Kaden and his wife Brittany started dating as teenagers, when they both worked at a restaurant in Rochester. At first they were just close friends, sharing details of their lives in frequent conversations. Then love began to blossom.
“He got very flirtatious,” Brittany recalls, although Kaden remembers it differently.
“I don’t flirt,” he says, smirking.
Six years later, Kaden and Brittany are married and living in Strafford County. Their family includes their three-year-old son, “Andon,” and their nephew “Joshua,” also three. They assumed legal guardianship of Joshua because his parents are unable to take care of him right now. (The couple asked that the children’s real names be withheld to protect their privacy.)
“They’re inseparable,” says Brittany. “Sometimes they can’t stand each other when they’re together, but when they’re away from each other they’re like, ‘Where’s Josh?’ ‘Where’s Andon?’ They miss each other so much.”
In addition to raising their family, Kaden, 24, and Brittany, 22, are both continuing their education. Brittany is applying to local colleges to work with special needs high school students. Kaden is studying healthcare administration and psychology through online courses at Ashford University.
Their joys and struggles are similar to those of other young families—balancing studies and childrearing, maintaining financial stability, finding time to socialize with friends. But they have faced unique challenges because Kaden is transgender. He began his transition when he was 15. And while they feel that overall New Hampshire is an accepting environment for their family, Kaden and Brittany have both been subjected to invasive and inappropriate personal questions and other harassing behavior in the workplace related to Kaden’s transgender status.
Kaden was working at a local hotel where an employee familiar with his family began gossiping about him being transgender. The chatter resulted in a co-worker asking Kaden—in the presence of another co-worker—a very inappropriate question about his anatomy, using vulgar terminology. A stunned Kaden reported the interaction to his manager, who allowed him to leave work early that day. There was no substantive follow-up with Kaden afterward, nor was the offending employee disciplined. “It made everything so much more awkward after,” he says of the incident. He left the job a few months later under unrelated circumstances.
“It’s kind of a shock,” Kaden says of the invasive questions. “It’s been like nine years since I started [transitioning] and I don’t think I’ve actually gotten accustomed to people asking questions.”
At a subsequent job, a co-worker who learned he is transgender outed Kaden to his manager, violating his privacy. Despite the fact that his transgender status had no bearing on his job duties or performance, the manager approached Kaden with an unsolicited warning: though it wasn’t a problem to her, Kaden shouldn’t disclose his status to anyone in the corporate administration, “because she didn’t think that they would be okay with it.” Feeling anxious knowing his workplace was not supportive, Kaden resigned from the job shortly after.
Brittany worked at a large collection agency, alongside friends and family members who knew Kaden is transgender. One day, a supervisor and another employee approached Brittany at her desk—where she kept a photo of Kaden—and commented on how young he looked. After walking away, the supervisor told the employee that Kaden is transgender. That same employee later approached Brittany on more than one occasion asking questions of a sexual nature about her and Kaden.
“It was just horrible,” Brittany says.
Kaden feels that to advance laws that protect transgender people from discrimination, people first need to learn more about the transgender community.
“I think education’s the most important part to get anything done,” he says.
Mason Dunn is a recent graduate of UNH School of Law. His passion is civil rights law; he would like to be an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. But he’s also looking forward to teaching a course this fall at UNH Manchester on LGBT images and perspectives in the media.
“Education is my other passion,” says Mason, an adjunct faculty member. “I’d really love to be an educator as well as a lawyer.”
Mason lives in Hooksett with his wife of four years, Lauren Willford, a sign language interpreter for a local school district. “I hate to use the word ‘traditional,’” he says, “but we’re very much an average married couple.” Their Jewish faith is an important part of their life together, and they will soon be members of a synagogue in Concord. “The rabbi there is phenomenal and the entire community are really just good people,” Mason explains. “We’re really looking forward to getting more involved.”
Mason came out as transgender around 2004 and spent the next several years exploring his more masculine gender identity. “I didn’t want to be rushed into one box or the other,” he says. After several years of “straddling the gender line,” in 2011 Mason began the process of transitioning to live his life as a male, including seeking medical treatment to give him more male attributes.
Lauren’s loving support was critical in what Mason calls his “journey through gender.” It was something they discussed openly as he grappled with the difficult decision of whether or not to undergo gender transition.
“We approached this as a team, and I never felt alone because of that,” he adds. “I know a lot of transgender people feel very alone in their transition but I have been blessed because I always had a team by my side with my wife.”
While his life has improved because of his gender transition, he still faces difficulties in New Hampshire. For instance, at the time of this writing Mason cannot legally change the gender marker on his driver’s license—his primary form of identification—from female to male, which forces him to come out as transgender every time he must show identification, potentially exposing him to discrimination and even violence.
Mason is also concerned that there is a great deal of ignorance in New Hampshire about the transgender community. “People don’t really know about trans identity,” he says, adding that that’s true “in the medical community, in the psychiatric community and sometimes in the legal community as well.”
Yet Mason remains hopeful that with education, greater acceptance will come. “I don’t see it as hatred so much as a lack of understanding,” he says, “and, given the opportunity, if people learn more about trans identities, specifically in the state of New Hampshire, I think that will change.”
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