Audrey Rosevear: Leaping to Topology, Theater, and Transitioning

Audrey Rosevear has spent her time at Amherst devoted to her passions of mathematics and theater, all while embarking on a personal journey to come out as trans.

Rosevear has cultivated a deep interest in differential geometry, leading to her thesis about topology and 4D manifolds. Photo courtesy of Cayla Weiss '23.

Audrey Rosevear ’22 has moved through life by taking leaps instead of steps. She has been an active member in the math and theater communities at Amherst, all while undergoing significant personal change in discovering her gender identity and transitioning. She attributes her many accomplishments to the leaps of faith she has taken, starting long before her time in college.

“What Kind of Child Are You?”

“From a very young age, I had these hyperfixations on different things that would last from months to years,” said Rosevear. Her parents tell stories about her love of submarines and matchbox cars. But the earliest fixation that she can recall is Legos, with both problem-solving and artistic aspects that seem to reflect her current intellectual interests.

She also noted that her parents pushed her to explore her interests at a young age. “[My mom would] try to get me excited about math sometimes, and she’d sit me down and I would eagerly listen to her tell me how binary worked or how to multiply big numbers on paper.” At the same time, she learned from witnessing her dad’s “strong dramatic interests,” including his work as a journalist for the auto industry, and his love of cars, electric guitars, and craft cocktails.

Her twin brother Ian also shaped how she thought of herself, a “self-reinforcing dynamic” of mutually exclusive traits between them: “We were both deeply envious of each other, but for different things. I was always the outgoing child, the child who was good with adults, the child who would talk to the cashier when we went shopping, the one who all the teachers loved, and who had more academic success,” Rosevear recalled.

“Conversely, Ian was always the popular one. I don’t really consider myself as having friends before I was 12 or 13, because I mostly just tagged along with Ian’s friends, and he always had plenty.” Rosevear also remembers that she was talented at sports and games, beating their grandfather at chess when she was six. These identities extended to how she was perceived at school, in a negative way. “They called me ‘professor’ in third grade. It was not conducive to making friends.”

But by seventh grade, her social circle opened up, and she found herself with friends who were not just her brother’s. She grew close to the other kids in her neighborhood, particularly because of the unique nature of Mosaic Commons, the cohousing community where she grew up: “You buy a joint plot of land that everyone has their houses on. It’s a little bit like a college campus but for adults.”

The other people who lived there shaped her. “We have queers, we have Jews, pagans, polyamorous couples, people who work in tech, people who go to Renaissance fairs. Very, very crunchy … These were my parents’ friends, this was the environment which I was born into, which didn’t help me fitting in at public school…”

Indeed, Rosevear struggled to set down roots at school, particularly in her Technology and Engineering class. “Basically, I had the worst teacher of all time,” Rosevear reflected. “He gave us multiple choice questions as homework, but to answer them, we had to hand copy the entire question and all four answers, and then answer it because it’s better for memorization. So I patently refused to do that.” Looking back now, Rosevear sees at least one victory in the experience: “This professor also later turned out to be an anti-vaxxer and a Trump supporter, and I felt very validated.” Fed up, she decided to take the leap and transfer from public school to Sudbury Valley School, the private school where many of her neighborhood friends went.

Much like her cohousing community, Sudbury Valley School, or SVS, embraced an atypical structure: “It has no classes, no grades, no teachers. It’s in this old, beautiful, converted mansion, and the kids just hang out there and do whatever they want all day.” She spent her time playing piano and teaching herself Algebra II and French. “That turned out to be very hard to do,” she noted, “because self-teaching is extremely difficult, especially when all of your friends are saying, ‘Come play board games with us.’”

Still, being at SVS was an invaluable experience for her. “Instead of doing anything academic, I spent all of my time hanging out with my friends, which in some ways was very good for me. It was a great way for me to learn a lot of social skills very fast, in a somewhat kind of brutal process. So I learned a lot that year, just not much of it was academic.”

“What Is a Limit?”

Eventually, Rosevear’s academic yearnings caught up with her, and she decided to leave SVS before eleventh grade, an equally daunting leap as leaving public school in the first place. In preparation, she took a pre-calculus course at a local community college. Soon, she was back in the classroom, staring at logarithms and trigonometry for Calculus II.

She recalls a week in that class vividly. The teacher told the class that they would be reviewing pre-calculus. “And I [said], ‘I just learned this, this is boring.’ So I [went] home, and I [went] on Khan Academy. And I watched the video about ‘what is a limit.’”

“It is hard to overstate how much that one decision changed my life,” Rosevear said.  “This was my first time having my mind blown by math. It changed everything. I was like, ‘This is the reason I came back to public school, because I wanted to be introduced to topics that I would not be able to find on my own.’”

She binge-watched more and more videos about calculus and fostered a fixation-like interest in math during the remainder of high school, while also enjoying her French and history classes.

Soon, she was already applying to colleges. From the start, she was drawn to top schools because she says she wanted to be around “a bunch of other people who’d spent their entire life being called the smart one, because then they wouldn’t think of me as the smart one.”

One particular liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts stood out to her: “I fell absolutely in love with Amherst. I really liked the vibe, and I heard good things about the math department. [I thought,] ‘Yeah, this is the place for me.’”

“How Do You Know You’re Trans?”

