Visible for Those Who Can’t Be

Chase Chaplin
Chase Chaplin

When people ask if I ever played sports growing up, I take a second and do a lot of quick calculations. I ask myself “Can I trust this person?” “Is this a safe space?” “Is this an appropriate time to disclose that I am transgender?” If I decide that this is the right time, then I go on to talk about the 12 years that I spent playing softball. If the moment isn’t right, I just give a quick “Yeah I played baseball for a little while,” and hope the conversation moves along quickly. This train of thought doesn’t end at sports though. These calculations and decisions play a factor in my life daily, as a transgender man born and raised in Alabama.

When people ask how long I’ve known, it’s always a tricky answer. Should I go back to childhood when I didn’t comprehend that there was a difference in sexes, and I thought I was male? Should I go back to middle school when puberty started, and my body became unrecognizable to me? Or maybe high school, when I began exploring my identity and realized that I was queer in some way? For the clearest timeline, I say that my transition started during my freshman year of college when I reached a turning point and recognized that I couldn’t go on living how society wanted me to, but that I could still have the life that I wanted.

I’ve always felt that where I grew up, one thing that remains true is that the people have grit. I was raised with the principle that putting your head down and pushing through is the best way to approach situations, and while I now see the flaws to this approach, it served me very well during my early transition. Finding myself in a new town, alone in a one-bedroom apartment, was easily a defining moment of my early adulthood. I recognized there were two paths for me to take, and I chose to do as I was raised: put my head down and push through the storm that would be the next two years or so of my life. During the first year of my transition, I dealt with coming out, changing my name at school, the deaths of three people close to me, working to save for top surgery, and of course male puberty and menopause simultaneously. It was also at this time that I got involved at my school beyond just attending classes, a decision that literally changed my life (and no, I’m not being dramatic, as you will see).

The first Active Minds meeting I went to was (fittingly) about friendships and had a ton of built-in activities. I loved it. I don’t remember exactly what got me to that first meeting, but once I had gone to a few, I knew I found a group I wanted to stay in through my time at Auburn. From this newfound passion, I launched into involvement within the office of Health Promotion and Wellness Services. After joining some more clubs and even helping to pilot others, I found myself firmly supported in my community at school, an entirely new feeling, and was able to finish my degree with relative ease compared to how freshman year started. Looking back, I never could have expected during my first year that I’d end my college career feeling cared for, loved, and most of all seen for who I am. I can’t emphasize enough the importance that acceptance has on one’s mental health. When we are given the space to be on the outside who we know we are on the inside, we’re able to flourish to our fullest potential.

Do you know how in stories, sometimes things seem to work out in a way that’s almost too good to be true? Well, I’m happy to report that that’s where I am right now. I currently work in the same office that helped to give me a community as a student all those years ago. I see myself in the students I advise that were in my same position just a few years ago. I also help co-advise the Active Minds chapter here on campus which gave me my first sign of hope during a difficult time and was just recently awarded the 2022 Healthy Campus Award. I know I’m making a difference in the lives of students who may not otherwise feel accepted by their peers, their school, or even their country. I couldn’t be more grateful for my community or more excited for the future. This position, as well as my entire Auburn experience, have been life-changing and will leave me screaming, “War Eagle!” forever.