The third place: local bookstores grapple with shifting trends

By Leah Asmelash

The smell of paper fills the store — a mix of almond and vanilla and something slightly floral. Bookshelves line the walls of the store, but the open middle space is filled with tables of books, many with written staff reviews sticking out. There’s a kid’s corner in the back with stuffed animals and games, a used book room, an event room and a corner devoted to local books, including travel, culinary, culture and sports. An indie rock song plays softly overhead. A plush chair sits pushed against the window, facing the store’s staff picks. Behind the front desk, a young employee peeks out behind a stack of books and smiles at every customer that walks in, asking if they need any help.

Customers are scattered throughout the space. Someone laughs at a passage they read and puts the book down with a smile. Another is engrossed in a novel, standing still beside the table, head ducked in concentration. They all have come to spend their Tuesday night with the stacks at Flyleaf Books.

Located in a strip mall in Chapel Hill, N.C., Flyleaf Books is one of the largest independent bookstores in town, with a collection of over 20,000 units. They host a number of book clubs every month and offer a membership program and online ordering through their website, allowing readers to stop by and pick up their purchases.

Independent bookstores have been in decline for years, the cause changing each time. First it was mega bookstores, the Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Millions of the world. Then it was Amazon, and then e-books. And yet, you can still find an independent bookstore almost anywhere in the United States, and their numbers are growing. In 2012, book sales in independent stores grew by almost 8 percent. In 2015, independent bookstore sales were up 10 percent, while 2016 saw an increase of just under 5 percent.

E-book competition

“For the last 30, 40 years, there’s always been something that’s going to kill the independent bookstore,” said Jamie Fiocco, who opened Flyleaf Books in November 2009 — at the height of the e-book surge.  “Once the internet came about, you had to really be a businessperson to have a bookstore, so a lot of bookstores closed.”

Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer of the American Booksellers Association, said over email that independent booksellers are a resilient and entrepreneurial group, traits which have allowed them to experience growth.

“The national trends are clear,” Cullen said. “New stores are opening, established stores are finding new owners and a new generation is coming into the business as both owner/managers and frontline booksellers.”

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, discussed the importance of the localism movement to the success of independent bookstores.

“The fact is that independent bookstores and independent retail in general is going through a pretty decent period because tens of millions of consumers make decisions to shop at locally-owned independent businesses,” he said.

When asked about the impact of e-books on bookstores, Teicher responded, “E-books are a piece of our business, but we kind of coexist.”

He also pointed out that the e-book market has somewhat leveled off and has begun to experience modest decline. “E-books aren’t going away for sure, but more importantly, print books are never going away,” he said.

Fiocco had a similar viewpoint. Flyleaf Books sells e-books, but she said they don’t concentrate on those sales.

“There’s no money in it to start with, and it’s not really worth our time,” she said. “Quite honestly, our core shoppers aren’t interested in e-books.”

But data shows the amount of books Americans are reading, both print and electronic, is declining each year. So who cares about independent bookstores? Why do they matter?

The third place

Fiocco said bookstores are vital because they fulfill the role of the third place for many people. This third place, the first two places being the home and workplace, serves as a gathering place for the community. It is a place where people can congregate and discuss, like a home away from home.

“They’re a place where people can come and talk about ideas and issues that are pertinent to the community,” Fiocco said. “It’s a gathering place. It’s like the barbershop or the coffee shop, where people can talk and think and kind of learn about new things, or to educate themselves on things they feel like they should know about.”

Additionally, Teicher said independent bookstores succeed by being the third place in a community.

“I think the important thing today is that successful indie bookstores exist well beyond the four walls of the store,” he said. “They succeed because they engage, they have to be engaged, in their communities. That’s really critical.”

Some bookstores today are taking their role as the third place to the next level by combining two or more concepts into one store, Teicher said, mentioning bookstores sometimes double as bars or summer day camps. Still, he was not oblivious to the difficulties surrounding the business.

