Oct 19 • 46M

Arizona Equals Stephan

Stephan Kingsley joins the show to talk about risk-taking, curiosity, and the importance of visibility and authenticity as an autistic trans man

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Appears in this episode

Equality Arizona
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.

On this week’s episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation, Jeanne talks with Stephan Kingsley about their shared experiences with neurodiversity, transition, and homeschooling, and how each of these informs his work as an educator. Curiosity is a skill! Exercise yours today.

Links & Show Notes

Full Episode Transcript

00;00;00;24 - 00;01;44;06

Jeanne

From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury, and each week on the show I talk with one of the quarter million queer people living in Arizona. It's my goal to represent as many of those experiences as possible, and if you're interested in being a guest, I want to talk to you. You can fill out a form on our website at EqualityArizona.org/Stories, or just email me. I'm Jeanne@EqualityArizona.org. Today on the show, I sit down with Stephan Kingsley. He's running for school board in Tempe, but this isn't a conversation with him as a political candidate. He's a neurodiverse trans man, and I found that we really had a lot in common. I'm autistic; I'm trans; I'm in politics. But beyond that, I think we think about a lot of things in pretty similar ways. And part of that comes from our shared experience of being homeschooled. It was really fascinating to talk with him about education from those shared perspectives that we both have. I loved our conversation that we got into about curiosity and taking risks, and I really don't want to spend too much time in the intro getting ahead of that because it's really just worth listening to the actual conversation. So with that in mind, I'll let Stephan introduce himself and get the episode started.

00;01;49;03 - 00;02;02;14

Stephan

Hi, I'm Stephan Kingsley. I am a neurodiverse person and educator, and who knows what else, because I'm interested in so many different things.

00;02;02;14 - 00;02;03;12

Jeanne

Wonderful. Thanks.

00;02;03;12 - 00;02;22;09

Stephan

Yeah.

Jeanne

Well, thanks for being on the podcast. I think it's really fun to talk to people who are in politics. We get a range of people on the show. I know that you're running for school board. That's something a lot of people don't pay attention to. How long have you been involved in education in general?

00;02;22;09 - 00;02;52;23

Stephan

For over 15 years. Most of my experience and special training is working with English language learners. So I've had the privilege of being able to teach so many students from different countries, which I absolutely love. English teacher by trade. And then yeah, I've — Teaching is something that has always made me really happy, and just working with students and building those relationships.

00;02;52;23 - 00;02;57;15

Jeanne

Is teaching something that's in your family? How did you kind of discover that?

00;02;57;15 - 00;03;04;14

Stephan

Yeah, there's kind of a fun story behind that. My dad has been a teacher for, I want to say, 41 years now.

00;03;04;14 - 00;03;04;28

Jeanne

Oh, wow.

00;03;05;01 - 00;03;29;17

Stephan

And you know, that conversation you have when you're growing up like, hey, what should I do with my life? You know. My dad noticed how I like to help my younger brothers and sisters or some of the other younger people that I would go to church with. And he would say, You make a great teacher. And I looked at him and I'm like, Dad, you're a teacher. Like, I don't want to, you know, do what you do. Cause it's not cool when you're younger, you know?

00;03;29;17 - 00;03;30;09

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;03;30;09 - 00;04;34;19

Stephan

But when some circumstances changed in a job and they had outsourced my department and I was looking for a job, there was a position in an English language classroom available in Mesa, which was the school district my dad taught in. And so I took that position and I was in charge of giving the initial testing for placement for English language learners. So, this student is proficient; you know, where should they be placed. And the teacher I was working with was awesome. And she found out that I was thinking about possibly going into teaching. She said, really? Well, tomorrow, this is the vocabulary that we're doing so, knock it out. Go ahead and teach.

Jeanne

It's your lesson.

Stephan

Yeah. I was like, really? Like, tomorrow. And I, when I got up and I started working with the kids, like, every cell in my body came alive, and I just felt like, wow, this is my calling in one form or another, so. I love educating people.

00;04;34;19 - 00;04;37;24

Jeanne

What industry were you in before?

00;04;37;24 - 00;04;43;10

Stephan

Well, quite a few. I was homeschooled through high school.

00;04;43;10 - 00;04;44;16

Jeanne

Oh okay. Me too.

00;04;44;16 - 00;05;10;21

Stephan

Oh, cool. Yeah, not a lot of people have that experience. So I ended up taking the state GED at 16, and I've worked two or three jobs ever since. I do live with autism and that was diagnosed when I was a bit older, which I'm thankful for because it really confirmed a lot of things. But then that also meant that I struggled a lot until that diagnosis

00;05;10;21 - 00;05;14;14

Jeanne

Because you didn't have the tools at your disposal?

