Both/And: The Lee Hicks Story

Not too long ago, Lee’s name was Heather Hicks, an artist and teacher who was harbouring a secret from his students and colleagues: Heather felt that her physical body did not match her own sense of her gender identity.  After years of struggle to reconcile this disparity, Heather renamed himself Lee, had surgery to remove his breasts and told the staff at Palmerston Elementary School ( located in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto) to drop the she and refer to as him as he.


Lee is transitioning from female-to-male and while transitioning is not new in itself, the fact that Lee is sharing all of the aspects of the transition with his grade 6 class, in real time, is a first in Canadian educational history. Lee’s mandate is that his own life experiences can act as a model for teaching everything from puberty to acceptance of difference and how to co-exist with others in peace.


Lee’s overall appearance challenges the stereotype of ‘teacher’. Sporting a shaved head, tattoos and multiple piercings, he presents as an androgynous teenager rather than a person of authority. In fact, Lee challenges the conventional approach to teaching completely. His first aim is to create a classroom that reflects the values of respect and compassion, by divining a “covenant” with his students, as a collective exercise.

Lee’s hope, is to create a classroom that doubles as a safe place to explore feelings, ask questions and express individuality. Lee’s decision to share his transition with his class is an example of this total honesty and trust, and as Lee says, “with my kids I can be myself”. And with Lee, the same is true for the kids.

Lee believes that education around acceptance and openness is crucial for the well-being of all students, especially those who may be suffering in silence as he once did. Lee’s journey to self-empowerment has been one fraught with a history of anorexia, depression and suicidal thoughts. Lee’s difficult struggle to merely exist in a society which insists on gender conformity has empowered him to advocate on behalf of Trans people; and his decision to transition openly has fueled his passion to foster safe and caring classroom communities.


Our documentary will profile Lee during his transition, beginning with hormone supplements that will result in changes to voice, facial hair and other seemingly ‘male’ characteristics. Our camera will then go into the classroom as Lee raises issues and solicits discussion from his students, inviting them to share in his transformation.  Additionally, we will explore the historical role of transgendered individuals, across cultures and in other contexts, as that of  “teacher”, “seer”, “guru” and/or “mystic”. In this sense, Lee may be following in a well documented historical tradition — as those who have insight into both male and female life experiences have long been regarded, in many communities, as being imbued with the wisdom to teach us all.