Mason Jenkins has a unique perspective on teaching

Not being comfortable with using public bathrooms, having a rib pushed out of place as a result of binding his chest, and having substitute teachers mistake his gender are just some of the challenges Mason Jenkins has experienced throughout his life. As a trans individual, he has channeled those experiences into his career as a teacher and his passion as a musician.

“Substitutes would do attendance and I would raise my hand to my birth name and they would be like go to the office because they thought I was just some punk kid trying to mess with them,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins, now 25, grew up in the suburbs of south Calgary with his parents and older sister.

Jenkins said the differences between his older sister and himself were most apparent because of how feminine she was compared to Jenkins.

Jenkins always hung out with boys and didn’t play with his girl toys the way his sister did.

But for his sister Jessica, it was just who he was.

“The distinction of being different never really occurred to me because he was just my sibling,” she said

However, a feeling that something was different about himself came at a young age.

“On birthday cakes I would always just wish to be a boy. I would blow out the candles and that would be my number one wish.” Jenkins when he was young. Jenkins says, “Music has always been a big part of my life.”

Photo courtesy of Mason Jenkins

After growing up, never really fitting in and not being comfortable in his own skin, his wish finally came true in university.

Jenkins started presenting as masculine and came out socially to friends and family.

His sister has a hard time remembering the exact date, but the moment stands out for her.

“We had gone out for Chinese food, and then the next day, or a little while after, he calls me and tells me that he’s been transitioning for a while. And that was his wish,” she said.

Jenkins felt more like himself during this time but, since he still had feminine features – such as a higher voice – it did not come without it’s own challenges.

Jenkins at graduation from Bishop Carroll High School.

Photo Courtesy of Mason Jenkins“I remember in university, getting off the bus and I would never say thank you because of my voice, and I didn’t want to give anything away. I had such anxiety just opening my mouth, not sure if people would read me the correct way or the way I wanted to be read,” said Jenkins.

After years of these challenges and seeking professional help from psychiatrists, Jenkins finally started hormones in February 2011. He refers to this as his ‘manniversary.’

Jenkins attended the University of Alberta, graduating with a Bachelor of Education with a minor in Fine Arts. He now teaches grades two/three split at a local Calgary school.

Jenkins feels like being a transgender teacher gives him an extra strength.

“Being a trans teacher is the best because you just understand more, I think for myself I have more of a human rights understanding. Making sure that kids who feel alone and isolated have someone that they can go to and just what it feels like to be to totally different and like you don’t belong anywhere.”

Part of this understanding includes trying to deconstruct gender stereotypes as much as possible.

“[Kids] say things like, ‘Oh you throw like a girl,’ and I’ll be like, ‘What does a girl throw like?’”

But as much as he tries to teach his kids, they teach him even more.

“They remind me that I know so little about the world, but if I am curious and open-minded, I can understand and achieve things I did not know were possible.”

This curiosity and open-mindedness led Jenkins to his indie/rock/pop band called Alright Gents in which Jenkins plays guitar and vocals.

Jenkins met fellow band member and friend Garrett Thorson when they both attended Bishop Carroll High School together.

“We were just jamming acoustic and did a couple open mics and said, you know what? We should get a band together,” said Thorson.Music is still one of Jenkins’ passions

Photo Courtesy of Alright Gents

That was three years ago.

Thorson explains that Jenkins did not have an issue about being open about his trans* identity.

“A lot of us had questions obviously, but he realized that we were coming from a place of curiosity and support. I think he’s got a really good set of people around him too,” he said.

Alright Gents have played at numerous events and bars and released an album with four songs last year.

“This summer we played at The Dyke and Trans March on 17th Avenue. That was a really fun weekend. That was probably some of the most supportive audience people we’ve ever played to,” said Thorson.

However, Jenkins doesn’t refer to himself as an advocate of the transgender community.

“I don’t know too much about the politics, and I’m not up to date on all of the controversial issues. I’m not super well versed on any of those things.” said Jenkins.

Alright Gents record their music at Red Tree Records & Studios

Photo courtesy of Alright GentsAs the writer of all of the Alright Gents music, Jenkins uses his experiences of his transition and trans identity to provide him with a unique perspective as an artist.

“I wrote a song shortly after starting hormones called She Likes Girls, which was about a partner I had at the time, who broke up with me because she didn’t feel attracted to me, as I physically became more masculine. The newest song we’ve been working on is called A Letter which has a focus on the devastatingly high suicide rates within the transgender community,” Jenkins said in email.

khuitema@cjournal.ca