00;05;14;14 - 00;05;54;02

Stephan

Correct. Because I wasn't identified and I wasn't able to work with any therapists or anything like that, I really had to kind of depend on my own coping styles — some that were healthy, some that were not as healthy. Because there's so much pressure to — the term is to mask — and really kind of blend in. And I started taking college classes part time because of that. And I tested into the lowest math and reading comprehension classes offered at a community college.

00;05;54;02 - 00;05;55;23

Jeanne

Here in the Maricopa County System?.

00;05;55;23 - 00;05;59;14

Stephan

Mmhm. Yeah, it was Mesa Community College.

00;05;59;14 - 00;06;00;15

Jeanne

Okay, yeah I love MCC.

00;06;00;15 - 00;06;28;12

Stephan

Yeah. And I wanted to start there because I knew that I may not be where I was supposed to be. And that was because of working full time. So I started in the food industry, I worked in the health industry. I went to technical school to become a medical assistant. I thought originally when I was going to go to college, like, okay, I'll do nursing or I'll do, you know, be a doctor. And then I started taking chemistry and I was just bored. I'm sure I probably could have done it if I had applied myself.

00;06;28;16 - 00;06;30;25

Jeanne

Right, it just wasn't as interesting as you wanted it to be.

00;06;30;25 - 00;07;22;11

Stephan

Not at all. So just decided to go part time and kind of focus still on working so that I could pay for school and oh my gosh, when I was at ASU, I worked for parking enforcement, worked for dispatch in the police department there. I've just done a lot of different things. My students always used to joke like, Mr. Kingsley, what have you not done? And I'm like, That list is probably shorter. So yeah, I graduated with my bachelor's at 29 and I was just happy to have that done before 30. I was constantly berating myself, you know, about the fact that I even got it done so late, because I come from a family of eight kids and a lot of my siblings had completed college earlier.

00;07;22;11 - 00;07;24;06

Jeanne

Where are you in the eight?

00;07;24;06 - 00;07;28;26

Stephan

I am right smack dab in the middle; and I actually have a twin as well

00;07;28;26 - 00;07;35;16

Jeanne

Oh, wow. So I'm curious, when did you get your diagnosis?

00;07;35;16 - 00;07;36;14

Stephan

For autism?

00;07;36;14 - 00;07;37;02

Jeanne

For autism, yeah

00;07;37;02 - 00;07;39;20

Stephan

At 40.

00;07;39;20 - 00;07;47;19

Jeanne

That's a long time to wait, especially going through that whole process and potentially, like you're saying, kind of kicking yourself for not being faster.

00;07;48;09 - 00;08;04;20

Jeanne

I think that most people with autism — or whatever the language I think that people choose to use, I often just say I'm autistic, and I know some people like different things — but for any of us on the spectrum, the pace of our lives is just different in a lot of ways,

00;08;04;20 - 00;09;10;28

Stephan

It is. And I'm thankful for the fact that, I mean, when I was reflecting, I did have a lot of tension in my body though. I'm very, I was trying to describe it to one of the school counselors at the last high school that I worked at and with sensory things, it's like everything visually and audible, as well as smells, like all of those are really heightened and everything in your environment comes rushing at you at one time. And it's like, how do you process that? How do you deal with that? When it comes to processing conversation, the psychologist that I was working with that diagnosed me said I have about a 20 second delay, like, and it's hard sometimes for people to to catch that, but I do. And then, well, I scored probably the lowest on like the social skills, you know, because I can't, it's very hard for me to read body language, facial expressions, anything.

00;09;10;28 - 00;09;27;02

Jeanne

Yeah. I remember when I had a whole assessment, I had scores that surprised me in terms of just being like, Oh, I didn't realize I was, I had that much of a deficit in that area. I think a lot of that comes down to masking like, like you were talking about.

00;09;27;02 - 00;13;54;17

Stephan

I think it kind of revealed also that we don't really have a good way to assess adults. They used a lot of the things that they will use for children. Thankfully, my mom is still living and she is, she has a great memory about things. But then they also interviewed and had my other siblings do tests as well. And it isn't necessarily uncommon for someone on the spectrum to also have ADHD, which I also have, and then to be diagnosed with a mental illness, I guess, if you want to call it. So I do live with bipolar as well. And one of my neuropsychologists kind of explained part of the reason why sometimes that was exacerbated was because of the fact that I didn't have the services that I needed. So in other words, my coping skills, it's you know, there's a lot of education that still needs to be done on bipolar and mental illness and how that all works. But, neurologically just the way my brain is wired, understanding that I'm autistic and whatnot, I wish that it could have been identified earlier so that I could have started the healthier patterns that someone has to do when they have bipolar. But I'm grateful now I'm starting to do those and, you know, with medication and, you know, but it's also given me a lot of insight for when I work with students. So autistic empathy is a whole 'nother subject, too, which is fascinating, right? Because someone who's autistic portrays empathy in a very different way. And for me, with my students, I would — just one look at them. I would usually greet every single student, every single day. I would shake their hands and just one look in their eyes, and I would get a feeling and a sense of exactly where they were and what it was that they needed. And sometimes eye contact for me is hard because of what I feel when I look into someone's eyes.

