MADISON, Wis. — The student leaders of the Gay Straight Alliance at Madison West High School sat around one recent day over their lunch hour, reviewing reaction to the presentations they'd given the day before to several freshman health classes.
The panels on sexual orientation and gender identity had gone well, though the students were a little surprised by how personal the questions got. One audience member asked a transgender student what "physical parts" he had.
"I feel like the trans kids always get those questions," said junior Ayden Prehara, 16, who will be co-president of the Gay Straight Alliance next year. "It's more annoying than anything."
Ayden is a veteran presenter on such panels, not just at West but at other district schools and at schools across southern Wisconsin. He's been open for some time about being transgender, having transitioned from female to male at age 14.
First-ever data released in January show Ayden is far from alone. The Dane County Youth Assessment, a survey given every three years, found 1.5 percent of Dane County high school students self-identify as transgender, or about 250 students out of 17,000.
Ayden said he knows at least 10 other transgender students just at West High School.
"West is a unique place in that everyone seems supportive, or at least no one is openly hateful," he told the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1cpHYP5).
Barely an inch of bare wall space peeks through in Ayden's bedroom. There's a huge, multicolored "Born This Way" banner, and posters of all of the members of the pop group One Direction.
He saves mementos, including ID tags from the various state and national conferences he's attended and spoken at. Quotes from his favorite book, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," circle the room.
"We accept the love we think we deserve," reads one.
Ayden pulled a bin of medical supplies from a bedroom shelf. For more than a year, with a physician's approval, he has been injecting testosterone into his thigh every other week, the first step in his physical transformation.
"This little guy is pretty brutal," he said, cradling a needle in his palm.
But he loves the results. After about two months, his voice began to deepen. Around seven months, facial hair sprouted. "Now I have the ability to grow an awful, awful boy beard," he said.
His hairline became boxier, his face more angular.
When Chris Prehara, Ayden's mother, began talking about the transformation one recent day, Ayden ribbed her, saying, "Five bucks she starts to cry."
"I guess I see them as two different people, but it's hard not to blend the two," she said of the daughter she gave birth to and the son she now has. "I guess we all go through changes. His is more drastic."
Ayden grew up a tomboy and in sixth grade thought he was a lesbian. By seventh grade, he started wearing boyish clothes.
"At the time, it was emotionally troubling," Ayden said. "It brought out a lot of anxiety at school and some negative vibes toward myself."