“Our margins are very small; competition is fierce,” he said.  “You’ve got to create a compelling, fun environment to attract customers to want to come shop in your store.”

Fiocco agreed. “We sell people the experience of going into a bookstore, learning about books they never have heard about, or just didn’t know anything about, when they first walked in,” she said. “We don’t depend on all the bestseller lists, and that’s why we exist. People come in and we’re friends or we’re acquaintances by the time people become regulars.”

Lane Jacobson, buyer and floor manager of Flyleaf, said the store is always working on ways to engage the community and expand its reach. Flyeleaf hosts over 300 events a year, including community forums.

“Right now we’re also looking into things like movie clubs, yoga classes, wine and coloring nights and other things,” he stated over email. “One of the best things about being a small business with such strong ties to the community is that we can be very flexible and adapt to the needs and desires of our customers much more quickly than a big box store can.”

Closing shop

Despite Flyleaf’s success within the community, not all bookstores have been so lucky. The Bookshop, a used and rare bookstore located just over a mile from Flyleaf, has been in business since 1985, but will be closing its doors this July.

The Bookshop is built like a narrow tunnel lined with books. The shelves stretch from ceiling to floor and emphasize the compact nature of the store. Customers twist and turn between the shelves, muttering apologies as they brush against other patrons. Despite their close proximity, the store is essentially the polar opposite of the wide and open Flyleaf Books.

Betty Schumacher, manager of The Bookshop, has been working there for 10 years. She said the store has been pretty slow and quiet during her time at The Bookshop, despite the establishment’s location on Franklin Street, less than a mile from UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We get a lot of traffic,” she said. “But sales are pretty flat and have been flat for probably the last eight years.”

Schumacher stressed the importance of the community, something she believes The Bookshop missed out on due to its location.

“We do get a lot of university students in, in the winter, but we don’t get the townspeople,” she said. “And the townspeople are the people who buy the books. Our best months are July and August. That’s when the townspeople come back to town.”

Schumacher also discussed the importance of parking, saying the lack of adequate parking around the store hurts sales as well.

Shifting trends

The Bookshop’s predicament isn’t necessarily indicative of larger trends regarding independent bookstores, which, as Cullen pointed out, have been growing over recent years. But it does show how some customers, young people especially, are hesitant to purchase books.

“A lot of people blame it on Kindles and those kinds of things, but I really think it’s that people are so drawn to electronics in general, that there’s just fewer people reading,” Schumacher said. “The average median age of our customer base is probably 40s and 50s, even with the student population added in. So I just think younger people are reading less.”

Schumacher said she doesn’t see that trend changing any time soon, and she was not nearly as optimistic as Teicher and Fiocco about the future of the independent bookstore. Reading, she said, will never go away and books will probably take a different form, such as electronic.

“But bookstores with books in them, I think, are becoming a thing of the past,” she said.

Despite her grim prediction, Schumacher said she’ll miss the store, the smell, the books and the customers. Her experience at The Bookshop has been enjoyable, and she said she is sad to see it go.

To readers, Schumacher gave this advice: “Buy books, and buy items, at independent stores,” she said. “Whenever they can, if they can, support local small business. Otherwise, we’re going to lose them.”

Edited by: Sarah Muzzillo

Women’s March bridges gap between cultures, nationalities

By Courtney Triplett

“WHERE ARE YOU??” The all-caps text message glared urgently at me from my trusty iPhone 6. I lightly traced the small crack on the left side of the device with my thumb, looking back and forth from the message to the front of my Uber. Leaning forward, I squinted my hardest to see the ETA in the corner of the navigation program on my driver’s phone. I knew it was almost 10 a.m. and that I was running late.

“Excuse me sir, what time does it say we will get to Union Station? My friends are waiting for me there.” I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice, but it was no use. He picked up on my rush right away.