Jeanne

Because it's overwhelming on some level?

Stephan

Yes. And that's mostly because I have a feeling of what they're feeling. But the words for when I describe it and/or reach out, you know, to help, sometimes it's not as obvious to others that that's what I'm trying to do. Students would always get it, though, and I think the way that I also tried to cope in school specifically helps me be a better teacher. I think I kind of realized like I needed to break things down into very concrete steps. I needed to figure out where I was more confident and what I was good at as opposed to where I struggled. So for example, in math, I already knew that I sucked at algebra. In fact I was listening to a — I can't remember if it's a TED Talk or a podcast — of Temple Grandin. And she mentioned that she's horrible at algebra and I started crying. It was like all this energy was really releasing out of my body, just being like, It's okay that you're horrible at algebra and that you have strengths in other areas. Because it took me four times to pass my intermediate algebra class, and this would be an algebra class that students would take in high school, you know. Because again, this is at the community college, just entry level. And sometimes my students, when they would be frustrated with algebra, I can really relate to that. So I could share my story about that or, some of my kids, I would just see, you know, their brains worked a little bit differently. I could work with their strengths and it works so much better because it's often typical and especially in my experience to beat myself up for all the stuff that I don't know how to do or that I don't do well, or that I can't possibly blend in, you know, because of my autism. So I think it's just given me a lot of insight in how to work with students and quite honestly, what is good for students who are on the spectrum in the classroom is good for every single student, so.

00;13;54;17 - 00;14;00;23

Jeanne

Yeah, it's kind of like the curb-cut idea of, accessible design is better for everyone.

00;14;00;23 - 00;14;01;24

Stephan

Absolutely.

00;14;01;24 - 00;14;24;03

Jeanne

I think what I've found is that because I have to be more conscious of the way I process and categorize information, it's something that helps me to be a better communicator or educator. Not that I'm an educator now. I've taught a little bit in the past, but it helps me to convey that to other people, and it's just because I have to be more conscious of it on my own time, for my own sake.

00;14;24;03 - 00;14;40;27

Stephan

Yeah, well, I would argue that you are an educator, maybe not formally, but to go through that reflective process, to be able to sit with yourself, then put it into words where you can at least give someone some insight. Yeah, you're definitely an educator.

00;14;40;27 - 00;14;48;27

Jeanne

Well, I'm curious to hear a little bit about your experience being homeschooled — being homeschooled by a teacher, I assume your dad was pretty involved?

00;14;48;27 - 00;14;58;23

Stephan

He was somewhat. So my mom was, he really kind of let her be the one to make the decisions about the curriculum. You know, he would check in for sure.

00;14;58;23 - 00;15;32;11

Stephan

My dad was a music teacher, though, so his expertise was a little bit different than, you know, like your core subjects. My parents are also very religious, so they were very concerned about the curriculum in particular that was being given out in the public schools. So between that, as well as the fact that I was, started around fifth grade showing that I was really having difficulty with learning and would often be more depressed, understanding and aware of the fact that I didn't fit in with a lot of people.

00;15;33;05 - 00;16;01;11

Stephan

So my mom told me that the combination between the two, that's why she chose to homeschool me. And some days were more like school and other days were pretty free. My twin and my brother who's 16 months younger than I am, which we're really close. We always have been. We would write plays, we would, you know, build sets for our plays.

00;16;01;28 - 00;16;11;06

Stephan

And my brother and I, we built a suit of armor. We would choreograph fights all the time, you know, stuff like that, which I guess is a different type of learning.

00;16;11;06 - 00;16;17;19

Jeanne

Absolutely. Do you get to bring any of that, like less structured learning into your work as an educator now?

00;16;17;19 - 00;16;31;24

Stephan

Yes, I would. A project based learning is something that I'm a huge advocate for because you really can allow the student to take ownership of their learning and you can really work with their interests.

00;16;32;19 - 00;17;01;17

Stephan

So that's essentially what I did when I would pursue those projects, even though it was sort of more free form, there wasn't that strict structure to it. There was no rubric like you have to do this and that, you know, we kind of created it. But the students are more engaged, they're more motivated, they're more interested and curious to ask like, Hey, how did you think about, how did you think of that?

00;17;01;17 - 00;17;15;03

Stephan

You know, what was your process?

