Larson’s show dissolved Kintz’s hopes of laying low. But instead of cowering, she decided to “put a face on the story,” and with the school’s blessing, she agreed to one interview with KATU, which broadcast a short piece on the evening of August 27. Interviewed in her home, she explained why she was making her identity public. Kintz felt the story was concise, fair, and framed her as she hoped it would: a teacher who wanted to get on with her life and do her job. Stories followed in the Oregonian and the West Linn Tidings, but without any official comment from either Kintz or district officials.
On the morning of September 8, Kintz prepared as she always did for the first day of school, but this time she wore a wig, carefully applied lipstick and mascara, and walked out the door as Nicole, wearing capri pants, flats, a blouse, and a blazer. Kintz admits now that it took her three months to feel comfortable and unguarded. And aside from the occasional “he/she” pronoun confusion, she’s been amazed at how students have reacted (or not reacted) to Nicole. “I’ve never had ‘the conversation’ with them,” she says, “but I do hope at some point I can answer some of their questions, whatever they are.”
Kintz’s colleagues are relieved that her transition has been mostly a non-event. “She is so exuberant now, but also works hard at keeping a low profile,” says Lynn Pass, a close friend of Kintz’s who teaches art at West Linn. “She did what she needed to do, but understands there are people who aren’t comfortable with it.” Another colleague, science teacher Jim Hartmann, who has known Kintz for almost 20 years, admits to being “shocked” by how well students have adjusted. “I was very worried for her and her safety,” he says. “But this has gone so well that when a teacher from another school asked me recently how ‘that whole situation turned out,’ I honestly didn’t know what they were talking about.”
How can we allow someone who is making chemical surgical alterations to their body to teach our kids?
Despite what could rightly be dubbed a rousing PR success, the district is still skittish about media coverage. While Kintz has been open and honest about her experience, administrators wouldn’t allow her to be observed in class or condone any on-campus interviews with faculty, all to “protect Nicole’s rights.” Kathe Monroe, the district’s director of human resources, says it’s simply not in her job description to “have an opinion about any of this,” but that she’s “proud of how we all came together.”
Amanda Christy is a graduating senior who switched into Kintz’s class at the beginning of the year, not to experience the novelty of having a transgender teacher, but because she liked Kintz’s teaching methods. “She goes way beyond what is expected,” Christy says. She cites a section on Kintz’s website where students can watch videos if they missed class, and the way Kintz encourages students to rate homework assignments on a scale of 1 to 6 to help gauge the efficacy of certain lessons. “She genuinely cares,” Christy says, “which makes me try harder. I want her to feel like her efforts are noticed.”
Another graduating senior, Natalie Snyder, is a devout Catholic headed to the very Catholic University of Portland (Kintz’s alma mater) next year. She confesses to having been “a little close-minded about this stuff.” Last September, as school halls first filled with clanging lockers and gossip, she recalls whispers of, “Have you seen her? Is the rumor true? Does she still look like a dude?”
“Yes, I was nervous about how the rest of the year would play out,” Snyder says. “But I realized the only difference was her clothes; she is the same person. I also think our generation—we’ve been exposed to so much more diversity, it just wasn’t a big deal.”
It’s November 2009, two months before the PFLAG meeting, and I’m waiting for Kintz at the Blue Moon Tavern & Grill on NW 21st Avenue. I haven’t seen my former math teacher since December 1992, when I stopped in for a chat on winter break from college. For some reason, I feel nervous—like I’m going on a blind date.
Through the window I can see her cross the street and open the door. She’s wearing a black skirt, blazer, and brown bobbed wig with bangs. And you know what? She looks pretty damn good. I don’t remember Nick having such pretty blue eyes.