by Cody Hickman
To most of my friends, it has become obvious that I’ve been on a “transgender” kick, lately. The simple reason for this is that gender-variant matters have become a center of my studies, as well as a large part of my life. It is the area of law that I plan to focus on, and represents one of the two areas of human rights that have driven me toward a career in social justice.
(As a side note, “transgender” is a term that some do not appreciate, and I tend to use it sparingly. “Gender-variant”, or even just “gender-fluid” seem better, but in truth, even labeling the difference creates a problematic divide. Still, a discussion requires that we have terms.)
Although transgender issues are becoming more understood, as well as more prominently reported on in the news, they are still an extremely divisive matter. For many, their personal or religious beliefs will not allow them to readily accept the idea that a person can be born one biological sex and have a separate gender. Others have trouble understanding that biological sex, sexuality, and gender are very different issues. Some are simply offended by the idea, despite the fact that gender fluidity has existed for as long humans have. Yet, I have personally witnessed people make the transition from being opposed to gender-variance, to accepting that it is a reality that deserves understanding. I know that it is possible to come to a place of understanding.
The reality of gender-variance is something that most of us only interact with peripherally. For some of you, it will be much more than that. Some of you may be gender-variant yourself. Some will have close friends or family. I qualify as the latter.
A year ago, if someone asked about my children, I would tell them I had two boys and two girls. If asked today, I have a different answer: I now have one boy and three girls. In truth, the realization that one of my children identifies with a gender that is different from her biological sex was, and remains, absolutely unremarkable. That is to say, I was not bothered, disappointed, or the least bit unhappy to learn that my kiddo had always felt like she was a girl, despite being born a boy. Further, I am lucky beyond measure that her mother feels the same way.
My kiddo always wore sparkly shoes. That was her thing. She would wear “boy” pants, underwear, and shirts, but loved sparkly shoes. She then started occasionally wearing dresses. It was rare, because, as I have learned, she is hyper-aware of scrutiny, and did not want to be considered different, or “wrong.” Yet, when she felt comfortable, she would wear dresses, sparkly shoes, and even pretend to be a princess. She even told me that she wanted to be prince when she grew up, but only because princes could have swords. When I told her that princesses could have swords too, and that women made for fierce warriors (because all little kids seem to go through that “I’m going to somehow be a warrior for hire” phase), she was elated. A couple of months ago, she started telling her mother and me that she wanted to dress like girl all of the time, so that people would think she is a girl. When we asked her why she wanted people to think she was a girl, she replied simply “because I want to be a girl.”
After these conversations, she started wearing dresses almost exclusively. She now only wears what she considers to be “girl” clothing, which includes socks, shorts…the whole bit. And she wears it well. Further, she no longer speaks of “wanting” to be a girl. She just refers to herself as a girl now. She even told me that everyone thought she was a boy, because she was born looking like a boy, but that she had always been a girl, and that she wasn’t mad at us for not knowing. We now use female pronouns, at her request. She has a new name too. It is hard to remember the pronoun difference sometimes, but it is a lot more natural than I thought it would be.
So, why have I publicly shared this personal family story?
Because I now sit up at night feverishly studying the legal ramifications of this change.
Because I hear our elected officials making jokes about high school bathrooms, as if not being able to use the bathroom for the gender you identify is laughable, or worse, that kids like mine are lucky because they can see girls in various states of undress.
Because our country is generally unforgiving when it comes to people who don’t follow the formula.
Because our laws, and many people, don’t fully grasp the difference between orientation and gender.
Because 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide.
Because she is my kid, and I could never dream of loving her less, but know that others will.
Because this is something which affects so many people.
Because nobody should need permission to be comfortable in their own skin.
Because she is just a kid, being herself, and it kills me to think she will ever have to hide that, or use a different bathroom, or fight for her medical benefits, or be denied jobs, or be made to feel wrong.
There were a few times when I hoped that this was just a phase. Not because I care that my boy is now a girl, and certainly not because I don’t accept this. Rather, it is simply because I want to protect my children from the bad parts of life, and being bullied, or not accepted, is one of the worst parts of life.
It didn’t take long for me to get over that, because no matter how uncomfortable I am with the idea that my children might be singled out for something or picked on, I will never feel as uncomfortable as a child who is not allowed to be herself. Children like my daughter are so aware of what people think that they already isolate themselves, and family support is sometimes the only thing that gives them hope. Also, if you could have just seen the change that came over her when she was wearing the clothes she felt comfortable in…it was amazing.
I am not going to issue to our friends and family the worn-out ultimatum of withdrawing from our lives if they cannot accept this or disagree with it. Rather, I would encourage all of them to stay close. I want them, and you, to see my daughter as I do. See pictures of her smiling like the world has no gravity. See how lovely she looks in a sparkly dress. See how perfect she is. Then I want you to notice that all of my children look that way. So do yours. They are too young to be malicious or contrived. They simply exist, and when we allow them to exist as they really are, they are happier than anything you will see in an adult. I don’t ever want the light that beams from my children’s eyes extinguished, and certainly not by me.
In truth, she is still young, and I have no idea how her gender identity will develop. It doesn’t matter to me, because that is true of all of my children, but I know that others think about that. Will she like boys or girls? Will she change her mind? Honestly, I just don’t think about it. She is a five-year-old kid, and those things will happen when they happen, just as it will with my other children. She will unfold in time, just as all children do when they are allowed to.
My daughter is happy, and she is exactly where she wants to be. If you have kids, please don’t teach them to pick on kids like her. In fact, just let your kids love her, and others like her, in that magical way that seems to come naturally to children. They have a knack for accepting things like this with such grace and ease.
Photo credit: “There’s No Home” by Alyssa L. Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.