Jeanne

I think when people can get involved in the process, they motivate themselves to learn more. And that's a whole virtuous cycle in a real way.

00;17;15;03 - 00;17;20;26

Jeanne

You mentioned your parents were religious. You've come out. Is there tension around that?

00;17;20;26 - 00;17;39;18

Stephan

Yes, very definitely. I grew up in a very sheltered home, so, but I always knew that sexually I was attracted to women since I was really young. And I'm always someone who values authenticity.

00;17;39;28 - 00;17;51;09

Stephan

I would talk to my parents about that since I was really little. And I have an aunt who's been with her partner longer than my parents have been married, I want to say like 54 years.

00;17;51;09 - 00;17;52;14

Jeanne

That's incredible.

00;17;52;14 - 00;18;01;10

Stephan

Yeah, it really is. And she's, she took one look at me and she's like, Yep, she's probably a lesbian, you know?

00;18;01;10 - 00;18;43;16

Stephan

And so my mom really there was there was kind of a shift then I would say, towards pushing me into more of the, what they perceived as the feminine role in the way women should dress and speak. And, but I still knew who it was, you know, that I felt, which wasn't even that, but scared stiff to say anything more when I finally had the courage to tell my parents as well as my, one of the church leaders, who my parents really listened to, that I don't believe they're acting the way God would act.

00;18;43;16 - 00;19;14;27

Stephan

They use a lot of fear and manipulation and control and took away choice completely. And ironically, me making those statements — they said we've, we've had enough. So I was excommunicated from the church that I was attending. My parents didn't allow me to talk to them for almost ten years. I couldn't talk to or relate to my younger brothers and sisters.

00;19;14;27 - 00;19;42;06

Stephan

Like it was very intense. I was allowed to email my parents, but I would say in 2015 or so my parents did reach out. They had started attending another church. I think they started becoming more aware like, that wasn't healthy, that's not where it should be. And expressed really deep sorrow and asked for forgiveness. Let's, can we build a relationship?

00;19;43;04 - 00;20;11;09

Stephan

But there was a lot of trauma there and then understanding that I'm autistic, it made complete sense why my entire world was just different. Because everybody that I would communicate with, interact with, felt comfortable with, was connected to the church in some way. And I would spend time with them two or three times a week. Everything revolved around that.

00;20;11;18 - 00;20;41;04

Stephan

And then all of a sudden it was gone all at once. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I but I would say in 2018, 2019 is when I met the first transgender man I've ever met and sat down with him because like, my heart inside was like, really happy. I was like, Oh my gosh, there's someone who feels like me because I never really felt like I fit in as a lesbian or whatnot.

00;20;41;04 - 00;21;07;12

Stephan

I just knew that I was attracted to women. So, you know, and we had a good conversation. He was more private about his journey, which I completely respect, but that's when I really started saying, Wow, I should probably look at that because it coincided with some really intensive therapy that I was having, which just brought all these things up, so, yeah.

00;21;07;12 - 00;21;35;15

Jeanne

I've noticed that, I think, autism diagnoses are often delayed for people who are like, assigned female at birth, and that can lead to a lot of problems, obviously. All of these things get gendered in an interesting way. It can be difficult. Like for me, I didn't get my diagnosis until I was in my early twenties, which, you know, I was someone who easily could have been diagnosed at a younger age.

00;21;35;15 - 00;22;08;18

Jeanne

I was like the classic target for: Let's get this kid into get diagnosed. It didn't happen, which was fine, but after that I started to process some of my other mental health issues. I started to figure out all of these gender feelings I was having. I transitioned and now it's like, well, I actually just kind of am in a weird place in terms of how all of these different things mesh together, because I untangled them all in some kind of weird sequence, and now I'm just out here being myself.

00;22;09;23 - 00;22;16;19

Jeanne

It's really interesting to hear your experience with actually a lot of the same things in a very different way.

00;22;16;19 - 00;22;27;10

Stephan

Yeah, I think there's a lot of complexity, is how I like to say it because they do interact and they are hard to separate.

00;22;27;10 - 00;22;27;19

Jeanne

Right.

00;22;27;19 - 00;22;40;03

Stephan

Which is why, and I think that's something that I understand. And maybe you also, in that sense of like trying to put something in a box. When you think differently and you're autistic.

00;22;40;03 - 00;23;01;09

Stephan

First off, you're like, think of putting, I think of putting someone in an actual box. And I'm like, oh, that's like a coffin. Like, that's pretty dark, you know? But there isn't one that fits or that can describe everyone. And so I think one of the — dangers might be too harsh of a word, but I'm going to use it.

00;23;01;09 - 00;23;29;17

Stephan

One of the dangers of using individual labels, whether it's for gender, whether it's for mental health, or… in a way where you hold on to that label and try to put one mass description on it, you know, it's, you can't generalize any of them.

