KENNEBUNK, Maine — Britt Couturier is at a good place in his life. A sophomore at the University of Maine at Farmington, he enjoys art and sports and says he loves living life to the fullest.
But things weren’t always that way.
Just a few years ago, Britt was hiding who he was inside, faced with school administrators who told him he needed to change, and classmates who felt he was “weird.”
Just a few years ago, Britt was Brittany Helene Couturier, still trying to live as a female because he thought that was what society expected of him.
Today, he has chosen to share his story, hoping his voice will reach other teens experiencing what he went through.
“I am a 19-year-old female to male transgender who wants to be the voice for other transgenders who feel like they can’t or don’t have a voice,” Britt said.
Like most transgender individuals, Britt said his first feelings about his identity became apparent at a very early age.
“When I was in kindergarten I remember wanting to wear boys’ clothes and have boys’ toys. I used to tell my family ‘I am a boy’ when I was that age. I started to like girls and have an attraction to them around that time as well,” he said. “But, as I grew older, I learned that there were physical differences between a boy and a girl and I realized that I had a girl’s body.”
As a child, Britt said the feelings he experienced were combined with mixed messages — mostly negative — from society.
“That’s when I became a reserved and confused child, because I knew I was a boy and my body didn’t match that,” he said. “I still tried to wear boys’ clothes and my family just thought I was a tomboy or that I was going through a phase.”
While remaining quiet and shy worked as a Band-Aid for a while, things changed when he entered middle school, he said.
“In sixth grade I tried hiding who I really was. That’s when I was told that I was weird for wearing boys’ clothes,” Britt said. “So I trashed my male wardrobe and wore girls’ clothes and pretended to be someone that I’m not so I didn’t get bullied.”
Making the choice
Although Britt took the step to fit in, it soon became apparent that the person he is was dying inside.
“I was absolutely miserable,” Britt said. “I hated my life then.”
It was during high school that Britt made the decision to transition into a male, not an easy choice to make for any teenager, let alone one attending a private Catholic high school with a dress code.
“I decided to go to the dean of students and ask him if I could wear the male attire because that is what I felt comfortable in,” Britt recalled. “Unfortunately, he said that I couldn’t. After that I started skipping school until one day, when I went to school wearing the male attire. I thought that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal since I wasn’t going in ripped jeans and a T-shirt. Once I got to school I was sent to the dean of students immediately. That’s when an argument between him and I broke out. I was crying and telling him that this isn’t fair. His reply was ‘We just don’t accept your kind.’ I didn’t even know what he meant by that.”
He felt betrayed, both by the school and his religion.
“Is it the school that doesn’t accept ‘my kind’ or was it my religion that doesn’t accept me?” he said he wondered. “The religion that believes that everyone is God’s child and is loved unconditionally by God, is what doesn’t accept my kind? It was ridiculous.”
Britt said that what followed that incident was a long journey of soul searching.
He transferred to four different high schools, leaving his native Manchester, N.H., as a junior before finding the right fit at Kennebunk High School, where he said he finally felt a sense of peace.
“I have never felt so accepted and like myself ever since I moved here,” Couturier said. “The teachers and students of Kennebunk High School made me feel welcomed and accepted. I knew that if I were to face any bullying there, the administration would be right there for me and take care of it. I could dress the way I wanted to and I even got to graduate in a blue gown, meaning that I got to graduate with the guys. Coming to Kennebunk was the best thing that happened to me.”
Other hurdles remain
While acceptance at school was one thing, acceptance from society as a whole has been another.
Britt said his family and friends have been supportive, though cyber bullying still occasionally happens and acceptance by some of the parents and family members of his friends hasn’t always come easily.
Even within his own family, as accepting as they are, there have been some tough moments.
“The highlight of one of my shopping trips was buying boxers, which my mother didn’t approve of right away,” he said. “She didn’t think I needed them since no one was going to see them. However, that’s what people don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if no one sees it. It matters to me because it makes me feel more like the man I am.”
In spite of this, Britt is quick to point out how his family and true friends reacted to his decision to transition to a male.
“Some of my family didn’t mind it. It took some other people time to get used to it, such as using male pronouns when talking about me,” he said. “My friends are so supportive it’s amazing. They are my family and I couldn’t ask for better friends.”
Today, Britt is a sophomore in college and plans to major in either counseling or business. He has a girlfriend, and works the summers at a Kennebunkport restaurant. This year he began taking testosterone injections and his voice has changed. He now shaves and hopes to have a double mastectomy later this fall, if his family can afford it.
“It’s $5,200 and between going to college and buying books and such we may or may not be able to,” he said.
Still, he said he is thankful for the progress he has made and remains optimistic and patient.
“That’s how life is,” he said, “but as of right now things are all right. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, a family, friends, all while being who I am.”
Britt said he knows other teens aren’t so lucky, which is why he wanted to share his story and help educate others.
“I think there are a lot of difficult things being transgender that many people don’t take into consideration,” he said. “For me, the first thing was coming out as a transgender. Not many people are educated in what a transgender is or even what they go through so that’s what made things hard.”
Britt said he has plans to share his story even more widely, in the hope of reaching thousands of other transgender teens.
“I hope to make a documentary or film about transgenders or my journey in detail,” he said. “This will save a lot of kids from getting bullied and will save a lot of lives in the trans community. I see myself completely transitioned in 10 or 20 years. I hope to be a husband and a father, with a successful job and hopefully still providing support and a voice for my fellow trans family.”
Britt also has a message of hope for other’s in his shoes.
“It gets better. It really does,” he said. “No matter how much you feel like things are just too difficult to handle, it will get better. Also, love yourself. Don’t change who you are. You want friends who love you for who you are, not friends who love you for something you’re not. One last thing is that you’re not alone. There are many other people that are going through what you are. Find help and support if you need it. You are loved and not alone whether you know it or not.”
When Britt Couturier found acceptance by coming to Kennebunk High School, Principal Sue Cressey was pleased, but not surprised.
“This school is very accepting,” she said. “That’s what the students tell us, that they embrace the differences.”
While the school has had both openly gay and transgender teachers, it’s the students, both straight and gay, who have helped to set the tone, through the school’s own Gay Straight Trans Alliance. Led by moderators Fran Kessler and Nate Menifield, Cressey said the GSTA maintains a bulletin board at the school that advocates acceptance and meets several times a week.
“They are a very strong group,” she said.
From Oct. 21-25, the group will lead Ally Week and ask community members to sign a pledge of acceptance, among other things.
It was just that acceptance the school and its students and administrators wanted Britt to feel, Cressey said.
“Britt came in to talk to me and said, ‘I want to graduate as a boy,'” Cressey recalled. “The kids were really very accepting, they took it in stride.”
As Britt appeared in his royal blue cap and gown, no one batted an eye.
“They just thought, ‘that’s who Britt is,'” Cressey said. “That’s the kind of school Kennebunk High School is. Whoever you are, that’s who you can be here.”