Tristan Fernstrom came to Gustavus knowing that on the inside he was a little different than what outsiders saw. During his first year at Gustavus, Tristan was known as Erica, the name given to him at birth, and over Coming Out Week Erica came out as a lesbian. As time went on and he learned more about himself, however, Tristan realized that identifying as a lesbian really didn’t sufficiently describe his identify, so last fall he came out again; this time, as transgender, adopting a new name and a fresh outlook.
“After doing the E Pluribus show for the first-years, I knew I needed to do it. I had come to terms with it; it was how I felt on the inside. I didn’t need to hide from my true self anymore,” Tristan said. “I have always liked doing and being involved in ‘boy stuff,’ but I repressed these feelings when I was little. If I was given a dress, I would wear it.”
Coming out for the second time as transgender was a much bigger step for Tristan as it changed his whole identity. Grasping the significance and coming to terms with a new definition for who he “is,” Tristan reached out to fellow peers and faculty.
“When Tristan came out to me, I sat back and essentially told myself to shut up and listen. In addition, I was honored because he put me in a position where I was the professor being taught by a student about something that I needed to know about,” Professor in English and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and the Queers and Allies (Q&A) faculty advisor Rob Kendrick said.
“We are extremely close and open. We have a profound amount of trust with each other, and we have a friendship where we can skip the formalities that are sometimes needed in others and get right to the serious stuff,” Senior Alex Christensen said.
Tristan has received positive support from people on campus including friends and professors. Many people have been very accommodating and seem to forget that he has changed at all, and the outcome has been fantastic.
“Tristan is currently in my God and Gender class, and I was very excited to meet him after seeing him perform in E Pluribus. His willingness to talk so openly about something that we are all curious about makes it very comfortable. He understands that people have questions, and I respect his courage and clarity,” Professor in Religion and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Mary Gaebler said.
Tristan is an active member and advocate for the Q&A group on campus. His main goal of being part of the Q&A community is to be part of a go-to group of people who are open and willing to talk about anything and everything. He is tries to spark more discussion in talking about and having more awareness about the LGBT community.
“Something that I would say to the greater community is not to generalize. Sometimes people think that if they know one person from the LGBT community they assume, it is applicable to all of the members. It is more helpful to just ask when you have a question; we want to talk to you about it so that you have a better understanding,” Tristan said.
The impact that someone leaves at Gustavus is sometimes unseen at first. Other times, someone touches the community as a whole and makes a difference in everyone’s life. Tristan has become a symbol for future students to learn and feel comfortable with themselves and others.
“Educationally, he is leaving a huge footprint. Tristan is not keeping it from others, and he is revealing things to people that they have probably never experienced before,” Kendrick said. “He is reinforcing what we do value and what we need to value, showing us that our campus won’t actually go to Hell for accepting everybody.”
“I feel like Tristan has a sense of obligation to the cause. He believes in good intentions and is open about sharing the process. I don’t know if this is a blessing to our campus or if we got lucky with such a good example for others to see and learn from,” Gaebler said.
“He is leaving the biggest, gayest, happiest, the most human, the most progressive, the fullest-of-love mark a person can leave. Tristan has changed us all simply by being the wonderful human that he is, and that’s a mark Gustavus will wear forever,” Senior Julia Tindell said.
Tristan has dreams of playing jazz in New Orleans. If that doesn’t pan out, becoming a gender therapist and counseling transgender youth while working on the LGBT campaign is his back-up plan. Engaged and ready to continue the journey of being himself, Tristan is embracing who he is and doing what makes him happy.
“My experience at Gustavus has no doubt been better because of Tristan. I have been able to see living examples of strong humans and how one person can shape the community. He has contributed to my personal growth, and I wish everyone could know Tristan. You can’t deny that he is an awesome person; if you have a problem with it, it’s your loss,” Christensen said.