Jeanne

No, I don't think so.

Stephan

And a lot of people who don't identify that way and/or are not autistic, it's hard for them to understand and they get overwhelmed.

00;23;30;20 - 00;23;57;14

Stephan

Well,I have to remember all these different ways, pronouns and like referring to people? and, you know, like just being very and you're like, no, just ask the person, you know. But I think that really comes from that — I kind of blame psychology — like labeling, you know, that this is this is this, you know, which the behaviors that come out of it are, you know, such, and everybody just assumes, you know, that bipolar or anything else looks the same when,

00;23;57;14 - 00;23;59;08

Jeanne

Which is not remotely true.

00;23;59;13 - 00;24;00;27

Stephan

Not at all.

00;24;00;27 - 00;24;24;08

Jeanne

People with experience like the ones we have, we get over medicalized. We are in people's offices all the time and I think what I've thought about in the past is that sometimes the only way we can get care is by really committing to the label. Like, This is my diagnosis, I've got it on a piece of paper, I can show it to you, I can get the things I need, I can get the tools I need.

00;24;24;21 - 00;24;38;10

Jeanne

And sometimes being challenged on like, That's not who you are, is really scary because it's like, Well, but I need it to be because I need all of these things that are a consequence of that.

00;24;38;10 - 00;24;56;02

Stephan

That's a fascinating way to put it. I like that. When I received the diagnosis, even though it was at 40, my entire body relaxed though, like it was just this, I always knew, you know.

00;24;56;04 - 00;25;22;02

Stephan

And then when I would reflect, all of these markers, so to speak, of oh, well, this is — struggling in math. And, you know, just my frustration of like, oh, my gosh, like, why can't I get this? Why is everybody else getting this? Or my moments of being completely distracted, you know, being, cause what we were learning was not interesting.

00;25;22;02 - 00;25;48;24

Stephan

So I'm going to think about what I want to think about right now. Also being all over the place, spelling or sequential order, things like that, that were really difficult. All of a sudden these moments, especially of really hard struggle, started just aligning and I was like, Wow, okay, that explains it. So there was some relief in the label.

00;25;49;07 - 00;26;01;01

Stephan

But then, what do I do now? You know, which is what anybody I think who gets a diagnosis of any kind, is like, Well, what do I do now?

00;26;01;01 - 00;26;04;29

Jeanne

Yeah, and where did you start?

00;26;04;29 - 00;26;16;03

Jeanne

So that was in, let's see, I'm 42 now. I want to say, I'm almost 43, so I feel like that was in 2020 when I got that diagnosis.

00;26;16;03 - 00;27;04;26

Stephan

And then I actually started transitioning in October of 2020. So there were so many different things going on.

Jeanne

Early pandemic.

Stephan

Yeah, yeah. For sure. I did a lot of reading, I did a lot of research, I did a lot of sitting with myself and saying, you know, does this resonate? And I relied a lot on talking with my twin or people that knew me really well and some of them were very relieved to hear as well, because I have a tendency to just start a sentence halfway through or not complete a thought or just, you know, misinterpret text messages.

00;27;04;26 - 00;27;31;21

Stephan

Oh, my gosh, I hate text messages because even though I'm horrible at social cues and I can't see, you know, in someone's expressions to read them, at least from what I've tried to pick up growing up, I have a little bit more of a sense. But things like that became more clear. So then they didn't take it as personally, you know, so.

Jeanne

It gave them a framework in a similar way to the way it can give you a framework.

00;27;31;21 - 00;27;41;15

Stephan

Yes. But then you have those people that question like, well, are you really though, because you've done seemingly quite well for yourself, you know,

00;27;41;15 - 00;27;44;07

Jeanne

"you can't actually be autistic."

00;27;44;07 - 00;27;56;12

Stephan

Right. And a lot of times even at work — So I'm currently not teaching because I can't work in the school district where I'm running for school board.

00;27;56;24 - 00;28;00;02

Jeanne

Oh, right. That's just a conflict of interest policy?

00;28;00;02 - 00;28;00;17

Stephan

It is.

00;28;00;17 - 00;28;00;25

Jeanne

Okay.

00;28;00;25 - 00;28;28;17

Stephan

Yeah. And, and that's okay because I'm working on my dissertation right now and I want to start my own consulting company and I'll probably be working with either school districts or business institutions. My focus is going to be diversity and inclusion and really sort of helping school districts or businesses on a policy level or just their structure, interview structure, whatever it is.

