08/20/2013 07:51 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Transgender Students Have New Rights in California


California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation allowing transgender students in California to have access to the sports teams and facilities that correspond with their gender identity. This is a critically important move because it prioritizes the health, well-being, and dignity of children over politics.

Let me offer some insight from a trans woman's point of view.

On Pride day in Guerneville, Calif., a small community known for its gay population, I used the men's restroom at a very well-known gay bar while in female dress. It was my first day in public as Danielle, and I was intimidated by the idea of using the ladies' room. There was a male patron in there at the time, but very fortunately for me, he chose to be amused, not hostile, upon seeing a woman in the men's room.

I learned from that experience that I absolutely have to use the restroom of the gender I'm presenting as. (I've since become accustomed to using the ladies' room as a woman, and I'm much happier there.) At the tail end of the time when I was still presenting as a man, I used community men's rooms. It felt really creepy. Notwithstanding the issues of my appearance, I use the ladies' room now primarily because I'm a lady and I belong there.

Thankfully, very thankfully (there will be fewer suicides over this now), we as a society have come to accept, at least in limited form, that not everyone is born in a body that corresponds with their gender identity. Those of us who have a discordant gender identity desperately need to be able to live as our true gender. The literature tends to refer to this as our "chosen gender." Given that this is very clearly not a choice, I would prefer to say "true gender."

Just recently, I realized that you don't have to agree with me that I'm really a woman born in a male body, but I think I have the right to say that my name is Danielle and that my gender is female. It's my right to be who I say I am. And our kids in school need and deserve the same rights.

I understand that there are some who fear that male students would use this to their advantage in athletics, claiming to be female in order to demonstrate greater physical prowess. I think this fear is as baseless as the fear of insurance companies, which believe that if they cover gender reassignment surgery as an allowable expense, there will be a flood of applicants.

My observation is that born men sincerely wish to hang on to their penises; there will be no rush for GRS. Also, there will be no rush of male students claiming to be female to use that to their advantage. Boys will be boys, absolutely and without deceitfulness. I don't think there are very many boys who would be willing to claim that they're girls for the physical advantage.

Years ago, before gay marriage became legal, it occurred to me that gay men could still get married if one of them would claim to be female. Well, since then, I've observed that, clearly, gay men are men, happy to be men, happy to have penises, and absolutely not about to pretend that they're of a different gender for some perceived benefit. To say that a gay man could claim to be female in order to get married is to completely deny the entire concept of gender identity.

I think that our society still, for the most part, sincerely believes that a person's gender identity is just the sex of the body they were born in, but there is increasing understanding that the two aren't always congruent. Those of us with bodies that are incongruent with our gender identity need to be able to express who we are. I have observed that cisgender men and women (those born in correspondingly congruent bodies) generally don't seem to think about this much. That's because they don't have to.

We all have to be who we really are. Those of us (the majority, thankfully) who are congruent probably don't realize how powerful the feelings associated with this can be. I don't care what you think of me, but you have to understand that I'm a woman. This is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. Really it is.

From extensive personal experience, I can assert that being imprisoned in a body that is opposite from your gender identity is incredibly painful. It's the greatest pain I've known in 54 years of life. Fixing it is the greatest joy I've known in 54 years. (Just writing this brings tears to my eyes.) One has to assume that being an adolescent whose body is incongruent with his or her gender has to be incredibly painful.

It's about time that our kids have the freedom to express who they really are, and I salute Gov. Brown and his fellow legislators for their courage and vision.