said never to out anyone, but also he said to make sure to know what the proper terms are and what terms to avoid. "Transgender" is the safest term to use, he said.
He also said asking about pronouns can be helpful and it can go a long way toward helping someone embrace their true gender.
Ethington grew up in Streator and lived there until he was 10 years old, when his mother divorced his biological father. He was a tomboy from a young age and he said his parents never forced a gender role on him.
His mother remarried a man who was abusive, and Ethington said that was what led him to the career path as a domestic violence specialist; it also warped his view of masculinity as something gross.
He set out to create his own style of masculinity, to be what he wanted when he was young.
“I’m like, having a complete and utter breakdown in our driveway, sobbing about this trial; I don’t know if I can go to court and tell them this story,” Ethington said of an abusive former relative. “Then in the middle of my breakdown I blabbed about my girlfriend to my mom. She was like, ‘well duh, I knew about that.’ Moms typically know everything before you tell them, I’m pretty sure it’s magic.”
Ethington said he never had to deal with denial of his being a lesbian from his parents.
“I didn’t get kicked out, I didn’t get disowned,” Ethington said. “I had some friends that didn’t believe me (when I first came out as a lesbian).”
Ethington discovered his desire to become a man after he discovered LiveJournal, a social media platform similar to MySpace but with more emphasis on community and journaling.
He had found a section of the site dedicated to those living gender queer or gender neutral.
“I thought, this is it.” Ethington said. “This is me. This is who I am and I’d know it. I thought I’d change my name and I had this idea about what it was to be a man. I didn’t think I’d want to be that.”
Ethington started his transition in 2015, and he described the process as “greasy and hungry,” similar to going through a second puberty.
At the time, Ethington was working as a court-appointed special advocate with the state and he had to start going by he/him pronouns, since the legal process doesn’t allow for the use of they/them pronouns. He’s kept using he/him pronouns to this day.
Ethington and his wife adopted a child 18 months ago, and he said he gets a kick out of being called Dad.
“Being called Dad by a tiny person is great and I really can’t get enough of that,” Ethington said. “Now I’m in a place where I am for the most part viewed as male and that’s very weird because you notice a lot of privileges you don’t get as a woman.”
A man in the audience asked Ethington after his presentation how the law can go about creating a standard to protect transgender people when the culture is so fluid, something Ethington mentioned in his presentation. In response, Ethington said to this day he meets people who use language he’s never heard before.
“When it comes to the law, people need to be safe,” Ethington said. “I think with the bathroom thing is, 'where do you want me to go?' 'And why is America the only place in the world with stalls that don't go to the floor?' ”