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Tackling the transition: UB student Tanner Miller starts his transition from female to male

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Tanner Miller was always attracted to women. But he didn’t like the term “lesbian” and didn’t know why. He never felt comfortable with his sexual orientation.

That was until he learned what it meant to be transgender.

Tanner, a freshman undecided major, who used to go by the name Morgan Miller, is in the process of transitioning from female to male. He questioned his gender identity in January 2016 when he began shopping in the men’s section for loose-fitting clothing. Two weeks ago, Miller came out to the public as transgender.

He’s had to consider changing his name on legal documents. He’s had to tell his friends and family to use different pronouns. He’s even considered taking hormones and undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

And it all started when he first questioned his sexual orientation.

Two years ago, Miller came out to his mother as a lesbian, but coming out as transgender has been completely different.

“It’s different when you announce that you’re trans because you actually have to tell people. When I came out that I was a lesbian I didn’t make a big post or anything, people just saw that I was in a relationship,” Miller said.

Miller was dating someone who was non-binary – a gender that is not exclusively male or female – and later transitioned to a male.

That’s when Miller began questioning his own gender identity.

“I didn’t know what it meant to be trans. So I decided to do more research and I started wearing men’s clothing, and I was like ‘Oh, OK, this is better,’ and I felt more comfortable seeing myself as a guy,” Miller said.

Miller told five close friends to use male pronouns instead of female pronouns when referring to him. He wanted to see how male pronouns sounded and immediately felt comfortable when his friends referred to him as Tanner.

“I figured maybe if other people see me as a guy it’ll make me feel better about myself,” Miller said. “Whenever they said, ‘Look at him over there, that’s Tanner,’ it made me feel super comfortable and I liked that.”

But changing one’s name on personal documents can be a tedious process.

Students who wish to change their name can fill out an application through UB’s Office of the Registrar and submit it with acceptable documentation, such as an ID or passport, along with the name they choose to go by.

If a student has not legally changed their name, they can submit a notarized statement declaring a variation of their existing name.

The application will change the student’s UB email, ID card and Blackboard information, but can take upwards of a month to take effect.

Miller hasn’t started the process of changing his name with the school, but has asked professors to refer to him as Tanner instead of Morgan.

The first person Miller officially came out to as transgender was Travis Sharp, his English professor.

“During midterm week we had one-on-one meetings instead of class, so when I went to his office I saw the LGBT safe space sticker and thought it’d be the perfect time since I didn’t want to be called Morgan in class anymore,” Miller said.

Sharp welcomed Miller’s transition from Morgan to Tanner. Sharp himself identifies as queer and came out when he was an undergraduate.

“The main thing I wanted to do was make sure he felt welcome as he is. I want my students to see their peers for who they are and what they bring to the table,” Sharp said.

Miller saw Sharp’s office as a safe space.

“There’s a sense of kinship between us. I came out in my undergrad as well, but there was a deep risk with my family. They were religiously conservative,” Sharp said. “Tanner has received a great amount of support from his friends and family and he feels much more comfortable now.”

Miller felt relief. He finally realized why he never wanted to wear pink frilly skirts or dresses when he was younger. He noticed that the name Tanner empowered him.

He was ready to break free and tell more people, including his family.

Miller tried a few times to tell his parents that he was becoming transgender but the conversation never happened.

There are many cases where a person comes out to their family and they are immediately disowned, Miller said.

A month ago, he finally sat them down and made the announcement, learning that they were very much accepting of the news.

“One day we were all watching TV and I said, ‘I have something kind of serious to tell you guys,’ and my brother went, ‘OK, I ate your leftovers…’ and that kind of broke the ice,” Miller said. “I finally said that I’ve been questioning my gender since January and I have come to the conclusion that I’m trans and I was in tears.”

Miller’s parents and brother took the news well and informed friends and family about the change, but his mother, Vicki Miller, needed time to get used to it.

“I had a little bit of a difficult time wrapping my head around it. I was mourning the loss of my daughter. We always had a special mother-daughter bond and I thought we were going to lose that,” Mrs. Miller said.

Mrs. Miller emphasized that while she has to get used to his new name and pronouns, support is key while having a child go through such a large life change.

“At first my mom was upset that she was the only girl in the house. She thought that with my transition I was going to completely change, which isn’t true at all. I’m the same person,” Miller said.

Mrs. Miller suggests watching other parents’ YouTube videos or reading articles about what the change entails and how others have been so supportive to their own children.

“I’m liberal and pro-equality, but you have to understand it’s different when it’s your own child,” she said. “Try not to let personal convictions get in the way and seek support. Whether it’s friends and families or other videos online the best thing you can do is seek support and educate yourself.”

Miller decided on National Coming Out Day two weeks ago that he wanted to tell the rest of the world about his transition.

Tons of friends and family commented on the post sending loving and welcoming comments his way.

“I was extremely nervous posting that video. I took like 20 takes before I finally uploaded one,” Miller said. “Everyone from my high school teachers, extended family and all my friends were posting such warming comments and it made me feel great.”

Since Miller came out, he’s faced multiple challenges. Gender-neutral bathrooms were one of them.

UB has made improvements to the number of gender-neutral bathrooms with the newest addition in the Silverman Library.

“I really like that they incorporated one in the new library, but I wish there were more gender-neutral bathrooms,” Miller said. “It’s usually taken up, but it still gives me somewhere to go because I don’t feel comfortable in either bathrooms at the moment.”

There are other things that have been personal roadblocks, such as his physical appearance.

Miller isn’t sure about a sex change, but wants to start taking hormones as a first step into his transition.

“It’s a little bit of a process. I have to talk to a gender therapist and they have to see me for at least six months before I can be approved for hormones. Then I have to find a doctor that’ll take my insurance,” Miller said.

After he is approved for hormones, Miller plans on looking into top surgery as his next step.

Even though it’s pricey and risky, Miller still has a support system.

“You have to remember this is your child, not you. It’s only gender,” Mrs. Miller said. “I have a healthy beautiful child and he’s a great person. The most important thing is his mental health and wellbeing.”

Max Kalnitz is the senior arts editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com


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