00;28;28;17 - 00;28;57;13

Stephan

So I felt like it was a good transition to kind of, you know, start going into some of that work, and — I lost my train of thought —

Jeanne

— well, I think it's —

Stephan

Oh, someone at work. Yeah, I found it. So I'm working just sort of as a temporary job at a car dealership. And one of the guys though, you know, I forget if I was slower to respond to something or — but he kind of looked at me funny and I said, well, I'm autistic,

00;28;57;13 - 00;29;25;27

Stephan

So maybe, you know, I just confused something. And he looked at me and he's like, You're autistic. I couldn't tell. I was like, Well, thank you. And he's like, So you're good at math? And I was like, I'm not. He's like, Oh, but autistic people are good at math. And so there's all these preconceived ideas or maybe bias or whatever you want to call it, you know, there that come with the diagnosis.

00;29;25;27 - 00;29;49;13

Stephan

And I think that's been interesting to navigate, you know, but I've tried to be pretty open about it because then, like I said, I'm an educator. So, it's an opportunity to kind of tell them.

Jeanne

Yeah, I think, I like that perspective. It's, it's always an opportunity to educate, which I think goes also into pursuing, you know, running for office and leadership like that.

00;29;49;13 - 00;30;24;11

Jeanne

It's also about educating in a lot of cases.

Stephan

Yeah. And I value that visibility when, you know, meeting my first transgender man and really kind of exploring myself and masculinity that I had really repressed. And it just reminded me of how important it is to be. Just that visibility is. And I appreciated that while he still stayed somewhat guarded about pieces and aspects of his story, that he was still open to share.

00;30;24;11 - 00;30;54;15

Stephan

Because while there are plenty of moments to educate, it also sort of becomes a burden, or it can become a burden to start them every single time. You know, this is how autism works or how being transgender is, you know, fill in the blank or bipolar or whatever it is, ADHD. And I don't know about you, but I'm someone who as soon as I'm interested in something, I like Google the crap out of it, right?

00;30;54;15 - 00;31;14;16

Stephan

So that, you know, pretty much I'm like, yeah. And then I'll go down rabbit holes and then kind of come back to the original thing I was researching. But I've always wanted to be really frustrated and be like, Why don't you Google this? Or Why don't you look this up? Instead of putting that on me, you know, which —

00;31;14;16 - 00;31;29;08

Stephan

And then I say that understanding that as a white man, I still have a certain level of privilege because I think my, my students of color also feel that burden.

Jeanne

Yeah, I've heard that perspective from a lot of people.

00;31;29;08 - 00;31;38;19

Jeanne

I don't know if you're familiar with it, but there's a website called Let me Google that for you, and it just redirects to the Google search result for whatever the thing is you're talking about.

00;31;38;19 - 00;31;39;26

Stephan

Oh, my gosh. That's amazing.

00;31;39;26 - 00;31;40;23

Jeanne

Yeah, it's pretty great.

00;31;40;23 - 00;31;44;05

Stephan

I should have come up with that.

00;31;44;05 - 00;32;07;26

Jeanne

It seems like not a lot of people who are autistic and trans and have to do all that constant like, "here's how you can think of me as an actual person" work all the time are going to want to run for office, because it really puts you in that position of scrutiny. Did you feel that pressure going into it?

00;32;07;26 - 00;32;24;04

Stephan

School board is a little bit different. It's nonpartisan. Although it's so interesting because one of the first questions people ask is, are you a Democrat or a Republican? You know, because they really want to understand, well, maybe that's not true. I would like to tell myself that they really understand —

00;32;24;04 - 00;32;57;02

Stephan

— want to understand where you are on the issues. But maybe it's just a matter of, I want to be okay with my assumptions about that party. You know, I wrote an opinion article, though, in for the Ahwatukee Foothills where I talked about autism in politics. So I, and I'll return to the transgender scrutiny. But I've already noticed the propensity to be loyal to a party without necessarily questioning or seeing,

00;32;57;02 - 00;33;19;11

Stephan

Is this how I really feel? I've noticed the sort of good boy club, you know, that I was like, Is it just me? Because I've never been able to get in that club, let alone have an invite, you know? But there are a lot of outside things that, I feel is a waste of time, you know, like, why am I going to say something that I don't believe?

00;33;19;27 - 00;33;41;26

Stephan

Why am I going to tiptoe around something when it's just like, No, this is what it is. And kind of the idea of that authenticity and that integrity being present. So, I mean, there are probably a few moments where even myself I was like, oof, should I say that? Because how is that going to be perceived?

00;33;41;26 - 00;34;03;25

Stephan

And then I was like, No, why do I care about that? I'm going to let people know how I feel about education, how I'm going to be an advocate for students, that I value visibility, both being autistic and transgender, and it will fall where it falls. I am thankful for Victory, though, Victory Institute.

00;34;03;25 - 00;34;05;01

Jeanne

Yeah, yeah. I'm familiar.

