the transgender boy and the kindegarten bathroom

transbathroom.png

When Sally was two years old, he found things he could stick between his legs to represent a penis. While he didn’t have the words to describe it, he was distressed by the lack of a penis there, something he noticed his brother had, and he tried to convey that to his parents with grunts and cries, but they simply didn’t understand, as much as they loved him.

Sally’s mother would lovingly comb his long hair each morning. When she pulled Sally’s hair back into a braid or a ponytail, Sally would tug the hair free until it hung loose on his shoulders. Sally’s mom stopped trying to style his hair.

Sally’s father would help dress Sally every morning, in white tights and a pink dress perhaps. Sally would cry and fidget until the tights were off, and would clutch and pull at the dress with his little fingers. Finally they would dress him in shorts or jeans and a T-shirt instead.

Sally’s parents assumed they had a very willful daughter.

When Sally turned 4, his distress grew worse. At home, he was allowed to play with trucks and blocks and tools. He hated the sight of a Barbie doll or a makeup kit or a fairy princess. At home, he could use the bathroom just fine, but in public, he refused to enter the women’s restroom, instead marching into the men’s. His dad was fine with that, but that only worked when Sally was out in public with dad; when he was with mom, she would have to take Sally into the women’s, and Sally would fidget and cry and scream and wail.

When Sally turned 5, he was spending more and more time frustrated, crying, and angry. His parents attempted to put him in daycare, but he couldn’t go, he would cry and scream and throw tantrums all day. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Sally began getting angry whenever they used the name Sally to address him, so they tried out nicknames. He hated ‘sis’ and ‘princess’, so they tried out Sam. He liked Sam just fine.

A few months after his fifth birthday, Sam went into the kitchen medicine cabinet and found a bottle of extra strength Tylenol. He took it to his mom and asked her to open it. When his mother asked him why, he said it was because he wanted the pain to go away. She found him holding the bottle again a few days later. And Sam’s parents realized it was time to get him help.

It took the therapist only two sessions to realize that Sam was a boy. The mental health diagnosis is Gender Dysphoria, a condition in which a person shows significant distress with their assigned gender. Simply put, Sam was a boy trapped in a girl’s body.

Over the next few months, the parents learned everything they could about transgender kids. They cut Sam’s hair. They let Sam dress like he chose, in jeans, in ball caps. They continued to let him use his own toys. And they started using HE instead of SHE to describe him. And almost immediately, Sam’s emotional and behavioral problems went away. Sam started smiling, and playing with other kids, and being sweeter to his parents, and getting along with his brother. When he was upset, his behavior was within normal reactions, a short cry or a stern word, but at vastly reduced levels compared to his previous behavior.

Sam was soon enrolled in kindergarten. The parents were extremely nervous and they had a long conversation with the principal and the teacher about Sam and his condition. The faculty was surprisingly supportive. Although they had to enroll “Sally” in the classroom, they introduced him as Sam, and a boy, and Sam made friends quickly. He continued working in therapy and he began to understand what being transgender is.

Sam used the boy’s bathroom at the school until one of the other teachers learned he was transgender. She demanded Sam use the girl’s bathroom, and the school felt they had to comply given the complaint. Sam cried every time he used the girl’s bathroom. He began just holding it all day, to the point he felt ill, but it was easier for him to be sick than to be called a girl. He looked like a boy, and the other kids were confused when he went in the girl’s bathroom. And that was when the teasing started.

Sometimes Sam’s older brother called him Sally, or called him a girl, in order to antagonize his little brother at home. But he learned quickly that whenever he did, Sam seemed overcome with anger and sadness and would rush to his room crying. So he stopped doing that. He loved his little brother.

Working with the parents, the school started letting Sam use the teacher’s bathroom instead of the girls’. That helped a little, but it was uncomfortable. He was the only kid in class who used the teacher’s bathroom. He didn’t want to feel different from the other kids, even though he was. He wanted to fit in with the other boys like he had before.

Sam’s parents kept fighting the school on this, but they felt their hands were tied. They considered home-schooling Sam, but knew he needed the social interaction, and they felt he deserved the right to have an education with his peers. He was only five and he had already been through so much.

