Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Meghan Buell, July 12, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: So please tell me your name, and spell your name, and your age.

Segment Synopsis: This segment serves as a brief introduction into the life of Buell, a fifty-three year old resident of South Bend, Indiana. One of the proudest moments of Buell's life was when she came out as transgender. This allowed her to have a more cohesive sense of life direction. Buell cites her younger brother Greg as an important figure in her life because of his supportive nature. Throughout Buell's life, people haven't always been supportive, but her brother Greg is an individual who has always voiced support. Living an authentic life is an important life lesson Buell has learned from her life experiences. In addition, an authentic life reflects an individual's level of honesty. Buell thinks living with a secret for many years caused her to present an artificial facade to friends and family. Accomplishing a goal that was seen as unreachable and getting past life obstacles are achievements of Buell's life thus far. Buell has been a resident of South Bend, Indiana for four years, but she has been an activist in the community for about seven years. Overall, the community of South Bend is welcoming to people of different backgrounds, however, the influence of the University of Notre Dame's religious beliefs are evident. The goals of South Bend conflict with the religious principles of Notre Dame. Members of the South Bend LGBTQ community are more visible. Compared to other places Buell has lived, South Bend has been the most accepting of LGBTQ visibility. This level of acceptance and visibility has encouraged Buell to be more authentic in her own identity. Buell cites the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, as prominent character in the LGBTQ community. During the mayoral election, Buttigieg came out as gay. He did this because he wanted to inspire LGBTQ youth in South Bend to discover hope. Also, Buell admires how all members of the LGBTQ community of South Bend and inclusive and come together. Buell reveals that she grew up in a small town called Whitley located in Indiana. Due to the small-town characteristics of Whitley, it was difficult have a secret. The interviewer asks Buell to recall her earliest memory and she cites recovering from eye surgery when she was a child.

Keywords: Authentic; Brothers; Chicago, Illinois; Cities; City; Community; Direction; Elections; Faith; Focus; Goals; Independent; LGBT; LGBTQ; Life; Mayors; Mentors; Names; Neo-conservative; Oil refineries; Pete Buttigieg; Proud; Relationships; Small towns; South Bend, Indiana; Steel mills; Supportive; University of Notre Dame; Visibility; Whitley, Indiana; Youth

Subjects: Chicago (Ill.); Communities.; Gender expression.; South Bend (Ind.); Transgender identity; Transgender people.; Universities and colleges.; Whitley (Ind.)

00:07:57 - Background information about Buell's family

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Partial Transcript: Who were your parents and what were they like?

Segment Synopsis: Buell's father, Raymond Buell, worked in the school system for forty years as a teacher and administrator. Her father wasn't very talkative, but he was still involved in her life growing up. Her mother was a homemaker. She credits her mother as the individual who met the needs of her family. When Buell's mother passed away, she started to find her voice. Even though both of Buell's parents were supportive, she isn't really sure if their support was spread equally. Buell's older brother didn't spend much time with her as child until after she graduated high school. The two siblings bonded over softball. However, her sister who is three years older was in the athletic clique in high school. This caused Buell to live in her shadow during her time at high school. When she was younger, Buell didn't really form connections with her siblings, possibly due to her introverted personality. Buell's younger sister started to gain most of the attention of their parents due to her involvement in athletics. However, when Buell wanted to have a closer connection with someone, she looked to her younger brother. The two siblings would entertain themselves around their family home. However, college caused the relationship between Buell and her younger brother to become more distant, but they are now very connected today. Buell talks about her childhood nicknames.

Keywords: Administrators; Bonds; Brothers; Children; Clothes; Colleges; Fathers; Homemakers; Introverted; Introverts; Kids; Loved; Middle children; Mothers; Nicknames; Parents; Raymond Buell; Relationships; School systems; Siblings; Sisters; Support; Teachers; Youth

Subjects: Childhood; Educators; Families.; Family histories.

00:14:21 - Buell's high school career and experience with friendship

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Partial Transcript: Who were your best friends and what were they like?

