Identity Over Anatomy: Ralph Davis


Laaiba Mahmood

Senior Ralph Davis sits in Nichols Library. Davis is transgender and identifies under the pronouns he, him, they and them. He stressed the importance of a gender-neutral prom court, highlighting the fact that many LGBTQ youth don’t want special treatment. “We don’t want an announcement or a ceremony, whatever, we just want it to be low-key and we just want to have the same abilities as other people,” Davis said.

Neya Thanikachalam, Editor-in-chief

Senior Ralph Davis doesn’t remember why he was at Naperville Central or what he was supposed to be doing. But he can’t forget how a parent volunteer referred to him in passing as “she” when talking to one of her friends.

Ralph wasn’t angry. Just confused.

“In my head, I’m zero percent ‘she,’” Ralph said. “I’m zero percent female. When in the past it would’ve made me angry, retreat within myself, kind of turn inwards [and] become more introverted, now it’s just more confusing and I want to seek out why they would assume that pronoun of me.”

Ralph, who identifies with the pronouns he, him, they and them, is no stranger to experiences such as this one. In fact, he was reminded again at the beginning of this school year of the reality that he faced as a transgender student. After all, the last place he expected to find a dean was in the mens’ bathroom, staring at him angrily.

“He was like ‘Why are you in here?’” Ralph said. “‘You shouldn’t be in here.’ And I said, ‘I should, I am a boy.’”

The dean had followed Ralph when he was walking to the bathroom. Ralph had begun using the mens’ bathroom at the start of his senior year.

“I was kind of traumatized from that for a while and the following month after that didn’t really use the bathroom at school,” Ralph said. “I just held it. That sucked.”

Now, however, Ralph does use the mens’ bathroom without any confrontations.

“You have to advocate for yourself,” Ralph said. “Now I’m just fully using the mens’ bathroom, and if somebody looks at me weird, I’m like ‘I will fight you.’”

Yet for the most part, Ralph has not had trouble with anyone. And while his encounter in the bathroom did make him wary of being taken for someone he isn’t, he does not want to be considered ordinary, which in Naperville is being thought of as a stereotypical “white boy.”

“I feel very lucky that I do live in Naperville because there is a lot of good trans health care and you will find a lot of people who are supportive and there are tons of support groups around in the Chicagoland area,” Ralph said. “But there is this expectation of me to be very stereotypically male and masculine and to wear what people see in GQ magazines.”

For some time, Ralph did try to conform to that image. But he’s realized it’s healthier to express individuality.

“I didn’t want any sort of special treatment,” Ralph said. “But right now, coming to almost a year transitioning, I’m starting to express myself more as how I want, and not like how society sees maleness and masculinity.”

For Ralph’s father, Ken Davis, it’s not a matter of what Ralph looks like to the outside world, but rather if he feels comfortable.

“It took us probably a month or so to even fully wrap our heads around [the transition],” Ken said. “But we knew that it was important to Ralph and we wanted to support them right off the bat.”

One of the most difficult parts of the transition was the shift in pronouns. But Ken recognizes the importance of getting them right.

“We’ve known Ralph as their birth gender and birth name and birth pronouns but as I’ve learned about this and talked to other kids going through this, that’s probably one of the biggest support points,” Ken said. “I think we’re almost a 100 percent there [but] we still slip occasionally.”

Ralph has noticed and appreciates his parents’ efforts, especially his father’s, with whom he is close.

“He and I are pretty much best friends,” Ralph said. “We have very similar interests, and we’re in a band together. At first it took him a long time to warm up to using different pronouns […] but after a while he saw how much happier I was presenting more masculinely. He saw the difference in me.”

The band that both are in is called Uncle Dad and the Family Secret. Ralph is also in a band with his friends, called Your Okay. He plays bass, guitar and drums.

“We’ll just get together on a Sunday afternoon and jam for a couple of hours and it’s just a lot of fun,” Ken said. “As the dad band, we have not yet put ourselves out there performing and that’s probably better for the world. Ralph is better than most of us.”

But both of them also spend time together as a part of Operation Snowball, the Naperville-based teen support group. Ralph is a member of the teen staff, while Ken is a member of the adult staff.

“It gives you hope and it gives participants hope that you aren’t alone in this,” Ralph said. “That’s a huge message of Snowball. You’re not alone. You can feel like you’re alone, but you’re never alone.”

Ralph’s friend and Snowball attendee senior Kevin Otto, can see how Snowball has benefitted Ralph.

“It becomes a really safe and open environment,” Otto said. “You also get some downtime to hang out with people which is really the only times I’m interacting with Ralph on the weekend, but it’s still so fun to just see them there and see them so happy and glowing.”

Ken joined after seeing the community that supported his son, and because Ralph thought that he would be a good addition to the adult staff.

“Participating in Snowball and leading Snowball small groups and so on, you just learn [about] perspective and gratitude and about your situation,” Ken said. “You realize how fortunate you are, and you get some confidence about ‘Hey I can help people,’ and I think that’s really just been rewarding for Ralph.”

Ralph plans on majoring in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design and hopes to one day tie his work to transgender rights.

“Some trans people need to use prosthetics to pee standing up, for example,” Ralph said. “It’s very stigmatized, like people don’t want to think about that, and I understand, but because of that, the industry doesn’t move that fast
as I’d like.”

And while Ralph does admit that transgender individuals have become less stigmatized in society, there are still daily challenges that he faces.

“Do you want to know what it’s really like to be transgender in high school?” he said. “Well, I have a 75 percent in PE right now.”

He does not feel comfortable changing in the boys’ locker room. Because of that he changes in the boys’ bathroom and must bring his things into the gym during PE. This causes him to lose points in class.

“[PE teachers] are part of the one percent that are not good with me,” Ralph said. “[… My PE teacher] has given me grief a couple of times for being late because I couldn’t find a bathroom that I couldn’t change in.”

Ralph did not mention the teacher’s name because he didn’t want it to be printed. However, the Central Times did contact principal Bill Wiesbrook in regards to the problems that Ralph has dealt with as a transgender individual at Central.

“My reaction is disappointment,” Wiesbrook said. “[If I] learn that any student at Naperville Central high school feels like they’re not being treated appropriately, I’d be disappointed.”

Wiesbrook did add that the school has been taking steps to be more accommodating of students who are transgender or non-binary.

“Most of those steps occur in our Student Services department,” Wiesbrook said. “Usually a counselor, [or] maybe social worker are involved with the student and the family. They take steps to do what we can to make sure that the student feels comfortable, respected, and valued at Central.”

And while Ralph feels accepted most of the time at Central, he still can’t understand why people aren’t accepting of everyone.

“The thing that weirds me out is that people think that genitals equals gender,” Ralph said. “And that people are  thinking about people’s anatomy and that’s so weird to me, that you would think about that over a person’s identity.”