Cassidy Nordstrom clearly stands out at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, even among about 4,000 other students.
Nordstrom went as Lady Gaga for Halloween during her junior year. Then there was the day last school year when Nordstrom wore a red, 1980s-style dress to school.
"It was a nice dress and I liked how I looked [ on me, ] for the most part," said Nordstrom, 17, one of three open transgender students at the school.
" [ Being openly transgender ] is not taboo, at least not as much as it used to be. At least not among my group of friends. It's not thought down upon," said Nordstrom, who, last November, had her name legally changed.
Nordstrom said most of her friends are female and many are part of, or very accepting of, the LGBT community. Among those people are many associated with the school's theater clubs and performances.
"I really have not had any issues, though sure, coming out is a problem for some," Nordstrom said. "I came out as bisexual as a freshman, and started to gravitate to a different group of friends, people who could understand me better. Sophomore [ year, it was ] more [ new friends. ]
"Now, almost all of my friends are different from those who I was friends with as a freshman. Sure, I can still talk to most of those [ freshman-year ] friends, but I'm more comfortable around people who understand me more.
"I'm very happy."
Nordstrom is single now, although she has dated.
Cameron Young, 14, a freshman who lives in Riverwoods, is "very new" to the transgender world, but said he has been accepted by whose who know.
"When it has come up, I think people have been OK with it, though I'm not sure everyone completely understands. But at least they don't seem against it," said Young, who recently revealed his name to the cheers of Stevenson Gay-Straight Alliance ( GSA ) membersand the tears of his girlfriend.
Nordstrom and Young are two of the three openly transgender students at Stevenson.
Both say it's not just a phase that they will grow out ofa very common reaction from mothers and grandmothers, they said.
"Things are going well for me," said Young, who said he is now in his second "official relationship."
Stevenson's GSA has about 40 members, primarily females. "This [ school ] year, it's kind of surprising how few gay men we have" in the group, said Stevenson senior Sarah Graves, who is the co-president of the school's GSA.
"I really enjoy [ the GSA ] ; we really have a lot of pride in who we are."
Graves said the GSA is an integral part of the student life, particularly for those who are still questioning their sexual orientation. The GSA, which meets every Monday in a closed-door English classroom, is accepting to all, including LGBT allies.
"There's so much energy, so much creative energy in the group," said Graves, who smiled when she admitted she's been to two Gay Pride Parades, quickly adding, "they're fun."
Graves, as a junior, was one of four LGBT students to speak to a group of about 200 teachers about student life from the LGBT perspective.
Now single, she previously dated a transgender student.
Stevenson plays host to its fourth annual GSA Valentine's Dance on Friday night, Feb. 10 at the school in Lincolnshire. The inaugural dance was attended by 60 students, then 90 the next year and 120 last year. Organizers are expecting at least that many this time, as invitations went out to the GSAs at high schools in other suburbs, including Vernon Hills, New Trier and Buffalo Grove.
Many Stevenson staff attend the event, including the school principal and school district board members, organizers said.
"The dance is a blast," said Graves, who noted that, as with past years, there also will be coloring books available for the non-dancers and those who just want a fun way to interact.
"The dance is a real open event. It's a hate-free dance, perhaps more than any event at the school. Everyone can be themselves, be open, and come [ dressed ] as they want.
"The dance, in reality, is just an extension of this room, of the GSA [ meeting. ] "