Segment Synopsis: Buell reveals that she didn't form close connections with others because she was having a hard time understanding her identity. She kept people at a distance because she wanted to protect her feelings. Buell lists four people she considers high school friends: Jeff, Rob, Ed, and Lori. She thinks these people gave her some space to be open. Buell also describes high as a difficult time in her life because she wanted to be well-liked by her peers. She didn't feel very connected to a group, so her attempt to seek popularity wasn't successful. However, she was content with having Ed, Jeff, Rob, and Lori as her friend group. When it came time to pick a college to attend, Buell wanted to go to an institution where she could be open with her identity. Buell began to use the viewing of sports as an opportunity to distract herself from thinking about her gender identity. She was also intrigued with looking at maps, which sparked her interest in city planning. Buell's classmates described her as intelligent, reserved, and kind. She is still in contact with Ed and other former classmates who aren't necessarily close friends. Buell believes social media causes individuals to have an unrealistic bond. Graduating high school was the best memory Buell has from high school.

Keywords: Best friends; City planning; Classmates; Closeness; Colleges; Distance; Ed; Grade schools; Groups; High schools; Jeff; Lego; Lori; Maps; Memory; Mothers; Own; People; Popularity; Relationships; Rob; Social media; World; Younger

Subjects: Friends; High school; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.; Universities and colleges.

00:20:46 - What educational institutions taught her and details about her perspective on life

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Partial Transcript: What lessons did you learn from early student life?

Segment Synopsis: In grade school and high school, Buell learned about the need to follow directions. However, in college, Buell learned more about diversity, personal accountability, and differences. By going to a high school that didn't have diverse students, Buell wasn't exposed to racial differences. Buell believes that the life lessons she learned in college have made her a better person. Now that she is in a position where she makes rules for others to follow, she has a better understanding of what is required for individuals to actually follow rules. The interviewer asked Buell what profession she would pursue now and why. As result, Buell reveals that she would like to be a professional golfer of the LPGA tour. She cites her volunteer experience on the LPGA tour and her love for golf as her reasoning. Buell likes how the competitiveness and how her individual skills are measured in golf; therefore, she thinks professional golf is a profession that would suit her personality. One of the happiest moments of Buell's life was when she got her first hole-in-one. Buell summarizes the highlights of her life so far. She likes to acknowledge the small highlights and simple goals she has achieved, as opposed to large goals and highlights.

Keywords: Accountability; African Americans; Better; Colleges; Differences; Directions; Diverse; Diversity; Driven; Ethics; Friends; Golfers; Grade schools; Highlights; Hispanic; Jobs; LPGA Tour; Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA); Learned; Learning; Life; Mistakes; Parents; People; Professional; Professions; Professors; Racial diversity; Responsibilities; Student loans; Students; Teachers; Volunteers; White

Subjects: College environment; College students.; College teachers--Workload; College teaching.; Minorities--Social conditions.; Transgender college students

00:25:51 - Relationship with her family

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Partial Transcript: Who were your favorite relatives?

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer wants to know more about Buell's favorite relatives. She considers Bryan, her younger brother, as her favorite relative. Also, she expresses affection for her nieces and nephews. In addition, the interviewer wants to know about Buell's family stories, jokes, and songs. Buell makes it known that she enjoys puns. She believes that her father's sense of humor is manifested in her sense of humor. A classic family story that Buell remembers today is about how her brother Greg rolled out of the top rung of a tree, during a camping trip. Buell's mother would tell this story whenever Greg appeared to be absent minded. The conclusion of this segment discusses how Buell's family was impacted by war. Buell's father was a World War II veteran, but none of her siblings served in the military. However, considering her dad was a World War II veteran and educator, the topic of war was often discussed during family conversations.

Keywords: Absent minded; Brothers; Camps; Churches; Community; Corny; Draft; Fathers; Growing; Jokes; Laughter; Military; Mistakes; Nephews; Nieces; Parishes; Puns; Relatives; Siblings; Songs; Stories; Successes; Veterans; WWII; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: Families.; Family histories.; Parents.; War.; World War, 1939-1945

00:30:19 - Experience with mentorship and learning a new language

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Partial Transcript: Any stories or memories come to mind during a difficult time in your personal or professional life where someone's insights, guidance, mentoring made you reflect on decisions you make--you had to make?

Segment Synopsis: When Buell began her professional career, she had a bad experiences with bosses. However, she learned how she could improve as employee from the shortcomings of her bosses. This ultimately allowed her to improve her own leadership capabilities. In addition, Buell's role as a both an employee and manager has given her the ability to comprehend how people should be treated. Buell believes that she is a self-made employee and manager, which reflects her mentality of living authentically. Buell demonstrates that she can speak a little bit of Spanish.

Keywords: Authentic; Careers; Decisions; Employees; Guidance; Insights; Languages; Managers; Motivators; Roles; Self-made; Students; Supervisors; Teachers; Work ethic

Subjects: Employment; Language.; Occupation and personality; Spanish language.