Stopping the vehicle at a red light as a mass of enthusiastic demonstrators entered the crosswalk, my Uber driver, an older African-American man with kind eyes, turned around to face me. “Should be soon. This traffic is crazy, isn’t it? It’s all for the march, you know.”

Looking up at him from my phone where I had typed “On the way, so sorry,” I broke into a smile.

“Yeah, I know! I’m actually going to the march!” I moved my light blond hair off of my cheek to point excitedly at where I had drawn a female symbol earlier that morning, rather crudely, with the cheap black eyeliner I’d fished out of my suitcase.

The light turned green, and he turned around to continue the drive, but not before giving me a warm smile. He looked at me, eyes glimmering, like he would a child waving a report card in his face with all As and Bs. He looked at me with pride. And I felt it.

We continued to make small talk for the last few minutes of the drive, and before I knew it, we were pulling in front of Union Station. “You have arrived at your destination”, the navigation announced, and after thanking my driver, I leapt out of the vehicle and raced up the concrete to find my friends before the march began.

The march

The air was crisp and hit me in the face the instant I hit the pavement. I paused to scan the massive crowd dotted with colorful, snarky signs and exhaled. I was never going to find them in this.

Finally, after several minutes of searching and one brief phone call full of “where are yous” and “I can’t hear anythings,” I spotted my friends and, with a sigh of relief, ran to join them.

We hugged each other and began to discuss our excitement about the march. The Capitol Building served as an appropriate backdrop, standing unflinchingly tall and proud as we were about to do.

Tamar, the leader of the pack, wore her dark, curly hair loosely. Giggling, she held her sign proudly above her head. “I’m just so happy to be here,” she said. “As a new American, this really means so much to me.”

Tamar is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. Born in Israel and raised in Maryland, she grew up with a conflicting identity. Where was home for her? What did home mean? The Women’s March for her, like so many others in the United States, was a great way to connect the dots.

Tamar and I, along with her mother and two other girlfriends our age, spent the day marching and laughing and enjoying being a part of something so special. The day was chilly, but we didn’t mind, and in fact, we hardly noticed the weather at all.

After the march subsided around 3:30 p.m., we headed to Tamar’s family home in Maryland. Her mother, after leaving the march early, had prepared an enormous traditional Israeli feast for us to enjoy. It was a magnificent meal, and we all stuffed our faces with olives, hummus and ciabatta, eggplant dip, butternut squash and ginger soup, and a delicious roast in a red wine sauce.

At the end of the meal, Tamar’s mother served hot tea and biscuits. Tamar’s father, Benny, sat at the head of the table and led political discussions.

“I think that what you kids did today was really inspiring,” he said. “That’s what gives me hope for this world, that young people like you show up and really care.”

After chatting for an hour with Tamar’s family, about everything from capitalism to activism to the ingredients in the delicious soup, Tamar and I retired from dinner to get ready to meet our friends downtown.

Finding home

As we were dressing, I noticed a small tattoo between Tamar’s shoulder blades. It depicted a beautiful scene: a little house with trees, drenched in sunlight.

“Tamar, what does your tattoo mean,” I asked hesitantly, not looking to offend or annoy.

Tamar laughed and took a deep breath, preparing herself for the long explanation. “Oh, it’s a picture of home. Because for a time in my life, I didn’t know where that was for me. But more recently, once I became naturalized, I realized that home is where you make it. It’s different for me, being from two completely different places. But home is where you make it, and so I carry my home with me… I carry my home on my back.”

I carry my home on my back. Home is where you make it. What I saw the day of the women’s march in Tamar is something that is often forgotten. People from all different backgrounds came together that day, in the name of activism, in the name of doing something good.

I continued to ask more about the tattoo and about the march.

“After the election, I think my initial response was to run away- to go live somewhere else,” Tamar said. “Many people in this country joke about that, but as a dual citizen, it’s a pretty real option. But then I realized that I became a part of this country because I care about the values it represents- and it has become my home. So I resolved that I needed to stay, because I fully intend to carry my home on my back.”

