It was a moment that felt too good to be true.
As she stood next to her mom on the football field Saturday at Oak Park High, the crown of homecoming queen was placed on Landon Patterson’s head.
The crown came with a spotlight that turned Patterson into an instant celebrity. She is not only the school’s first transgender homecoming queen, but one of the first in the United States as well.
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Seventeen magazine wrote about her with this headline: “Trans Teen Fulfilling Her Dream of Becoming Homecoming Queen Will Make You Cry Happy Tears.”
Patterson described what happened on Saturday with breathlessness on her social media accounts.
By Monday, she was fielding calls from reporters like an old pro. School officials deferred all questions to Patterson herself.
“The attention is kind of overwhelming, kind of not,” she said. “I feel like I’m handling it pretty well. I’m just honored that I’m put in this spotlight and that I’m representing my school and representing the trans community.”
She sounded much more poised and self-assured than she did in a personal video she posted to social media in May where she somewhat nervously declared to her classmates and the world: “I am not a boy, I am a girl.”
“It sucks that since I haven’t told people I’ve been trying to live as a girl and I’m still being called he,” Patterson said in the video. “That’s not who I am.”
The video has been viewed more than 13,000 times, many of those hits coming in just the last few days as her story makes the rounds.
Until earlier this year most people in her life thought Patterson was gay.
That’s what she told her mom back in sixth grade because “I always thought I was gay,” said Patterson. “Going into high school I knew it was more than that but I kept putting it off. I finally told her my sophomore year what was going on.”
She’d already started wearing girls’ clothes to school. At the beginning of her junior year she went bolder by wearing long hair extensions. “I was so nervous,” she said. “But I thought, ‘I’m doing it. After that I decided to wear a dress. So I came to school with my hair in and in a black dress.
“I was tired of hiding who I was and wearing a dress was what would make me feel like myself.”
Even though she had “built up a scenario” in her head, not one person said anything mean or cruel to her, a supportive school environment that continues for her today.
“When I came out as trans I was so afraid that I was expecting a lot of hate, but surprisingly there wasn’t much at all,” she told Buzzfeed. “There was some here and there but it was stuff that was never said to my face.”
When she told her mom that she wanted to live life as a girl they started working with counselors to guide them through the transition. Patterson began hormone therapy but prefers to keep other details of her transition private.
Then came the issue of her cheerleading uniform.
Patterson has cheered all four years at Oak Park. Her freshman and sophomore years, and part of her junior year, she cheered as a boy on the school’s co-ed squad. But she hated wearing the pants and top of the guy’s uniforms. “I felt so ugly,” she said.
She was afraid to tell her cheerleading coach about her transition. “I didn’t want to let anyone down,” she said. “I started crying because I was overwhelmed. But she said she knew this conversation was coming. She just didn’t know when.”
Her coach and school officials worked with the Missouri State High School Athletic Association to iron out particulars such as which bathroom and locker room she would use when she cheered.
The toughest part for Patterson, though, was waiting to hear whether she could wear the girls’ cheer uniform — the skirt, the bow in the hair.
In May, the cheer squad appeared at a T-Bones game “and I got to wear it,” she said. “It was just so exciting. And I felt so pretty. And I finally felt complete.”
Patterson, who is active in student government, was surprised to see herself nominated for homecoming during the first couple of weeks of school in mid-August. Students cast votes in the days leading up to homecoming on Saturday.
Transgender high-schoolers have been breaking barriers in homecoming courts for the last couple of years. Sixteen-year-old Cassidy Lynn Campbell, who was born Lance Campbell, was said to be the first when she became homecoming queen at Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif., in the fall of 2013.
Campbell’s election was seen as a “landmark in the fight for LGBT rights,” Time magazine noted.
The same year Campbell won her crown, however, administrators at a high school in western Pennsylvania forbade a student born a girl who now identifies as a boy to run for homecoming king, according to The Associated Press.
Congratulations on Patterson’s win poured in on social media from fellow students and supporters of the trans/LGBT community.
People congratulated the school, too.
Though people have been calling Patterson brave, she feels that sharing her transition with the public “wasn’t that big.”
She’s ready, though, to accept the mantle of transgender spokesperson and face any and all “haters,” though “I don’t really think I need people screaming and getting their panties in a twist about me being me,” she says in her video.