00:32:56 - How Buell understands the terms diversity and transgender

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Partial Transcript: Describe your understanding or definition of diversity and why it's important to you personally.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer is curious to understand how Buell perceives the word diversity. Overall, Buell believes that diversity is what describes the unique characteristics of individuals. She also highlights the difference between diversity and inclusion. Buell doesn't believe people understand what diversity is truly about. Buell admits that she didn't understand what made her diverse, because she didn't have the proper word to describe her uniqueness. When she found out about the term transgender, she had a better understanding of what made her unique. The word transgender gave Buell the power to express her identity to others. Also, Buell believes that diversity is about being proud of your unique characteristics. The interviewer wants to know how Buell defines the term transgender. Buell defines transgender as a term that describes people who don't think of their gender in a binary context. However, Buell thinks transgender is a word that helps inform others about her identity. She also believes that transgender is a word that is being integrated and normalized in American culture, which is helpful for the members of the transgender community to have conversations with others about their identity.

Keywords: Aspects; Characteristics; Conversations; Definitions; Diversity; Humanized; Identity; Inclusion; Misunderstood; Misused; Personal; Struggles; Terms; Understanding; Verbalized; Words

Subjects: Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

00:37:19 - Buell's story as a transgender individual

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Partial Transcript: So what is your transgender story?

Segment Synopsis: Before the age of 35, Buell understood that she wasn't a standard male. Even as a small child, she felt like she was more similar to her sister than her brother. However, she didn't have any knowledge of any words that would describe this part of her identity. Buell believes that being raised in a conservative, Catholic family caused her to not be informed about the transgender community. Buell compares her journey as a transgender individual to pieces of jigsaw puzzle. However, when Buell entered into her thirties, she started to put the jigsaw pieces together. By learning more about transgender identity, she started to understand her own identity better. In 2003, Buell came out proudly as a transgender woman.

Keywords: Brothers; Catholic; Conservative; Guys; Learning; Renee Richards; Sisters

Subjects: Coming out (Gender identity); Communication.; Transgender children.; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

00:40:55 - Buell's opinion on underrepresented groups

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Partial Transcript: In your experience, what are the challenges faced by members of historically underrepresented groups?

Segment Synopsis: Buell believes that a lack of visibility is what causes underrepresented groups to lack a voice. She cites racial integration in the 1960s as an example of how minorities were forced to be invisible. Buell believes that using your voice to speak up for marginalized issues is very important. This will help others comprehend your position on pressing issues, which can expose them to different opinions. Buell also notes that individuals don't have to always speak up for their own demographics. To counterbalance the challenges faced by underrepresented communities, Buell thinks living authentically helps. She also thinks crossing barriers is a key component of raising the platform of underrepresented people. Buell talks about how her experience serving on a Catholic ethics committee allowed others to see that she is more than just a transgender woman.

Keywords: Demographics; Ethics committees; Inclusion; Logical; Racial & ethnic groups; Space; Strategies; Visibility; Voice

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Communication.; Communities.; Race discrimination.; Representation.; Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

00:46:59 - How Buell's understanding of diversity changed

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Partial Transcript: How would you describe your current thinking about diversity and how has your thinking changed over time?

Segment Synopsis: Buell thinks that diversity includes different stances. The more views that are expressed, the greater amount of insight is revealed. Also, she believes that more perspectives encourage more cohesiveness. According to Buell, the diverse range of ideas within a group or organization gives a group more power. In the past, Buell thought she needed to be around like-minded people; however, she now understands that exposure to narrow perspectives doesn't promote inclusion. Buell also notes that individuals within the transgender community have other diverse characteristics. With this in mind, Buell thinks others should be aware of the diversity within the transgender community before making assumptions or decisions regarding programming.

Keywords: Community; Diversity; Insights; Perspectives; Points of view; Teams

Subjects: Communities.; Culture.; Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

00:49:21 - Buell's commitment to diversity

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Partial Transcript: What does it mean for you to have commitment to diversity?

