Sean Carson, The Union Democrat

Student musician Oliver Bishop may have stood taller than any football player at the Summerville High School homecoming game.

The drum line he founded and teaches, without school support, marched in new uniforms.

He conducted the school marching band.

And he sang the national anthem with Jazz@8, the school's jazz acapella group.

All of this was before he stripped off his band gear, laced up a tie and assumed his role as homecoming king.

Things were different two years ago, before Oliver came out as transgender and began gender reassignment therapy to transition from female to male.

The homecoming game is an example of a growing awareness and acceptance among young people of gender diversity.

"When it comes down to it, there's no such thing as trans enough," Oliver said. "There's no spot where you know you're a guy or know you're woman. As soon as you say you are, and feel like you are, you are."

In middle school, Oliver's grades dropped and he grew suicidal as he pushed himself to embrace societal messages about his female body and struggled to deal with the onset of puberty.

Now 17, he holds straight As, attends night classes at Columbia College, and is a pillar of support for peers who share nontraditional expressions of gender.

"Most assume there's only two genders - male and female - and that they're connected to our bodies, but that's not the case for everyone," said Joel Baum of the Oakland nonprofit Gender Spectrum, which provides conferences, panels and support services to promote a broader understanding of gender.

Baum has gotten to know Oliver and his family during Oliver's transition.

Early in 2013, Oliver stumbled across the term "transgender" on the Internet.

"Everything clicked," and a "huge burden was lifted," Oliver said.

From age 3, Oliver said he knew the girl's body he was born into didn't match the way he felt inside.

At 10, Oliver had already started saving for breast-reduction surgery.

His father, Dale Bishop, looks back now at obvious signs he overlooked at the time.

Barbies were destroyed, and keeping a shirt on or getting him into a girl's bathing suit was impossible, Dale Bishop said.

When Oliver tried to explain the term transgender to his mom, she didn't comprehend at first, he said.

At the time, Oliver displayed clear signs of depression and was seeing school counselors. His father, concerned, searched Oliver's room and found papers he had been reading about transgender identities.

Dale Bishop didn't speak to his son for a month.

"I went into shock, but I was out looking for a therapist that next day," Dale Bishop said. "I interviewed three when I could hold back my tears because I didn't know what was happening."

Oliver immediately started to see a Sonora therapist to begin his transition.

"It helped having that label and having some end goal," Oliver said. "But since there was that end goal, I sought to reach it, and reaching it was so hard."

In fall 2013, with the consent of his therapist and doctor, Oliver began hormone replacement therapy at The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at University of California, San Francisco. The process required the teen to go through puberty all over again, this time as a man.

He now gives himself shots of testosterone routinely and will continue to do so for the rest of his life. Every six months, he returns to San Francisco for a check-up, but is able to handle the rest of his medical needs and refill prescriptions in Sonora.

Oliver had a double mastectomy and received a hysterectomy in 2014 at age 16. The surgery was performed in Sonora by the same doctor who had delivered him.

One last surgery was scheduled for this summer, but doctors refused to complete the intensive procedure on the grounds that Oliver was still a minor. He plans to have it done next year.

Oliver must schedule his surgeries over the summer, giving him time to recover before classes and his numerous extracurricular commitments kick into gear.

With his surgery delayed, Oliver put on hold plans to join a touring performing arts group or attend a four-year university, as recovery will be too debilitating away from home.

Though difficult, his transition is now embraced by his father.

Dale Bishop said he cried at the first meeting with doctors at UCSF - coming face to face with a room full of people who better understood his child than he did.

Now, Dale Bishop speaks about his experience on panels in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and collaborates with Baum at Gender Spectrum in Oakland.

Since Oliver came out, at least four other transgender students have expressed gratitude for "paving the path" at Summerville High, he said.

Though Oliver has gained the acceptance from the majority of his peers, family and community, his transition is still met with some derogatory remarks, he said, many lobbed behind his back in the wake of his nomination.

"I'm pretty patient with it," he said. "We're all people, and they just might be hearing what their parents are telling them to think, and that's all they think of me because that's all they know of me."

Oliver's coronation as the first openly transgender homecoming king at Summerville High School marks a huge milestone for transgender youth in the community and state, Oliver said.

After hearing the news, Baum said the fact that Oliver is transgender should not overshadow his "kind, thoughtful, intelligent" nature.

Every kid is affected by the way adults and peers think about gender, not just those who identify as transgender, because every kid has a gender and relates to it differently, exhibiting different degrees of masculinity or femininity, Baum said.

Even among transgender individuals, the extent to which they pursue medical and surgical options to transition varies widely, with some forgoing the process altogether, said JoAnne Keatley, director of The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health.

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