BY MARISA GOGLIA
The infinity symbol etched on the windows of County College of Morris’ Student Community Center reaffirms for Cat Rogers that the possibilities as a transgender student are endless.
Weighing four pounds at birth, Rogers continues to defy the odds. Yet the struggle inside his own body is no easy feat.
Two days before Pronoun Appreciation Day, Rogers sits in one of his two offices in the student center, eager to read a personal essay that won him two scholarships this semester. As Rogers begins to read the opening lines, the small office is transported back to the secluded state hospital room which Rogers occupied for three months in 2012.
“The only connection I had with the world around me was the light radiating through a crack in the doorframe of my padded, secluded room,” Rogers said. “Within my abysmal darkness, I watched the other patients pace the gloomy, deteriorating halls of the institution…While my peers studied for exams, I fought to stay alive and connected to my future aspirations.”
The journey of self- discovery began in elementary school. As girls were dressed in an array of skirts and dresses, Rogers found comfort in wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“Since elementary school, kids always find what’s different, and I’m a different person,” Rogers said. “I don’t fit any category at all. I was never feminine. I dressed different from the girls. I was typical of what one would think of as a tomboy, and I got made fun of for that.”
Students also took note that Rogers was excelling well academically beyond his current grade level.
“I was much more advanced in my studies,” Rogers said. “I got things a lot easier. I remember in first grade when everyone was learning how to write sentences; I was writing paragraphs. I wasn’t into socializing with friends that much. I would have much rather been reading a book.”
Throughout middle school and high school, Rogers escaped down the avenue of music.
“I was just the outcast for the longest time; music became my outlet,” Rogers said. “I play several instruments including the violin, saxophone, flute, piano… But I became a prolific trumpet player to the point where all the band teachers wanted me to do all of these highly regarded competitions.’’
Rogers’ peers found a way to interfere in his craft.
Days before the Christmas concert, Rogers went to get his trumpet in the unlocked band room closet and noticed that it was absent. Rogers, who was on his fourth trumpet, said that it was a devastating time.
“I went to get my trumpet, and it wasn’t there, somebody stole it,” Rogers said. “It was a brand new, pure silver trumpet worth $6,000 that my parents paid for. It was obvious that young people wanted to pick on me, but it went too far. They stole a very expensive piece of equipment.”
The next week, Rogers noticed his friend holding a pamphlet about Morris County School of Technology (MCST). MCST is a four-year full-time career and technical high school with 10 different academies allowing students to complete classes at CCM, according to the MCST site.
“Flipping through the pamphlet, I made up my mind that I’m not staying in high school,” Rogers said. “I wanted a career; music was just my hobby.”
Rogers took particular interest in the Academy for Healthcare Science at MCST.
“I wanted to go into orthopedics to give back,” Rogers said.
As a one-year-old, Rogers had fallen, leaving him with trauma-induced hip dysplasia. Being “Patient Zero” as Rogers calls himself, doctors performed hip reduction surgery, leaving him in traction for eight months.
“I owe it to the doctors who helped me walk and re-walk,” Rogers said. “I want to help children who cannot walk — or those who have broken bones — and help heal them.”
Rogers noted that CCM gave him the opportunity to reach out for help for the depression he had been dealing with in his junior year of high school.
Rogers recalls sitting all the way in the back of Professor Williford’s honors abnormal psychology class.
“There was this one day where I was very depressed,” Rogers said. “I was leaving class and Professor Williford actually put his arm out to stop me. Williford said ‘Cat, you’ve been acting weird and I’m concerned.’”
Williford, who is a psychologist, invited Rogers to his office hours the next day.
“I went to his office and I still was not feeling great,” Rogers said. “Williford made me open up to him, he talked to me during his entire of ce hours.”
Rogers may not have been aware of what was happening at the time, but this was the start of trying to come to terms with the changes in his life.
“I don’t remember at the time what was wrong,” Rogers said. “It could have been generalized depression. I just had surgery, started college, came out of the closet as being gay before identifying as transgender. Williford said ‘Cat, I’m giving you five minutes to go to the counseling office…’ Back then you don’t realize how important that was.”
For Rogers, obtaining his first degree at CCM became a manageable task, although he was in and out of rehab hospitals.
“There were times when I was in the hospital,” Rogers said. “My mom would bring me my books, and I would take my midterm and pass. The next week, I would go into the hospital, study for my next quiz and pass again. This was how I got through my rst degree, and I still managed to come out with a decent grade point average.”
Through dark times, a bright spot for Rogers came about in his willingness to lead multiple clubs around campus.
“That’s the reason why I am back here at CCM,” Rogers said. “To teach students how to become better leaders. That’s what makes me happy, is wanting to lead.”
Rogers stays active on campus as president of the Biology Club, the vice president of constitutions for Organization Achieve Inspire Mentor and the executive administrative assistant for Student Ambassadors.
But the club position that Rogers is most passionate about is being the vice president of the Gender Club, which he chartered himself last semester.
“I along with Casey Vreeland, co-founded the Gender Club three semesters ago,’’ Rogers said.
“We started Gender Club because there is an immense amount of gender inequality in this world and there is a misconception as to what gender is. Our main focus of our club is to get the main idea out there that gender is something that you just are.”
Unlike the other clubs that Rogers holds a leadership position in, he has a personal connection to the Gender Club.
The Gender Club has come a long way from its first semester, when Rogers was the only member.
“Last semester I was the only active member,” Rogers said. “I planned a food drive, and I raised $300 by myself. This semester, we have about 15 active members, and our sign-up at the Welcome Back Bash was three pages.”
Joe Hemmerich, communication major and president of the Gender Club, said Rogers has a passion that sets him apart from other student leaders.
“Cat deeply cares about what he is doing and who he’s influencing,” Hemmerich said.
“When doing something club-related, he just doesn’t do what he’s supposed to be doing, he goes above and beyond to make it perfect.”
That same tenacity is what drove Rogers to make sure that no detail was left untouched for the first annual Pronoun Appreciation Day, where students can express their gender identities more clearly to their peers through nametags that read “address me as:” and “my pronouns are:”.
Rogers said he thought of the idea for Pronoun Appreciation Day to bring awareness to gender identity.
“It was my brain-child,” Rogers said. “When I came out as transgender last semester to my friends. I also wanted to change my pronouns to he, him and his. It’s a big transition for not just the person, but for everyone that knows you. You can’t expect people to automatically switch. What I wanted to do was raise awareness enough about gender and transgender issues and Pronoun Appreciation Day is the first step.”
Sabrina Alvarado, a liberal arts major and a member of the Gender Club volunteered at the event.
“It was such a positive event,” Alvarado said.
“Many students were overjoyed to wear their name and pronouns. They even had a curiosity about our pronoun suggestions including ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem xyrs…To describe people who do not identify with the gender binary.”
Alvarado, who is also the president of Sexuality Advocacy for Everyone, formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, is working alongside Rogers this semester, as both clubs overlap in important gender issues.
“I love working with Cat,” Alvarado said.
“I can always rely on him to do his best job.I was interested in a partnership because there are important intersections between our two clubs on gender and sexuality. We are in the beginning stages of planning events, but we would love to have a joint story telling of gender and sexuality in the spring semester.”
Rogers will be moving on to Rowan University for the next chapter of his life to pursue his career as an orthopedic surgeon. Rogers work in the various clubs and events that he has held will not go unnoticed and will carry on for semesters to come.