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Ryan Sallans speaks on journey as transgender man

Ryan+Sallans+presents+Scouting+the+Unknown+on+March+20%2C+2024.
Collegian | Daryn Whitmoyer
Ryan Sallans presents “Scouting the Unknown” as part of the Body Project at Colorado State University March 20. The keynote was put on by the Associated Students of CSU, aiming to “provide a foundational overview of human sexuality, delving into topics like sex, orientation and gender.”

Navigating life’s ups and downs is something everyone faces, yet each person’s individual story is different. Everyone has different experiences, identities and struggles they have overcome. For Ryan Sallans, those experiences include being a transgender man and overcoming an eating disorder.

Sallans, an activist, author, educator and speaker, spoke to a crowd of around 70 people Wednesday, March 20, in the Lory Student Center Theatre at Colorado State University. The presentation focused on his journey thus far through a gender transition and overcoming an eating disorder. The event was coordinated by the Associated Students of CSU and the Body Project at CSU

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Sallans was approached to speak at CSU after the founder and then-co-president of the Body Project, Alejandra Quesada-Stoner, saw him present at a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Quesada-Stoner started planning his visit to CSU last fall and has since graduated.

“It was so wonderful to see everyone attend, and it’s nice to have an audience that laughs and cries. It keeps you going. It helps you understand that you’re saying something that’s reaching people.” –Ryan Sallans, activist, author, educator and speaker

“Ryan’s firsthand accounts of battling eating disorders and navigating gender transitions offer a raw and unique perspective on the often overlooked struggles within the LGBTQ+ community,” Quesada-Stoner said. “By sharing his personal journey, the aim was to illuminate these challenges and inspire empathy and understanding among the audience.” 

The event began with Sallans’ educational background as well as a brief definition of the differences between sex, gender, gender expression and sexual orientation. 

Following that, Sallans shared his life story, including his eating disorder recovery in college and his transition, which he began at 25 years old.  

“I had my sense of being male around 2 and a half to 3 years of age,” Sallans said. “It happened during the summertime. … I’m standing outside in this bikini, and I’m looking at my dad and my brother in their swimming trunks and my mom and sister in their bathing suits, and I go, ‘Hm.’ So I proceed to take the top part off so I could have swimming trunks like my dad and my brother. It’s my first memory of looking out into the world and seeing gender and trying to adjust my own forms of expression to align with what felt right for me.”

Sallans shared that while his eating disorder almost killed him, it saved his life, too, because it prompted him to start going to therapy and explore the parts of himself he had pushed down for so long. 

Sallans used art to work through what he couldn’t speak about during his recovery. 

“I took this image into my therapist and said, ‘OK, now, if I look like this, then I’ll be happy,’” Sallans said. “And my therapist looked at this image and said, ‘Really? It’s a really masculine image.'” 

Sallans said he began to feel uncomfortable with this because things like sexuality and gender weren’t talked about in his life growing up. 

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Some of Sallans’ transition was included in a 2006 documentary “Gender Rebel,” which focused on his experience with masculinizing chest reconstruction, also known as top surgery.

Family was also a large part of the story, with Sallans discussing his relationship with his parents and siblings and how that changed over the years. His father was not initially supportive but, with time, became supportive. 

“(My dad) decided he could either judge his kid, or he could love his kid, even if he doesn’t fully understand it or if he’s scared of it,” Sallans said. “And each year, I see vast improvements.”

Sallans wanted to highlight the different experiences he had within his own family and how that could help others.

Jorja Whyte is the ASCSU director of health, and she discussed the event and why it was important to have Sallans speak at CSU. 

“He’s always been at the forefront of those conversations (about trans topics), which I think is really cool,” Whyte said. 

History education student Amy Trepinski was one of the attendees and discussed their thoughts on the event and what they took away from it.

“I felt like I was looking in a mirror,” Trepinski. “Ryan’s mission to spread knowledge on gender, sexuality and the trans identity is so inspiring.” 

There was a lesson and piece of wisdom to be found for everyone. Afterward, Sallans shared his thoughts on how the event went for him. 

“It was so wonderful to see everyone attend, and it’s nice to have an audience that laughs and cries,” Sallans said. “It keeps you going. It helps you understand that you’re saying something that’s reaching people.”

Sallans is currently working on his third book, which will accompany his other two: “Second Son” and “Transforming Manhood.”

Reach Aubree Miller at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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