Segment Synopsis: Buell understands that she has made poor decisions in the past when it came to acknowledging diversity. She doesn't consider herself the perfect model of comprehending diversity, but she thinks interacting with different demographics can help people understand the meaning of diversity. Buell mentions that she is continuing to interact with new demographics, so she can promote diversity in her own life. In addition, Buell believes being offered the opportunity to interact with a new demographic can help people gain knowledge about diversity. She also believes that there isn't a level of expertise when it comes to understanding the complex nature of diversity and new perspectives. The interviewer asks if Buell has any concerns about working with members of diverse communities. The interviewer wants to know if Buell has any understanding of how diversity plays a role in American and global culture. The interviewer wants to understand how Buell would spread the awareness of diversity education to people who don't understand its value. Buell thinks personal stories that highlight diversity and inclusion can help others understand why inclusion and diversity are important. Buell gives advice for people who have only interacted with a small number of different cultures.

Keywords: American; Curiosity; Decisions; Denominations; Diversity; Education; Engaged; Learning; Life-long; Opportunity; People; Prejudices; Respectful; Stories; World

Subjects: American culture; Communities.; Culture.; Demographics; Diversity; Education.; Interaction; Learning.; Religion

00:57:30 - How Buell wants her diverse characteristics to be addressed

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Partial Transcript: What are your favorite ways to be approached by someone who is curious about you?

Segment Synopsis: Buell wants people to be polite when they are curious about her identity. She is open to questions because she views questions as a way for people to learn. Buell is willing to have conversations with individuals not familiar with the transgender community. Buell gives examples of polite and impolite approaches to asking questions.

Keywords: Approaches; Assumptions; Politeness; Questions

Subjects: Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

01:00:30 - Buell's proposal for encouraging diversity in an educational environment

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Partial Transcript: Explain what you believe to be an effective strategy to diversify curriculum.

Segment Synopsis: Buell believes that adult learners should dismiss their preconceived ideas and open their minds to new perspectives. Also, Buell suggests that spaces in the classroom should be a safe place for everyone. She believes that a classroom is an environment that should be free of harassment or hostility. Having a classroom environment that is welcoming to people encourages diversity. Buell also believes that educators are responsible for creating a respectful environment in their classrooms. In addition, Buell addresses how diversity can be acknowledged in a non-diverse environment. She hopes explaining how diversity is valuable to others will help people value diversity. However, if an individual isn't willing to agree with Buell's belief regarding diversity, she will not force them to agree with her belief.

Keywords: Adult learners; Baggage; Confidentiality; Curriculum; Educators; Harassment; Ideas; Room; Safety; Voices

Subjects: Adult learners; Education; Educators

01:03:26 - How Buell confronts prejudiced remarks

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Partial Transcript: How would you handle a situation in which someone made a sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise prejudice remark?

Segment Synopsis: Buell would first notify a person who made a prejudice remark about their wrongdoing. However, she is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, since not everyone understands how their word choice is harmful. Ultimately, Buell thinks that people should choose their words wisely and be more aware of how their words can hurt others. The interviewer notes some people are afraid of using the wrong words in a given situation. Buell discusses how she is more than willing to work with people on selecting or improving their terminology. Buell isn't offended by people who don't know how to use their words correctly because she understands that they can grow through learning more appropriate words. The interviewer wants to understand how Buell would respond to an overtly discriminatory conversation between co-workers or students. Buell asserts that one should pull the individuals aside and address how their disrespectful language is harmful. If the individuals involved in a disrespectful conversation aren't willing to change, Buell advises that the person in power should be motivated to remove these individuals from the space.

Keywords: Advice; Alert; Co-workers; Conversations; Culture; Engaging; Homophobic; Hurt; Mistakes; Offensive; People; Prejudices; Sexist; Spaces; Students; Vocabulary; Words

Subjects: Conversation.; Prejudice.; Respect.

01:07:48 - How Buell approaches the conflict between diversity and excellence

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Partial Transcript: How would you describe the relationship between diversity and excellence?

Segment Synopsis: Buell thinks diversity and excellence are on the same path, despite the belief of others. According to Buell, excellence should incorporate people with diverse identities and backgrounds. She doesn't believe diversity strives to prevent people from achieving excellence. Determining whether or not a demographic can reach a level of excellence is a form of discrimination. An organization that holds people to the same standards is promoting fairness. In conclusion, overall Buell thinks an organization that treats everyone equal is a positive environment.

Keywords: Commitments; Diversity; Excellence; Leadership; Organizations; Relationships; Trajectory

Subjects: Discrimination.; Excellence.; Standards

01:09:57 - Challenging situations involving diversity

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Partial Transcript: What is the most challenging situation dealing with diversity you've faced and how would you handle it?

