NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Meet Rowan Brick

When many people think of gender, they tend to see it as a rather black-and-white issue; to them, there are only men and women. For Rowan Brick, however, things are more complex.

“It’s definitely really complicated,” he said. “I’ve always experienced dysphoria … but I’ve never attached it to my gender until recently. It wasn’t until the last seven months that I’ve identified as fully masculine.”

Brick identifies as transmasculine — he was designated female at birth, but identifies with masculinity.

To people who have only ever thought of gender as it corresponds to the “binary” — that is, the idea that gender is split between masculinity and femininity — these kind of terms can seem impenetrable. Words like “genderqueer,” which reflects a rejection of the binary, have only come into prominence in the last few years; thus, many disregard people’s gender identities as strange, unimportant, and as “exceptions to the rule.”

Brick, 19, is a Psychology major — and recognizes the danger of people’s refusal to accept others for who they are. As part of a project for his class, he researched correlational studies on attitudes within the LGBTQIAAP+ community. What he discovered was sobering: in Canada, one study found that the suicide rates among bisexual women were much higher than those among straight and gay women.

While this may not directly relate to the idea of gender, it does hint at a startling fact about our society: people often angrily expect others to “make up their minds” rather than be multiple things at once — something that people with non-conforming gender experience all the time.

Brick has experienced a difficult time coming out to many people — as part of this, his recent adoption of the name “Rowan” has not extended to everyone he knows quite yet.

“The name is definitely a recent thing,” he said. “I’m not out at home and probably never will be … I’ve been very selective about who I come out to, but I don’t fear violence here as much as I would in a place like Tennessee.”

Violence and discrimination are major problems in the lives of trans people; last year, on Dec. 28, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn took her life; on Feb. 15 of this year, Zander Mahaffey, just 15 years old, committed suicide. Both teenagers’ gender identities were rejected and stigmatized by their families; in both cases, support from loved ones might have saved their lives.

Cases like these are tragic, but have provided the most worldwide attention for the community in history.

“It’s a difficult battle. This is the highest visibility we’ve ever had, but we need more,” said Brick.

For those interested in finding out more about these issues, Brick said, one has to be careful to ask the right questions. Many times, people get so caught up in their curiosity that they forget that they’re speaking to a human being — with feelings just like anyone else, and a right to reasonable privacy.

“There are always questions you should never ask, like asking a trans person how much they hate themselves or what their genitals are,” he said. “It’s dehumanizing.”

For LGBTQIAAP+ students at NECC, it’s important to note that a safe space is never too far away. Brick is a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school, which provides a space for people of all sexualities and gender identities.

GSA student president Kelly Schwing said, “Rowan is a beautiful soul. Nothing he could say about who he loves or how he loves could change that. We’ve grown really close and knowing that he’s happy with himself and listening to him talk about his partner, Charlie, is one of my favorite things. The smile and the excitement beaming from him is amazing. It’s the kind of feeling you want everyone to have on their faces all the time.”

Brick said that Professor Kristi Arford’s “Sex and Gender” class can also be a wonderful resource for NECC students both familiar and unfamiliar with more complex gender ideas. Arford is also the faculty adviser for the GSA.

“Professor Arford knows what she’s talking about,” he said. “A lot of the time you have the chance to talk about your own experiences, and most of the students there are people who are interested in taking it. Students who will be vocally ignorant are a vast minority.”

Thankfully, Brick’s support is not just limited to within the walls of NECC — as previously mentioned, his datefriend, Charlie Morris, has been wonderfully supportive.

“Rowan and I knew each other were queer more or less as long as we knew each other, long before we were in a relationship,” said Morris. “We came out to each other as nonbinary at essentially the same time … He didn’t come out as transmasculine until later but, of course, if Rowan’s more boy than girl then good for him. We went through a list of names trying to find him one he liked before he independently found and selected ‘Rowan.’ Of course I support Rowan in however he identifies.”

Morris said that communication can be difficult with society’s current understanding of gender; he and Rowan often have to refer to themselves differently depending on who they’re talking to.

“Unfortunately we live in a world which barely acknowledges the transgender community, let alone the nonbinary one. I refer to Rowan with his given name around my parents as well. It’s a pain and it’s wrong, but for the time it’s what has to happen.

“When I visited him, I used traditionally feminine pronouns and his given name for his parents’ sake. He’s talked about transitioning eventually, but the problem always cycles back to his family; they seem like perfectly nice people, which is what makes it so hard.”

Despite the difficulties, Brick continues to work hard and find success — he’s currently an honors student at NECC. After finishing here, he hopes to transfer to a four-year school to get a degree in psychology. After that, he said, he wants to use his knowledge and experience with sexuality and gender in a career — hopefully working as a psychotherapist with teenagers and young adults in the LGBTQIAAP+ community.

Considering this, Schwing said that support is a critical part of any LGBTQIAAP+ person’s success. “The best thing we as loved ones can do is accept people as they identify. They are the ones waking up every morning in their bodies, with their thoughts. We have to let them know we support them. As long as their hearts are happy and their souls can flourish, you should be able to set aside whatever ‘societal norm’ (you currently believe), because you do that for people you care about. You let them be happy.”