The (Transgender) Kids Are Alright

Despite challenges, change is coming. Change is here.
02/03/2017 12:26 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2017
Haze, 10, at the National Geographic magazine headquarters for the Washington, DC premier of <em>Gender Revolution</em>, a do
Kate Warren
Haze, 10, at the National Geographic magazine headquarters for the Washington, DC premier of Gender Revolution, a documentary produced by National Geographic and Katie Couric.

“Everything is going to be alright, Haze,” said a classmate to my son. The school counselor had just shared with the 4th graders the news that my child — whom they all previously knew as Hazel — would now be going by the name Haze and male pronouns. That she was, in fact, a he.

The reassuring classmate was one of the boys Haze was most nervous about telling. But rather than the ridicule my son was preparing to weather, this 10-year-old boy’s response was the equivalent of a big old shrug. His underlying message was, “don’t worry, it’s cool, now can we get back to playing minecraft?”

Building up to this day consisted of many sleepless nights for our family. How will the kids react? The school? The parents? While I was privately grieving the loss of my daughter and making sense of what this transition would mean for our family, I was mostly anxious about how the world would accept — or reject — my child.

Haze was never a gender-conforming kid. Pants and shorts won out over skirts and dresses, toy soldiers over babydolls, and pink was color non grata in our household. Still, I didn’t think much of it. It was just society, or more specifically, marketers, after all, who created this gender binary world where instead of just Legos, we now have boy Legos and girl Legos. I was proud of my kid for bucking what anyone said a girl should be or like.

But it wasn’t just the toys he wanted to play with or the clothes he wanted to wear. When playing make-believe or a video game, Haze always picked a male character. Again, I reasoned, who wouldn’t want to be the boy? They’re always cast in the role of the winner, the leader, the one who gets to be brave and get dirty.

Still, it was more than that. “When I get married, I want to get married in a tuxedo,” Haze confided in me. “And I don’t want to be a girl in a tuxedo, but a boy in a tuxedo,” he clarified. For years he proudly bore the title “tomboy,” which we later learned was because it was the closest he could get to being called a boy.

Last spring, after Haze got his first short haircut he positively glowed. A whole new air of confidence took over. “Do you want me to correct them?” I would ask when strangers assumed he was a boy. No, he loved it. He said he finally felt like himself.

So, this fall when he made the decision to publicly transition, my husband and I completely supported him. We are fortunate enough to live in one of those so-called “liberal bubbles” where LGBT acceptance is the norm. Still, being transgender, and a transgender kid at that, is far from the norm. Haze is the first at his school — and anyone we know in our community — to take this big leap.

When we reached out to Haze’s school to inform them about the transition, we had no idea what to expect. What would we do if the school wasn’t on board? What if other parents complained? As a person who generally avoids conflict, I shored up my courage, prepared to do whatever necessary to protect my child. After all, if he is brave enough to do this, then so am I.

While this was a first for our school, the counselor received training in supporting transgender kids. Without batting an eyelash, she ran down the list of options, from how to notify classmates to sensitive issues like bathrooms and gender-divided activities. The message was clear: The school would do whatever it needed to do to support our son. We left the meeting with tears of relief. We could do this.

The counselor assembled a “dream team” of Haze’s closest friends who knew about the transition and vowed to have his back, serving as his own protective bubble of defenders. Kids, after all, can be mean and we are all fully aware of the bullying (and subsequent suicide rates) of transgender youth. Haze was particularly concerned about how some of the boys would react.

We braced for a backlash, knowing we had the support of the school and a close-knit group of friends and their parents. But the worry was for naught. While one classmate did publicly chastise Haze, the dream team — which had now grown in numbers — swooped in, and quickly shut it down. The offender later apologized, and Haze’s gender identity has been a non-issue ever since. The kids are back to playing tag and acting out scenes from Hamilton and we’re back to hosting playdates and running carpool.

When I asked the school counselor how the school would react if a parent had a problem with my son’s transition, the response was: “It’s the law.” We’re lucky to have both a tolerant community and the law on our side. However, not everyone does, and under the current administration, legal protections could disappear. The Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who sued his local school board for the right to use the boys’ bathroom. The outcome will affirm or repeal students’ access to the bathroom that matches their gender identity across the country.

While this weighs on us, we find hope in the kids. As more people are empowered to live their authentic lives, children in today’s world grow up knowing — not fearing — a wide spectrum of humanity. National crises over who can go to what bathroom or can join which scouting troop do not resonate with a generation that just doesn’t see these things as a big deal.

The transgender community still has a long fight ahead to extend and protect equal rights and social acceptance. But despite these challenges, change is coming. Change is here. For my transgender kid, everything is going to be alright.

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