When Salem Whit walked through the hallways of their high school in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, overhearing classmates ask one another, “What is that thing?” happened with nearly enough frequency to become background noise. Unlike the sound of lockers slamming, however, comments about Salem’s gender identity were too targeted for the teen to treat them as white noise. “I actually thought I was inhuman,” Salem recalled when thinking about the years of bullying and harassment they experienced in high school. “I thought I was an alien. I definitely thought I was going to hell.”
Salem graduated from high school in 2015 but says the process of getting to that point was far from easy. “I’m not sure how my grades were good enough to graduate,” the 19-year-old explained. After years of experiencing gender dysphoria—feeling an intense and innate disconnect from their body, gender presentation, voice, and name—Salem came out as transgender during their senior year of high school. More specifically, Salem identifies as both non-binary and agender, meaning that while Salem does not identify with the female sex they were assigned at birth, they also do not identify as male or use male pronouns.
As classmates and teachers struggled to use Salem’s preferred pronouns and accept their gender presentation, however, the high-schooler found that the greatest relief came from avoiding school altogether. “I skipped classes,” they admitted. “I quit every extracurricular. I stopped participating in sports, gym, and drama—anything that separated us by gender. I even stopped talking for a while, because my gender dysphoria caused me to really hate the sound of my own voice.” At 16, feeling lost and lonely, Salem attempted suicide.