Segment Synopsis: Buell admits that she is struggling with answering questions that want her to list one life experience as a defining point. She has a holistic approach when it comes to describing events in her life. However, Buell does reveal that she has experienced discrimination because she identifies as transgender. She tells her experience with discrimination as stories so others can learn. In this segment, Buell cites being misgendered as a common occurrence, but she doesn't get too upset when this happens. However, she does clarify that being misgendered is something that deeply bothers some members of the transgender community.

Keywords: Affirming; Battles; Cis-gender; Cisgender; Comparisons; Confidence; Internal; Life; Misgendered; Misgendering; People; Pronouns; Questions; Situations; Unique; Voice

Subjects: Gender identity.; Pronouns; Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

01:15:52 - Areas of diversity that Buell wants to learn more about

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Partial Transcript: What areas of diversity and inclusion do you think you need to learn more about and how would you go about doing it?

Segment Synopsis: Buell thinks she can learn more about racial and religious diversity. She doesn't want to be seen as just an observer, since she is passionate about learning more about diversity. Therefore, Buell wants to be actively engaged with diverse demographics. Being able to engage with diverse individuals will give Buell an opportunity to learn more about others.

Keywords: Demographics; Diversity; Racial; Racial & ethnic groups; Religious denominations; Sightseers

Subjects: Denominations, Religious; Learning.

01:17:44 - Information about Buell's profession

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Partial Transcript: Talk to me about your work.

Segment Synopsis: Buell discusses how she makes a living. First, she reveals that she is the founder and president of a non-profit that teaches individuals about the transgender community. Buell's non-profit targets small communities that need help promoting inclusiveness. Overall, the mission of Buell's non-profit is to reduce the violence against the transgender community. However, Buell also works as a substitute teacher. She discusses the emotions that she experiences as a primary school substitute teacher. Overall, Buell enjoys being a substitute teacher because it's very rewarding. She notes that being a transgender teacher is very challenging. However, her county of residence has an ordinance that protects individuals from being discriminated against based on their gender identity. She discusses how she deals with staff and students who have questions regarding her gender identity.

Keywords: Careers; Children; Classes; Compassion; Experience; Inclusive; Kids; Non-profit organizations; Non-profits; Organizations; Patience; Professions; Save; Small towns; Substitute teachers; Teaching; Violence; Voice; Work

Subjects: Communities.; Crime.; Culture.; Educators; Transgender people--Legal status, laws, etc.; Transgender people--Violence against

01:24:54 - What people don't know about Buell

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Partial Transcript: What do people not know about you that you would like them to know or feel they might be surprised to know if they did?

Segment Synopsis: When Buell was insecure in high school, she intentionally sabotaged her grades. She did this because she didn't want to be valedictorian. However, she wanted to be in National Honors Society, so she needed to be in the top 10% of her class. This required Buell to calculate how many B's she needed to get in her courses. Her fear of giving a speech is what caused her to sabotage her grades. Her fear of public speaking really impacted Buell as child and teenager. She feared that people in the audience would see her true identity. Now, as an adult, Buell is confident public speaker.

Keywords: Grades; High schools; Public speaking; Records; Speeches; Stages; Valedictorians

Subjects: High school; Honors; Transgender children.; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.

01:29:11 - Living authentically and concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we didn't get to?

Segment Synopsis: Buell wants to talk more about living authentically. According to Buell, the challenges she faces are able to be conquered. Before she transitioned, she was fighting an internal battle. By transitioning, Buell was able to live her life without fear of her unknown identity. She compares her worry to the sound of crickets. When Buell finally was able to live authentically, the crickets stopped. Being able to fight against the challenges of life is another way Buell describes living authentically. Despite the challenges that come with transitioning, Buell is still motivated to conquer obstacles. She also notes that she continues to smile everyday regardless of circumstances. The interviewer would like know what advice Buell would give her younger self. Buell says should would tell herself to hide her mother's makeup better and be curious to ask questions. In conclusion, Buell sees her next victories as either scoring a hole-in-one or to have her non-profit continue to grow. Although Buell wants to live in a world where her non-profit isn't needed, she understands that this goal isn't realistic, so she wants her organization to help serve communities. In addition, she would also like to see another transgender teacher working in the South Bend school system or see her students grow up to have positive interactions with transgender individuals.

Keywords: Authentically; Challenges; Goals; Internal; Journey; Living; Noise; Non-profit organizations; Non-profits; Organizations; Professionals; Resources; Silence; Smiles; Success; Surgery; Transition; Visions

Subjects: Educators; Transgender identity; Transgender people--Identity.; Transgender people.