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Though I have changed the name and left out identifying details, Sam is a kid that I know. Not every transgender person experiences such gender distress at such a young age, but many do. And while some kids have passing phases, where they want to be more masculine or feminine for a brief period of time, Sam is an example of a child who is most definitely transgender.

When we see the transgender bathroom issues being debated on the news and on social media, I want you to think of Sam. Every kid in every class deserves to belong and to feel safe. It’s a much bigger deal than you think.

transgender stick figures

trans

J, my seven year old is growing, and quickly. He’s a brilliant child, full of imagination and love for life. His hair is long in the center and combed over to the side, the sides shaved down a bit, making him look more grown up. He has a dusting of freckles on his cheeks, and both his front teeth are loose. Just last week, he graduated first grade and got a certificate for his achievements in math. He can be a little bit shy, but he’s also bold and very sweet. He will walk up to strangers and offer his hand, ask their name and introduce himself, with first, middle, and last names. He likes baby bunnies and feels bad that they get eaten by eagles and foxes. He draws pictures endlessly. He names his toys and creates stories with them nonstop. He dances, moving his entire body around the room, just because. He sings in front of crowds, into a microphone, without fear. He is an incredible child.

My sons live with their mother most of the time, and with me a few days per week. She’s dating someone seriously now, and the boys are spending more and more time with him and his two children.

Last night, as I made dinner, J came in to the kitchen to talk.

“Hi, dad, I have a question.”

“All right, monkey, what is it?” I stirred the spaghetti sauce in the pan.

“Well, if mom gets married, I’ll have a step-dad.”

I smiled, nodding. I genuinely like the guy, so that helps, but it is jarring to add another parent into the mix. “Yes, that’s right. And you would have a step-brother and step-sister who would live with you every other weekend.”

He moved around the room without looking at me while he talked. “Yeah. I like them. So I would have a mom and a dad and a step-dad. That sounds fun.”

I laughed. Ever the optimist, this one. “Yes, that does sound fun.”

“And if you got married, then I would have two step-dads.”

“Yes, that’s right, too.”

He crinkled his nose, like he does when he is thinking. “I would have three dads and one mom. Are there kids that have three moms and one dad?”

“Absolutely. Some kids have one mom. Some kids have four moms. Some kids have three dads and two moms. There is every kind of family out there.”

He grinned again. “Yeah, that’s cool.”

“It is cool, isn’t it?”

“Are some kids in my class gay, do you think?”

“I bet there are. But they are probably too little to know. Boys and girls who are gay sometimes figure it out when they grow up. It’s the same for transgender people.”

J tried the word out. “Transgender. What does that mean?”

A few minutes later, I had the food finished, and I sat down with J at the table with loose leaf paper and a pen. I drew four stick figures, a small depiction of our family, three boys and a girl.

“Okay, here is me. My body is a boy. How do we know a body is a boy body?”

“It has a penis.”

“Right. I’m a boy on the outside, and I’m also a boy on the inside. My spirit is a boy. I’m gay, which mean I like to date other boys. Now here is Mom. She has a girl body, and girls have a vagina. And she is also a girl on the inside. She’s straight because she likes to date boys.  And here are you and your brother.”

J smiled, catching on. “We are both boys on the outside and on the inside.”

“That’s right, monkey. Okay, now look at this.”

I drew another little stick figure. “This is my friend Jamie. When Jamie was born, she had a boy body.”

J crinkled his brow. “You said she.”

I grinned. “Yes I did. Even though Jamie was a boy on the outside, she was a girl on the inside.  Her spirit was a girl. So when she was little, she thought she was a boy for a while, but when she got older she realized she was really a girl. So now she is a grown up. She uses a girl’s name, Mary, and she wears dresses and has long hair and she likes makeup and she is a girl.”

J looked at the images for a minute. “So she still has a boy body?”

“Well, that part doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she has a penis or a vagina. It just matters that she is a girl and we treat her like a girl. And sometimes there are people who are born with girl bodies who are really boys on the inside.”

“Like maybe a baby girl named Sue growed up and became a boy named Sam instead?”

“Yeah, kind of like that.”

J looked at the drawings for a few seconds. “That’s cool,” he repeated. “Can I go show my brother this?”

“Of course, monkey. Go ahead.”

J grabbed the paper and went skipping out of the room. “A! Come here! I want to show you transgender!”