Edited by Elise Clouser

Six months on the sidelines: the long road to recovery after an ACL injury

By Colleen Brown

For a girl, co-ed indoor soccer games are fast, tough and usually painful. You get beaten up by boys with 40 pounds and 6 inches on you.

I love it.

I thrive on the attention of the crowd outside the clear walls. It’s packed with almost 50 people: fans for my game, plus the next two teams and their fans.

My team’s down a goal late in the second half. I’ve got the ball on my foot, heading straight for the net. A big, mean defender who’s been targeting me all night steps in my path. He has a grin plastered on his face and I want nothing more than to blow past him. Blood rushes in my ears as I pick up speed. Cheers from the crowd and shouts from teammates blur into background noise.

He comes in with a low sweep at my ankles, trying to trip me. After touching the ball past him, I tense and release the muscles of my right leg, jumping 8 inches off the ground in full stride over his ankle. It’s a move I’ve perfected over the years. I float for the briefest of moments, left leg outstretched, reaching for the ground.

I touch the turf and my ankle holds, but there’s a horrible crack.

I’m screaming before the rest of me hits the turf, clawing at my knee, the ground, anything to make the pain go away. My knee spasms with bursts of pain so intense I can’t find air to breathe.

The referee, my parents and coach are hovering over me. I can barely hear them speak as I spit saliva, curses and rubber pellets out of my mouth. My left leg hangs down, swinging limply as my dad and coach carry me off the field, red-faced and crying pitifully.

It’s deathly quiet in the cavernous room. All around me, people are staring, muttering their condolences and names of their favorite orthopedic surgeons.

The game goes on without me.

Another day at the office

Sports are an intrinsic part of my life. Growing up, I was always on a field, tennis court or in the ring with my horse. It was the winter of my junior year in high school, during a game of indoor soccer, when the impossible happened. I was invincible, the star of my team, riding the high that comes from pure adrenaline and doing what you love. And that’s when I tore my ACL.

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is the cornerstone of the knee. It crosses through the center of the knee, stabilizing movements and limiting dangerous over-rotation. Tears usually result from rapid twisting motions, awkward landings or violent hits. About 150,000 ACL injuries a year occur in the US, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. The ACL, unlike a muscle, cannot heal itself. With today’s medicine, there is only one sure fix: surgery. After a torn ACL is removed and replaced, complete recovery requires six months to a year of intense, painful physical therapy.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Ambulatory Care Center is an orthopedic center where athletes, students and other patients are operated on for a variety of injuries. I met with Dr. Alexander Creighton, an orthopedic surgeon kind enough to let an inquisitive journalism student with no medical experience whatsoever into an operating room.

After donning a pair of scrubs and an extremely unfashionable hairnet and mask, I was allowed inside. The patient, who must remain anonymous due to medical regulations, was already under. I could hear his pulse monitor beeping like in emergency room dramas. Massive hospital equipment lined the walls. In the center sat the operating table, overhead lamps and two video screens broadcasting a camera feed. It looked like a cross between an operating room and an alien abduction chamber.

There were four people in the room: an anesthesiologist, two assisting nurses, and fourth-year fellow, Dr. Hannah Dineen, who was busy inserting a camera into the patient’s leg.

There are two main techniques to replace the ACL. A graft can be taken from the middle third of the patellar tendon, which stretches over the knee cap, or from the hamstring muscle. This patient had chosen a patellar graft, the exact same surgery I had.
With the overhead lighting dimmed and lamps spotlighting the patient’s exposed knee, Creighton made a four-inch downward incision starting at the middle of his knee cap. Unlike his TV stereotypes, Creighton did not hold out his hand and demand “scalpel.” Dineen peeled back the skin of the patient’s knee like an orange peel and held it open to expose the patellar tendon. They used a tiny surgical saw to cut through the bone in order to remove the section of the tendon. The room filled with the rancid smell of seared bone. I had to hold my breath as smoke and minuscule shards of bone flew into the air.