00;34;05;16 - 00;34;39;08

Stephan

And they train candidates specifically in the LGBTQ community for political roles. And while school board isn't necessarily like governor, some of the other, you know, positions where you might have more scrutiny, with the way legislation is now in Arizona, specifically, even seemingly targeting LGBTQ and especially transgender. I did have to wrestle with that for a minute, but I'm like, I'm going to. I am who I am.

00;34;39;08 - 00;34;48;07

Stephan

I worked really hard to now even be perceived as the person that I've always known that I am, so.

00;34;48;07 - 00;35;16;01

Jeanne

Well and a lot of that stuff at the state level is bubbling up from from school districts. So you are kind of throwing yourself into the lion's den in a real way. But I think it's great. And I think, you know, there's a lot to be said about trans kids being able to see a trans person running for school board, but also being very open about your autism and how that affects the way you communicate about policy.

00;35;16;16 - 00;35;33;27

Jeanne

That's something that I think is really just as important, too, because, frankly, people are vicious and awful to neurodivergent kids, even when they're trying to be helpful. And I think it's really cool to see, you know, here's an adult who's open about it

00;35;33;27 - 00;35;42;02

Stephan

And to take that lens to policy for — you know, the school board's main responsibilities are policy,

00;35;42;18 - 00;36;11;23

Stephan

So, creating policy for the district; the budget; and then hiring and firing your superintendent. So essentially the five people — we have five at least in our, in Tempe Union — want to act as much as one body as possible, which I'm thankful there's five, you know, because then you can disagree with someone on the board, but then the majority, you know, but it's their job to hold the superintendent accountable.

00;36;13;01 - 00;36;48;11

Stephan

You know, the school systems are still in a hierarchical system and of course, it really does come back to the superintendent. And how well they do. Autism I think can be a strength in that. I love words. I will read every single one of them. I will sit and read — I've read every single piece of legislation, especially that affects the LGBTQ community or students in school, or even legislation where they're trying to mandate how a teacher teaches history, what it is that they say.

00;36;48;11 - 00;37;29;24

Stephan

So anything education-wise like, I will be that person who sits down and will read, you know, the HB-whatever-it-is, you know, and I'm very detail oriented. So I feel like that lens is going to be helpful for those pieces. But then also, thank you for verbalizing that, that understanding that teachers, even though they're well-meaning, can sometimes not understand how to best serve someone who is autistic, especially if they're high functioning and in general education classes. And that's what I would love to help with.

00;37;29;24 - 00;38;03;28

Jeanne

I mean, I know high functioning is maybe somewhat of an obsolete term, but for people who get categorized that way, people will just throw anything at you like, Oh you can handle it, you can handle it, and you're like collapsing inside, but you don't even really know how to show it because you haven't been given room for it. And it's just, if there isn't a good system for it, and for me I think that's why being homeschooled ended up being very useful is, I had less of a, of a box around me as a kid.

00;38;03;28 - 00;38;16;09

Stephan

And I think, so I understand too right now there's a lot, you know, in public school versus charter school going on right now, but a lot of the charter schools or private schools —

00;38;17;00 - 00;38;45;02

Stephan

One of their main functions was to serve people who lived with a disability and/or were autistic. So because they can just provide a different structure and/or homeschooling. And I completely agree in a lot of ways it's so helpful and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that. But I also feel that public schools can do better, you know, and they should do better so that they can be inclusive.

00;38;45;26 - 00;39;02;24

Stephan

If you have a family who can't afford private school or a charter school, they need to be confident that their, you know, the school is going to be inclusive. It's going to be a safe environment. They're going to still have a teacher that meets their needs. You know,

00;39;02;24 - 00;39;10;24

Jeanne

and I think you said it really well earlier, that things that make the classroom better for autistic kids make the classroom better for all of the kids.

00;39;11;22 - 00;40;15;14

Stephan

But teachers still sometimes struggle with that, especially my age or older, because the idea of the 504, you know, which is kind of your less restrictive, individualized education plan, like an IEP, there are certain things that teachers have to do that are written down, right? So a lot of teachers feel, well I've got all 37 kids in my classroom and I've got, you know, five who have a 504, one that has an IEP, which is when the co-teacher comes in. And it's just a lot to do. And I have to still teach my subject, you know, and it's, I think it's really kind of looked at as, it's kind of compartmentalized as it's well, it's just more work, which is why in teacher trainings or professional developments that I've done, I've taught in a way that would work really well for someone with autism, and they love it because I'm like, No, it's actually less work if you teach it this way.

00;40;15;14 - 00;40;19;15

Jeanne

Yeah,

Stephan

Because all of your kids are getting served.

00;40;19;15 - 00;40;22;22

Jeanne

And you don't have to do five different things at the same time.