Rosevear told me that the story of her transition began in her first-year seminar, “Keywords in American Culture” with Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies Jen Manion: “One of the keywords that we talked about was ‘trans.’ And I distinctly remember walking up to Professor Manion in office hours at some point, and saying, ‘How do you know if you’re trans?’”

“They were like, ‘I don’t know if that’s a question I can answer, both as your professor and also, I think you’ve got to figure it out yourself.’”

Rosevear had known queer people during her childhood, both at SVS and in her cohousing community. She also noticed that she was naturally gravitating toward female and queer friends, and that she was often perceived as the “token cis straight man in social situations,” which contributed to feelings of internalized homophobia and transphobia.

“Some of my friends [began] playing around with gender a little more,” she remembered, “and by the time I hit my sophomore year [of college], I started going by he/they pronouns as an experiment. I didn’t feel super comfortable with it, but I was like, ‘Well, I kind of hate being a man.’”

But the people in her life did not fully respect her new pronouns: “It was just like something that happens during introductions, and then everyone [called] me ‘he.’”

Halfway through her sophomore year, a friend asked her, “Do you prefer going by they/them pronouns or he/him pronouns?”

“And I thought about it. I said ‘they/them,’ and from that moment on, people called me they/them. But I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, like it didn't feel right. I felt like I was like invading queer spaces still and pretending to be queer.”

Right at this point, Rosevear returned home during Covid, and she put her ruminations about gender to the side. She was not able to ignore it for long. Her younger sibling introduced her to the YouTube series ContraPoints, hosted by Natalie Wynn, a trans woman. “At some point during the video she makes a joke about being trans. And I’m like, ‘Wait, she's trans?’ This kind of blew my mind: I’d never had the experience of encountering a passing trans woman who I didn’t know was trans.”

“I had a lot of internalized transphobia, and I had this image in my head of trans women as men in dresses, just because society really likes to tell you that trans women can’t even resemble women.”

It was enough to open up her perspective. She promptly took the leap, started using she/her pronouns and came out to her parents, siblings, and friends. For Rosevear, it was a moment that explained the discomfort she had felt in her childhood: “Finally I had a name for all of these feelings of not fitting in or being confused as to why I spent a lot more time with women than men, and why I didn’t feel comfortable in male-dominated spaces.”

“Who is Audrey Rosevear?”

During her time at Amherst, Rosevear has been heavily involved with the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. She often attended the Math and Stats table during her lunchtime, and appreciated being able to learn about professors and their research. She was a founding member of the Math Club, serving as President, in addition to working as a TA. In recognition of her engagement with the math and stats community, she won the Walker Award for Leadership in 2021.

She has developed a close relationship with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Ivan Contreras, who was her advisor as well as her research mentor under the SURF program. “During these years of interactions with her,” Contreras reflected, “I can safely say that she is one of the most outstanding and talented young mathematicians I’ve ever met. Her passion for research and excellence in academics are equally matched with her exceptional kindness, thoughtfulness, and commitment to make the Amherst community a better place.”

For her thesis, she studied four-dimensional topology with Associate Professor of Mathematics Michael Ching and UMass Professor of Mathematics Weimin Chen. Reaching out to Chen, whom she approached because his research fit her interests more closely than any Amherst professor, was another leap that changed the trajectory of her life.

When asked to describe topology, she said it “is kind of like geometry but it’s squishier. A donut is [topologically] the same as a coffee cup because you can kind of squish one into the other.”

Connecting tools from quantum field theory and discrete algebra, her thesis forms a single, elegant picture about the ways that two-dimensional surfaces can live in four-dimensional space. Her methodology reframes easy-to-understand techniques from three dimensions so that they can be applied to work in four dimensions.

She feels that she has been working on the thesis for longer than her time at Amherst. “I conceptualize everything that happened [in my life] starting in my junior year [of high school], with the moment I [learned about] calculus. So my thesis has been a really nice sort of capstone and coalescing all of the things I’ve been interested in over the last six years,” Rosevear said.

She also spent her time at Amherst deeply involved in theater with the Green Room, which she notes is “a part of the way in which I found community in college that I didn’t have in high school.” She had her first role during the spring semester of her first year, and even considered being a theater and dance major for a time.

Theater at Amherst has been a learning experience for Rosevear, especially because she had not acted seriously before. “I was behind a lot of the other people because a lot of people did theater in high school,” she said. “So I worked really hard to get the acting roles I wanted and mostly didn’t, right up until the show that I’m currently in: ‘The Bacchae,’ where I will be starring as Dionysus. It’s kind of my dream role, and I finally got it at the very end of college.”

Rosevear performed in “The Bacchae” as Dionysus, a “dream role” that she feels is a culmination of her love of theater at Amherst. Photo courtesy of Grace Walker '24.

Going forward, Rosevear will be pursuing a Ph.D. in pure math at the University of California, Berkeley. From there, she hopes to enter academia, get a post-doctorate degree, and maybe a tenured position at an education-minded institution like Amherst.

Finally, I asked her what advice she would give to herself a few years ago. She responded, “A lot of my story is characterized by me taking these leaps that were terrifying, and there were leaps I didn’t make because they were too terrifying. I think all of the best opportunities that have come to me in college have come from me stepping out of my comfort zone and just doing something that I’d been thinking about doing. That’s what transitioning was: just going for it.”

To put it simply, she says: “Don’t be afraid.”