Most of the two-hour surgery was spent cleaning out the inside of the patient’s knee. They removed his torn ACL and other bits of delicate-looking pink flesh with a tiny cauterizing tool, burning his flesh away until it blackened like the skin of a seared pork chop. Another tool was used to hollow out the patient’s spongy pale yellow bone marrow. My continuously shocked expressions must have been amusing for the two other fellows observing the surgery.

After hollowing out a cavity, the new ACL was pulled into place with thin sutures, then screwed in. Dr. Creighton tested the strength of the graft, then Dr. Dineen stitched together the patient’s patellar tendon and the skin over his knee.

That was it: the surgery that put me in a world of pain and helped bring me back to sports. It was both fascinating and disturbing in its normalcy. It’s easy to forget that while an ACL injury is a life-changing experience for one person, to these doctors and nurses, it’s just another day at the office. It was clinical and gross and altogether fascinating. I wanted to be able to say good luck to the patient. He’ll need it in the coming weeks.

The road to recovery

The hardest part of my ACL recovery wasn’t the physical aspect, it was the emotional. Being forcibly grounded was traumatizing, like clipping a bird’s wings. Wanting to learn more about other athletes’ experiences, I met with Yuri Jean-Baptiste, one of the physical therapy trainers for the UNC-CH women’s soccer team, at the Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center. The center is state of the art, decorated in muted grays and Carolina blues, with therapy tables, whirlpools, ice baths, strange-looking machines and ESPN on every flat screen.

He explained how athletes are prevention tested for injuries the moment they step on campus. They have a regimen of workout plans and preventative therapy techniques to help lessen the risk for injuries. But despite all the world-class technology and training UNC-CH has to offer, last year, there were six ACL tears on the women’s soccer team alone.

Jean-Baptiste tore his own ACL, which he said gives him a unique perspective in helping current athletes.

“I think that especially in today’s society a lot of the time the athlete tends to identify themselves with their sport, position or place on the team,” Jean-Baptiste said. “So when that’s taken away that’s a huge mental, emotional blow to them.”

I ran into UNC-CH junior Kirstyn Waller in the lobby of the sports medicine center. Waller’s a member of the women’s rugby team, and had her own ACL surgery just five weeks ago. She’s no longer on crutches, but still wears her post operation knee brace. It’s is a heavy contraption that immobilizes the leg completely straight from upper thigh to calf. The brace is heavy and clunky and trust me when I say it’s horrible to sleep in.

“I was already really emotional with the whole process,” Waller said. “I was weeping as I woke up from surgery. I don’t even know why.”

Waller’s progressing well, but she’s got five more months of physical therapy before she’ll be able to step on a field again.

Recovery starts on an exercise bike, slowly pedaling until you can’t bend your knee any more for the pain. Everything is tight with inflammation and scar tissue. Your hamstring, quad and calf muscles have completely wasted away. Patients have to relearn how to walk, how to move up and down stairs. The goal is to bring their reconstructed leg back to a point where it’s just as strong as their healthy leg.

UNC-CH first-year Emily Pender had a similar experience in high school. Pender tore her ACL while rebounding during a basketball tournament the summer before her senior year. She’s completely healed, tall and strong, and plays center for UNC-CH’s women’s club basketball team.

“I guess I just landed wrong,” Pender said. “I would try and play every day. I would practice my walking in my hotel room and then go see my coach and try to prove to him that I was walking fine. Then when he left I’d limp away.”

The drive athletes have to get back in and play is what makes ACL injuries so terrible. They’re fixable, but the cost is six months of pain and frustration.

“It’s the young girls that hit you the hardest,” Creighton said. “High schoolers who have hopes for playing in college, or who just want to play.”

Girls like me, like Waller and Pender. Thankfully, it’s not an injury that will keep you out of the game permanently.

But it does come at a cost.

