I’m tempted to call it the magic headband. From the day the 8-year-old transgender student wore it to class, there was a transformation. The angry, screaming child who would flip over desks suddenly became a happy scholar.
Who could find problems with that?
ID note: To respect the privacy of all involved as this unfolds, this identifies the child only by first name, does not reveal the locale or school, and cites the grandmother as GM and mother as Mommy.
Source note: My j-school/newspaper background normally has me going to multiple sources. This draws almost entirely on the candid conversation with GM. Future updates may include lawyers, the therapist, the principal or others, but there’s plenty in the experiences from her view.
The principal of the school was among those who has not yet learned to deal with John presenting as Jen. In particular, she’d like Mommy and GM to punish Jen for using the girls restroom and apparently claims Jen will do so “over my dead body.” Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, the legislature rejected the bill that would add legal protections to transgender children and adults. The other New England states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
Acknowledged transgender is not common. Estimates run from 3% down to a quarter of 1%. Yet it’s real when it’s real, and denial, anger and other irrational responses help no one and change nothing.
This child’s background is not so simple as many of our lives and goes far below gender identity. For starters, a single mom with a daughter found out and met the brother and sister five and three year olds who had been in foster care for years. She decided to bring them into her home and begin the adoption process.
That’s remarkable enough. In what would have dissuaded most prospective parents, the boy, John, was deemed severely autistic, low verbal, prone to outbreaks, and not toilet trained at five. GM reports that her daughter asked her, “Do you think I can do this?” She replied, “If anyone can do this, you can.”
The adoption took a year, but two years ago, the pair legally came to Mommy. He had already been toilet trained as soon as they came into the home, as GM put it, “in two weeks…with love.” He was still unhappy but quickly more verbal. GM notes that both children had arrived gaunt and pale. Even their skin color changed, to the point where the doctor’s office didn’t recognize them.
There was no tension with the existing daughter. She was fine with a sister, but in particular had always wanted a brother.
The wrinkle was in the boy’s fondness for things frilly. He liked to dress up in girls’ clothes. Mommy and GM quickly became aware this was not transvestism. Rather, he said he was a girl.
They took him to a therapist, who asked among other questions, “Have you always felt like a girl?” John replied, “No, I’ve always been a girl.”
While Mommy and GM are quick to point out they just love the children and want to do what’s best for them, let us note their wisdom and equanimity as well. They did not flip out, did not scream at or hit John, did not do the gender-identity version of trying to convert a lefthander, and did not demand that he live double school/home lives.
Starting wearing dresses at home and being very saddened by having to wear a boy’s suit for his adoption ceremony, John left no doubt about identity. Willing to present as a girl at school, as Jen, meant simultaneously being honest and risking what came from classmates and teachers.
Trouble from Above
Both Jen and her sister are shorter and slighter than many peers, but neither lacks courage. Jen has retained and expanded her friends, says GM, who noted with pride the attitude of the younger sister to the few students who would taunt on the playground. “She protects Jen. She’ll get right between her and children on the playground. She’ll say, ‘Don’t call her a boy. That’s my sister.'”
Jen insisted on going to school in dresses. The therapist supported this and told Jen to use the girls room when no one else was there. Mommy and GM met with teachers and the principal several times to let them know what would happen. The principal even met with Jen in her office to prepare.
Then the letter arrived. It seems one parent had complained about Jen using the girls room. “The school was going to pursue legal action if (Mommy) didn’t punish her for this,” said GM. “Plus, they were going to follow her around school.” GM and Mommy weren’t about to punish Jen or accept separate and unequal treatment.
Jen had gone from a problem child to a student of the month. She loved school and had lots of friends. Now, said GM, “Jen came home crying saying she can’t use the bathroom, ‘because I’m making them uncomfortable.'”
In the closest thing the school came to trying a compromise, the principal said Jen would have to use the nurse’s office restroom. While GM and Mommy heard this and thought they could frame it as their idea and something special. Unfortunately, the principal presented this as a mandate to Jen before letting them know what was up. Thus, Jen felt punished and tried to go the dayswithout using any restroom.
More to Be Done
Jen loves school, but short-term, she’s not there. Until arrangements are in place and there is a clear understanding, she’s being home schooled. Oddly GM and Mommy had some experience with this years before in a previous school with the first daughter. She was diabetic and the school would not medicate her as needed for her health. They resolved that and got her back in.
Likewise, the aim her is to get Jen back in class with her friends, who GM says are fine with the transition. Meanwhile, GM and Mommy have been in contact with a GLAD lawyer as well as counterparts in two other states. The school will receive guidelines on how to deal with a transgender student.
GM seems singularly well organized and a formidable force. She and Mommy had also kept detailed records of the entire process, including all communications and meetings. They are more than willing to do their parts to make this work as smoothly and pleasantly as possible. They also have not stopped reading and speaking with people who understand they physical, psychological and legal aspects.
Their attitude includes that a transgender student going to school in a dress, “is not going to be the hardest thing she’ll go through.”
In fact, their surprise came when they had to confront their own related issue. First it was from the older daughter, the one who had always wanted a brother. As John transitioned to Jen, GM said, “She cried and said, ‘I’m losing my brother!’ That’s when we realized we were losing him too.” All had known John as he joined them and blossomed from the sad, autistic boy they first new into the happy Jen who loves school and is popular. “We’ve had to grieve John, ” said GM. “John no longer exists.”
Instead, Jen is ready to get on with her life. Mommy will see that her name is changed legally. Moreover, at this point it seems that sexual reassignment surgery is somewhere in the more distant future.
While Jen was initially unclear on genital anatomy, she knew she had a penis. When Mommy explained how girls and boys differed, Jen said, “Mommy, why do I have to wait? Can’t you just cut off my penis, so people will like me?”
For those who would say such things as homosexuality is a lifestyle or in this case transgender is a choice that weird adults make, let us consider the reality of the latter with Jen. She is a child who has known early on what her true gender is. She hurts no one and wants to get on with her life and to develop as any child. Her grandmother, mother and sisters will do their part. It is a small enough thing to expect everyone else to let her go about that life.
Cross-post: This appears also at Marry in Massachusetts.