00;40;22;22 - 00;40;24;19

Jeanne

Corrrect, correct. Yeah.

00;40;24;19 - 00;40;53;11

Jeanne

Do you feel like that kind of thinking about education isn't in the discourse, the political discourse as much as it should be? Because I see people getting upset about these really hot button issues and I don't see a lot of policy conversation around, you know, there's conversations about resources and underfunding and teacher shortages, but I rarely see it get into the details of like, here's what it's like to be in the classroom.

00;40;54;04 - 00;40;57;26

Jeanne

It's often just very fear driven.

00;40;57;26 - 00;40;58;12

Stephan

Mm hmm.

00;40;58;12 - 00;40;59;27

Jeanne

I don't know.

00;40;59;27 - 00;41;28;06

Stephan

And I feel with being autistic, with being transgender, with being a teacher, my lived experience, when someone takes the time to get to know me, is a very powerful way to probably the most effective way for humanity to connect with humanity. You know, I, in the political world, especially driven by fear, you're exactly right.

00;41;28;24 - 00;41;50;05

Stephan

If someone comes up with an answer, I really feel like it kills curiosity and it kills that discourse. It's like, well, we can't teach about race inappropriately in school, well that must be critical race theory, well yeah, we can't have that. But that's not the answer, it's not even what's being done, you know, like, What, how did you even get there? You know,

00;41;50;05 - 00;42;28;13

Jeanne

But then people are stuck in that idea

Stephan

And/or they just accept it as the answer. So that's what I mean by killing curiosity, because if they actually sat down and talked to their kid and were like, So how does your teacher address students, students who might be non-binary, you know, do they ask about pronouns? Do you observe them using pronouns; and really having their child answer like, this is how it is, And then them kind of having a conversation with the teacher about it, rather than just relying on media or other outlets, that just, you know.

00;42;28;13 - 00;42;31;17

Jeanne

Right. But the actual real people and what they're actually doing.

00;42;31;17 - 00;42;45;08

Stephan

Right, right. So I'm not sure why that doesn't happen. But one of my goals in being more visible is hoping that those conversations can happen and it becomes less scary.

00;42;45;08 - 00;42;56;28

Jeanne

And I think curiosity is a risk. If you have an answer, that's an answer. If you're open and you keep things open and something goes wrong, it's hard to back that up.

00;42;56;28 - 00;43;05;01

Stephan

Well, I think that the idea that something might go wrong is exactly why people will stay away from the risk.

00;43;05;11 - 00;43;28;22

Stephan

But whenever I've — and maybe you've experienced this too — like, I'll give you the simplest example. I went out with my very best friend. We went somewhere for breakfast and they didn't make my eggs the way that I ordered them. So I usually, you know, don't like the yolk runny or whatever. And she said, Well, do you want to send it back or do you want to try it?

00;43;28;22 - 00;43;54;14

Stephan

And I'm like, mm, I want to send it back. Cause that's what I, this is the way I like it, the texture thing or whatever. And she said or you could try it and if you don't like it then you can send it back because we'd have to send it back anyways. So I was like, okay, you know, hesitantly putting salt on there, you know, and I tried it and it wasn't terrible and I tried another couple of bites and I was like, okay, this is not my preference.

00;43;54;20 - 00;44;27;24

Stephan

But I felt really glad that I tried it because there wasn't any, you know, there wasn't any harm that came of it. There was a moment of discomfort where I'm like, you know, yeah, no, that's kind of gross. I don't prefer that. But there wasn't anything horrible that came of trying. And if you're autistic, you know how much that was, how hard that might have been, because, you know, we really have those ways of just, you know — but I think it's the same when someone tries something new or takes a risk or, you know, to have that conversation.

00;44;28;18 - 00;44;56;18

Stephan

What could go wrong? I'm not really sure if there's an answer to that. You know, if someone shares a different perspective and then you say, okay, thank you for sharing that. I disagree with you. And this is why, you know, but that ability to listen, the ability to take a risk, stay curious and have that conversation. I think all of those are skills and I wish more people would learn them or more people would teach them.

00;44;57;10 - 00;45;04;16

Jeanne

I agree. I think we need to wrap up. But, what an incredible way to wrap up. Really. Thanks for being on the podcast with me.

00;45;04;16 - 00;45;08;04

Stephan

Thank you so much for the invite. I enjoyed it a lot.

00;45;08;04 - 00;45;43;19

Jeanne

Thanks so much to Stephan for being my guest on the podcast and to all of you for listening to the show week after week. If you're enjoying it, make sure that you're following the podcast in something like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or my podcast player of choice, Overcast. We've got some great episodes lined up and a good archive on our website, but we're always looking for new guests to interview. So if you're queer and you live in Arizona, please reach out. Thanks again for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.