In one year’s time a lot can happen. New connections are made and old ones are lost. You have good times and bad. Life throws you a curve ball or two.
You change in a year’s time.
For sophomore Leo Richardson, this past year has brought immeasurable change – for the better.
In May 2016, Richardson began hormone therapy. He was finally on the path of becoming who he always knew who he was.
Richardson was becoming a man.
“You can’t really prepare yourself, because your body is going to do what it’s going to do no matter what,” Richardson said.
Because it takes time for the hormones to build inside, Richardson didn’t notice change for a while. Looking back, he notices the changes in both his face and voice, which is odd for him because he still at times thinks in his old voice.
In the beginning, Richardson would get excited over small changes but would get frustrated that other things were taking longer to develop.
If he misses his shot, Richardson says he can become moody and aggressive because his levels are out of sync. Through there are challenges, he feels like he’s in a better place.
“Overall I feel a lot more stable emotionally than I was before. Whether that be the fact, I’m just physiologically less moody being on testosterone,” Richardson said. “Or if it’s the fact that I’m finally medically transitioning and things are starting to fall into place the way they should have always been for me has helped a ton.”
Richardson says he still has his bad days, and dysphoria is still a beast to deal with, but he knows that things will get better. It just takes time and money.
He also said this time of change helped him learn more about his own mental health.
Richardson has struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and body issues since he was young teenager. During his time in college, he has continued to have ups and downs, but it wasn’t until October 2016 that he reached a breaking point.
“I kinda just lost it entirely,” Richardson said.
After harming himself in the shower one night, he went back to his room and told his former roommate to take him to the hospital. Richardson knew he would kill himself if he wasn’t stopped.
He saw a therapist and was taking Prozac after being treated at the hospital. Richardson said while on the drug he didn’t feel depressed – but he also didn’t feel alive. He felt like a hollow shell of a person.
His therapist began to see the signs and told Richardson he is bipolar.
Though the news was difficult, things suddenly made more sense to him.
“I didn’t feel like I was crazy anymore. I felt something entirely,” Richardson said.
On Sept. 20, 2016 Richardson went to court in his home state of New Hampshire to change his name from Ashley to Leo. Though it is very rare to be turned down, Richardson was nervous.
Richardson doesn’t remember much of the hearing because of nerves, but remembers being relieved when it was over.
With the name change and hormone therapy, things have been better for Richardson. People, especially strangers, don’t misgender him as much and are calling him sir. It’s these small things that brighten his day.
“Even now, a year in, it will make my day if a random stranger uses the right pronouns on me. It gives me validation from people I don’t know,” Richardson said.
With positive change in his life, others on campus are pleased with Richardson's transition.
“In a certain way, Leo’s journey is no different than a lot of people's journeys in college and university, which for a lot of people is realizing, identifying and accepting who one is, and then becoming that,” said Assistant Director of Fine Art Rich Cowden.
Cowden has had classes with Richardson and knows that in the past he has had dark days, but he said he’s happy that he has kept his sense of humor.
Professor Harry McEnery smiles when he talks about Richardson.
“One of my favorite things about Leo is that he’s wide open about anything you want to ask him about. I think that this is a testament to the person that this is, not the gender this person is,” McEnery said.
His work with the theater department also provided something else in Richardson’s life: romance. He's been dating senior theater major Katy Albert.
The two had worked on plays before in the past, but connected through a class that called for many all nighters.
“I’d definitely say it’s pretty normal over all. Every relationship and every person has their own differences and needs,” Albert said. “His gender identity is so engrained in my brain that it’s not a problem for me. But it’s not necessarily that way for other people.”
Albert said she feels more protective of him in a sense, than a “regular” relationship, but that’s the only difference. She says Richardson is such a loving and generous person.
“No matter what he is feeling or going through, he’s always there to make sure that I’m doing well and that I have what I need,” Albert said.
Though he gets a lot of support and love from the theater department, Richardson’s biggest supporter is still his mother, Beth.
Though the first year was the hardest, Beth sees the mental and emotional happiness in her son. She says that he’s such a different person now.
“To see the difference and him just being happy is a relief for me,” Beth said. “There is no book that tells what’s going to happen and it’s a journey.”
Beth added that the best thing that a parent of transgender person can do is love and support their child.
CU’s accepting climate
Besides the wonderful people in Richardson’s life, Castleton University and its community have been just as supportive.
“The environment here is so open and accepting that I’m not scared to walk out of my dorm and go to class. I’m not scared that I’m going to be attacked physically for being the way that I am,” Richardson said.
Richardson isn’t the only transgender student on campus who feels safe and welcomed on campus.
Freshmen Helen Rose and Sam Lafontaine have found acceptance and support at Castleton. Both Rose and Lafontaine have similar, but different experiences with who they are.
Rose came out since attending Castleton, but hasn’t told her parents yet that she’s a trans woman. She knows it won’t be easy to come out to her parents because of their religious background, but said she knows Castleton will accept her.
Lafontaine came out in August to his family.
“I was very scared. I talked to one of my sisters about gender issues and came out,” Lafontaine said.
His sibling support who he is, but his parents haven’t gotten there yet. Lafontaine says he has a larger support network and feels accepted on campus.
This idea of comfort and safety has been expanded on campus in the form of gender-inclusive housing.
It began on the first floor of Ellis Hall in the fall of 2016 when CA’s senior Chelsea Carey and junior Kyle Gosley spoke to Director of Resident Life Mike Robolitto.
Because of how well it went, and how much of a demand there is inclusive housing, it will be spreading to all floors of Babcock Hall, the second and third floor of Hoff Hall and potentially elsewhere.
“I think it’s the right thing to do for students. It’s easier when students come to me about it. It allows us to give students more options,” Robolitto said.
Robolitto also gives credit to Gosley and Carey for coming to him and giving him the ambition to go to administration to make the changes.
Carey is a CA for the gender inclusive housing in Ellis and says she’s glad more people feel open and safe.
“I want trans students to know that they are absolutely welcomed and that they are important, cared for and that they matter. I hope they know that there are places where they’re going to be safe and welcome,” said Alanna Moriarty, of Pride Center of Vermont. “I really hope that other colleges and universities adopt policies like this. It would be really refreshing to see and really encouraging.”