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Being transgender in Alamance County: Zayden, Ben and Lily

By Kenzie Cook

Zayden Isaac sips on water in a coffee shop somewhere in Chapel Hill, a long way from his home in Graham, North Carolina. The dim lights dance around Zayden’s face as he tells his story of self-discovery, coming out and transition just weeks after his 18th birthday.

Back in his hometown of Burlington, Ben Xhemaili sits in his living room while his parents are out shopping and his little sister sings karaoke in her bedroom. His eyebrows draw together in a mix of concentration and sorrow as he recounts his struggles of the past two years, just a couple of months shy of 18-years-old.

Across the state, Lily McGilvray pauses “Chill with Bob Ross” on Netflix to share her own story a couple of months after her 21st birthday. Emotions swirl in her eyes as she retells both her hardships and her blessings.

Each transgender person has a different story to tell, and Zayden’s, Ben’s and Lily’s stories are unique to people from deep within the mostly conservative Alamance County. While both Zayden and Ben seem to have somehow known who they were their entire lives, Lily has barely just discovered herself in college. Some transgender people are lucky enough to face little-to-no struggles while coming out and throughout transition, but others must live every day feeling unaccepted and abnormal.

Zayden, Ben and Lily each has an entirely different look than they had just years earlier. Lily had a full beard and several more pounds. Now, she had a slight figure and a face as smooth as silk. Zayden’s case was the opposite. Three years ago, he wore his hair down past his shoulders and coated his eyelashes in mascara. Now, his face was fresh and his haircut was close to his skull. Ben, whose hair was once long and styled with curls, now wore his cropped short. All three individuals have experienced major changes physically, mentally and socially; and, although their stories are quite different, they share one thing in common: all are happier now that they get to experience life as their true selves rather than hide behind their physical bodies.

Alamance County, where these three people are from, is not notorious for accepting LGBT youth. The schools rarely let transgender students use the bathrooms or locker rooms that matched their identity well before the North Carolina government ever enacted House Bill 2. Lily had already escaped to Barton College before coming out, but Zayden and Ben were just beginning high school when they first revealed who they really were.

Zayden

In December 2013, Zayden, then known as Leslie, stared in the bathroom mirror, trying to figure out who the person staring back at him was. The long hair didn’t fit, the makeup didn’t make sense and the feminine clothes were a catastrophe. He knew who he was and this was not it. It was his freshman year of high school, and it was time for him to finally accept who he was. He decided to chop his hair off, replace his clothes with those from the men’s section and stop wearing makeup.

“I liked it when people assumed I was male; and I knew with my hair being as long as it was, everyone would always just think I was a butch lesbian,” he recalled. “While that’s absolutely fine for some people, it wasn’t for me and it made me really uncomfortable when people called me a lesbian, because that implied that I was a female who was interested in other females, and I wasn’t a female.”

The road to coming out was long and confusing for Zayden. He knew who he was, but he wasn’t sure the world was ready to know as well. At the start of his freshman year, he came out as a lesbian, and his parents and church were surprisingly accepting of it. Zayden didn’t tell anyone he was a transgender male until partially through his sophomore year. This was met with hardly any backlash or surprise, but Zayden still struggled with getting his teachers and parents to acknowledge his true identity. It was not until his junior and senior years that people finally started calling him by his new name, Zayden, or in some cases his nickname, Lee. Peers and teachers started using male pronouns when referring to him, but he still had to use the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms at school.

“My mom calls me Lee but avoids using pronouns when talking about me,” he said, laughing slightly when asked if his parents were accepting of who he is. “She’ll say ‘Lee’ ten times over in a sentence just to avoid using a pronoun.”

During his junior year in high school, his first year after coming out as a transgender male, Zayden started going to the biweekly meetings of Trans Talk Tuesdays, hosted by the LGBT Center of UNC-Chapel Hill. Although he found slight comfort in being surrounded by people similar to him, he felt he didn’t quite belong in the group.

