“I’m gonna have a box of 200 condoms with my name on it,” Derrick Wegner, 19, said with a smile, “And that makes me happy.”
As part of Wegner’s duties as a Resident Assistant for Dreiser College at Stony Brook University, he’s helping to coordinate Tabler Quad’s “sex week,” a week dedicated to sex education.
But there’s more to Wegner than just his job as an RA. He’s a biology major who wants to double major in chemistry, his favorite method of transportation is to dance, preferably to skip, wherever he goes, he loves to sing and do taxidermy in his spare time, and he’s also one of a handful of transgender students at SBU and will be a founding member of the new Trans Alliance club.
Though he cannot be on the official e-board for the new club because he’s already involved in another e-board for the LGBTA, Wegner said he plans on being an active member and supporter of the club. He’s glad it exists. Since the LGBTQ community is a small subset of society, the “T” part of the acronym is an even smaller subset of a minority community with separate issues that can get overlooked in the broader discussion of LGBTQ issues.
The new club will focus on activism within the university and will be a community for people who identify as transgender and their supporters, he said.
“We want to fix things that are obviously broken but also be around people who get it,” Wegner explained.
The club will try to help with issues in policies regarding names, bathrooms and misgendering, or being addressed by the wrong pronouns. Bathrooms especially are a major problem on campus for people who identify as transgender. “I know a lot of trans people who aren’t comfortable going in public restrooms,” Wegner said. “I feel really strange doing it. I feel someone will, like, fight me.”
Establishing a community and a presence on campus is an important step towards creating more visibility for trans issues, a visibility that has skyrocketed among the mainstream public with celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner.
“I love the fact that there are trans people in the media. It shows that not only do trans people exist, but they’re real people,” Wegner said. “People know who trans people are now. I don’t know how apparent that statement was three years ago.”
Talking with Wegner about these issues under a warm sun on the Staller Steps, there is an undeniable positive energy that radiates from him. He talks excitedly and intelligently with a confidence that many people lack.
It’s something that many have noticed about him. When asked to describe Wegner as vividly as possible, Sydney Gaglio, a close friend of his, called him, “a red balloon that never runs out of air as it runs around the room sporadically, bringing joy to everyone around.”
Another friend, Gayle Geschwind, said that when she thinks of Wegner, “I think of someone who doesn’t care what people think of him. He’s willing to be himself and act crazy and not care what he looks like.”
His roommate, Madison Rivera, describes Wegner as, “an endless source of positivity. You could have a terrible day and spend five minutes with him and he’ll make you feel like it’s the best day of your life.”
But where does this positivity come from? Wegner gave a simple answer. “It helps that I love everything,” he said with a smile. Wegner explained that his positivity comes from taking the time to figure himself out. Everyone, he said, comes from a general core of something that they like about themselves and want to be. Once they find that core of where they come from as a person, they gain a certain amount of confidence, positivity and self-worth.
“I love me more than I think anyone could ever love me,” Wegner said.
Wegner’s brand of self-love and positivity may have been fostered by his early childhood growing up in Sullivan County, two hours north of New York City. He described this time in his life as the “ideal” childhood. He spent his time with his best friend walking through the woods, pretending to make potions or discovering dragons.
“It was the typical childhood antics,” Wegner said.
Homeschooled all the way through eighth grade, Wegner said he spent his early education getting to do fun experiments and going on cool field trips. He was part of the Scouts and played on two soccer teams.
Things got more hectic when he was in sixth grade. He came back from a vacation with his family friends along with his twin sister and younger brother to discover an empty house. His mother was moving them away from their father to a completely new house in Wurtsboro Hills, a short drive away from where he lived before.
There he attended Montecello High School, where he said he lived a “thug-ly” life of riding skateboards and rapping with his friends, all while rocking a beanie and skinny jeans.
Coasting through his first two years of high school with ease, things seemed under control again until he came out in eleventh grade as a trans male.
“Even before high school I remember sitting around my kitchen table with all my friends asking [me], like, ‘Are you a lesbian? Do you like girls?’, and I was like ‘I don’t know.’”
At first Wegner did decide to come out as a lesbian. He later realized he identified as male, and branded his sexuality as being straight. Now, however, he firmly asserts his status as “hella queer”, specifically pansexual, or someone who is attracted to all genders.
When he came out to his family his father initially didn’t want to call him by his correct pronouns. Wegner responded by saying, “If you don’t accept me as your son, then you’re not gonna have a kid, because your daughter doesn’t exist.”
His father eventually accepted these terms because he wanted Wegner to keep visiting him, Wegner said, but he was always closer to his mother.
The rest of his family and friends showed an overwhelming support for him, something that Wegner’s grateful for.
“In a nutshell things were really easy, and then things got complicated,” Wegner said, laughing, “But I feel like that’s life.”
Now Wegner is an involved and charismatic student at SBU, where he is a positive representation of queer people in general and a friend to those who need one. “I’m an open book,” he said.
Offering advice to other queer people, wherever and whoever they might be, Wegner said, “You know who you are and what you want more than anybody. You might not know who you are yet, so just be open. And even if you’re scared, just go with it and with who you are.”