For singer-educator Tommy Lamont, living an authentic life as a trans woman has been a decades-long journey that culminated in publicly coming out in 2015 to her extended family, friends and work colleagues.
Lamont knew she was trans when she was 10 years old, but stayed in the closet for the next 20 years. She lived in several cities while growing up, including London and Ottawa, Canada, where her father worked as a journalist for Time Magazine.
When she was 12 years old, her family moved to New York City, which she calls her hometown. Lamont attended an independent all-boys middle school in the city and went to an independent co-ed boarding high school in Rhode Island. She earned her bachelor's degree in history from Harvard University.
Lamont played in a hardcore punk rock band, The Not, from 1983-1986 while also working part-time in the Boston public schools.
"I found myself enjoying teaching more than performing music, so I decided to quit the band and pursue an education career," said Lamont. "I also got my master's degree in history from the University of Oxford in the UK during my early years as a teacher."
For more than 20 years, Lamont has taught history to 10th to 12th graders at Groton School in Massachusetts; she has also coached a variety of sports and oversaw a dormitory there.
While teaching, Lamont started a family with her now-ex wife.
"In 1993, I joined a trans support group in the Boston area with the blessing and help of my spouse," said Lamont. "But I was still halfway in a closet; except for my spouse, our three children and my trans sisters in the support group, no one else knew my secret. It seemed too great a risk to my career and my family's social situation to 'come out' to the public."
Lamont told Windy City Times that she feels like a coward for staying in the closet until recently.
"I am in awe of those who took far greater risks and through enormous sacrifices helped make society much more tolerant, if not accepting, of transgender individuals," said Lamont.
One of the ways Lamont now gives back to the LGBTQ community is by speaking with students and teachers at independent high schools across the country.
"I prefer not to speak to the students and adults but rather to engage them in a conversation," said Lamont. "It may seem counterintuitive, but my sense is that these days teenagers tend to feel empowered and validated when they are allowed to express themselves, whereas adults, especially teachers, are less afraid than teenagers to show their ignorance by asking questions, no matter how ridiculous they may appear such as 'Does Caitlyn Jenner still have, you know, that part down there that she was born with?'
"I have really been impressed by the students that I have spoken with on the road these past few months. They are very smart, courageous and kind, and make me optimistic about the future."
Lamont can travel due to Groton's policy of giving their teachers a year-long sabbatical every 11 years. Lamont is currently on her second sabbatical and has divided her time between traveling the country to learn more U.S. history, speaking at schools and recording country rock music under the name Alison Young.
"Although I grew up listening to hard rock, heavy metal and punk, and then played in a punk band, about four years ago my children got me into country rock music," said Lamont. "The songs of current performers such as Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, and Jason Aldean just seemed to speak to me as I struggled with the end of my marriage. What emerged was Alison Young, America's first, best and, when I started, the only transgender country music entertainer. She is a bit of a diva, part Dolly Parton and part Carrie Underwood. She performs very rarelythough the past few months she has made some pop-up appearances all across the country, mostly at open mics."
Lamont will be attending Chicago's LakeShake Country Music Festival in June under her Young persona. This is will be her second visit to the festival.
"The festival seems like a safe space for a trans person like me who does not pass well, which is why I like it so much," said Lamont. "There might be a few scary redneck types, but most attendees at LakeShake seem pretty chill and open-minded, which is often not the case at other venues where one can see these performers. Last year, LakeShake fell on Pride weekend in Chicago, and that probably helped make it even more welcoming for folks like me. Indeed, some of the musicians at the festival made a point of openly supporting the LGBTQ community."
Lamont explained that what she has learned while traveling the country this past year is things are not as bad as they seem, even at truck stops/gas stations, stores, restaurants and historical sites in states that voted for President Donald Trump. She said there is a lot of work to be done and one of the ways to achieve an egalitarian country is, if possible, to get out of one's comfort zone and talk to people outside of LGBTQ-friendly cities and states.
"Consider joining me at LakeShake to demonstrate that country music is for all Americans," said Lamont.
See alisonyoung.org/ and soundcloud.com/user-192538624 to listen to her albumsCountry Dreamin' and Trans American Countryand for more information.