“It seemed like everyone else was struggling way more than I am,” he explained. “Plus, I’d prefer people just think I’m a guy than know I’m transgender.”

Ben

In the summer of 2015, Ben Xhemaili, then known as Yllza, faced a similar situation as Zayden. Though he came out as a lesbian the year before, he didn’t feel that term was quite right. He, too, made the conscious decision to chop off his long brown locks and ditch the mascara, and he loved the results. His parents attempted to make him grow his hair back out, but he refused. He finally felt closer to the person he really was: a transgender male.

While Ben’s journey to figuring out his identity followed along a similar path as Zayden’s, he faced a few more obstacles along the way. Zayden was lucky to be in a family that initially accepted him when he first came out as a lesbian before he knew who he really was. Ben came from an Albanian family who followed the Islamic faith, which included a strong discrimination toward anyone of the LGBT community even if it was their own child. Miraculously, Ben managed to hide his sexuality – and eventual gender identity – from his parents until his junior year of high school.

“Coming out wasn’t something I had decided to do, but rather a choice by my ex-girlfriend,” Ben explained. “I wanted to wait until I was 18.”

In the fall of 2015, Ben cowered on his bed shortly after his parents discovered a picture of him hugging his girlfriend. His father barged into the room, demanding he tell the truth of his relationship with the girl. Ben swore up and down that he wasn’t dating a girl, and that the hug was simply friendly. His dad snapped. No daughter of his would be a lesbian, especially not with an American.

Ben, who had been considering the idea that he might actually be a male born into a female body, knew immediately that if his parents could not accept him as a lesbian, they definitely could not accept him as a transgender person.

Flash-forward to a year later, to the fall of 2016. Ben’s mother helps him pick out a new name and helps him get access to hormone injections to begin his official transition. Even though Ben believed his life would never get better since he was a transgender teen in a Muslim family, over the course of a year he managed to change the minds of his conservative parents and turn his life around.

Lily

Two years after Zayden’s initial self-revelation and just a few months after Ben’s, in the fall of 2015, Lily McGilvray started on a long road to her own self-discovery. She had just started her freshman year of college and couldn’t shake the feeling that she was parading around as someone she was not. She tried to convince herself that she could just ignore it, and it would eventually go away.

“I was trying not to think about it,” Lily recalled. “But, then I started thinking about it a lot. Then, by the summer of 2016, I was certain.”

Despite her friends being mostly accepting of her new identity, coming out to her family was an entirely different experience. Her mother found out before she had the chance to come out. The doctors had mailed her hormone pills to the wrong address, and her mother forced her to come clean. Her father found out soon after, when her mother made her switch to his insurance.

“Telling my family was nerve-wracking,” said Lily. “My dad is completely cool with it, and my mom completely hates me.”

Her twin brother Justin didn’t outwardly react to Lily’s revelation. He simply changed pronouns for her. Justin explained: “She told me that she was transgender, and I just said, ‘Okay, cool. Do you want to play Rocket League?’”

Lily’s not completely out yet. At school, she still goes by male pronouns and her old name. She doesn’t plan to come out completely until she looks more feminine so that less people are confused. “My school was a Christian school until recently, so everyone here is really conservative. But I have my own bathroom and my own shower, so it’s not a huge deal.”

Back in Alamance

Transgender people across the world have different struggles, whether they are in a transphobic environment or not. Alamance County doesn’t seem to be bursting with people identifying as transgender, but that could be because it’s not necessarily an inviting place to the LGBT community and many could be are afraid to come out. Zayden, Ben and Lily prove that transgender people are incredibly brave in the face of adversity. Even though Zayden didn’t experience the same backlash as Ben or Lily, he still struggles simply by having the wrong body. Now with House Bill 2 hanging over their heads, their lives are even more in limbo, which only makes them braver. Perhaps one day, Alamance will be more accepting so these three are not alone and no longer have to struggle.

Edited by Samantha Miner