M. started kindergarten last week.
At pick-up time, I stood in the hallway outside her classroom, exchanging introductions with the other anxious parents as we waited for our children to emerge from the very first day of their school careers. Like them, I badly wanted it to have gone well, as if this one day would somehow set the tone for the next twelve years, and perhaps for the rest of our children’s lives. Of course, I was also worrying about something else.
“I’m gendermom, and my daughter is M.,” I said to one parent after another. The word “daughter” rolled off my tongue in a way it hadn’t before (perhaps because this is the first time we’ve truly “gone stealth?”). I was struck – and pleased – by my own lack of hesitation in proclaiming her girlhood, as well as the fact that no explanation was needed. Not yet, anyway.
The door flew open and M. ran through it, smiling, and dove into my arms. So far (and so stealth), so good.
For the time being, only her teacher knows that M. is transgender. I doubt that this situation will last long. M. has very little self-consciousness about her body, no shame about her identity as a “girl with a penis,” and tends to have her skirt hiked up to her armpits long before she clears the bathroom door, let alone closes it. Her state of innocence is beautiful to witness, but it will mean that her “stealth” status isn’t likely to last long. (For more on this, see Kindergarten Countdown).
If (or, more probably, when), we face that particular dragon, I’ll certainly be writing about it.
However, what’s really on my mind today is something else: The incredible timing of M.’s launch into kindergarten. When I think about it, I get a little quiet. I consider pinching myself and looking for some wood to knock on. Because, seriously, could we really be this lucky?
The day before M. started kindergarten, Lori Duron, a mom from California appeared on The TODAY Show, promoting her new book (based on her excellent blog) about raising a young gender-nonconforming son. Like M., Duron’s son has a penis and adores “girl stuff.” Unlike M., he seems to be fine with being called a boy. Duron is not yet sure if her son is transgender or gay or just an unconventional little boy, but the fabulous thing is that she makes it clear that she’s vehemently OK with all of these possibilities and that the mainstream media is backing her up. Her new book is getting lots of positive national media attention, with the likes of CNN, TIME, and the Associated Press chiming in with enthusiastic and supportive coverage.
Earlier this year, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, and Barbara Walters all featured transgender kids (kids like MINE!) on their shows.* TV viewers in every corner of the nation were introduced to a series of adorable young trans children, as well as charming and self-assured trans teens, all of them accompanied by loving parents who appeared to be thoughtful, reasonable people.
But wait! There’s more! Only last month, California became the first state to pass a law mandating that transgender K-12 students be given access to the bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams that align with their gender identities. That milestone followed closely on the heels of the highly publicized Coi Mathis decision, which forced a Colorado school district to allow a transgender six year old to use the girls’ bathroom. Media coverage of this ruling gave Americans a new image of what “transgender” might look like, as little Coi’s sweet smile flashed across our TV screens on the evening news.
When I was a kid, the only trans folks in the media were found on shows like Jerry Springer, circus-side-show-style oddities dished up to a shocked studio audience. Sometimes they provided racy movie plot twists (remember The Crying Game?). But they weren’t normal people. They weren’t people we might know. And they certainly weren’t kindergarteners.
Now, however, transgender people seem to be popping up all over the place (Chelsea Manning).** And although the response is not always what I would hope it to be (Fox News = Satan), I’m encouraged by the fact that the issue is at least, at last, being raised. We’re finally beginning to acknowledge that people like my child actually exist. And every time a cute little trans kid appears on TV, alongside an all-American, apple-pie mom and dad telling a heart-rending version of my own story (“She told us at age two that she wasn’t a boy.” “When we took away the Barbies, our 7-year-old became suicidal.”), I believe the world gets a little bit safer and the future a little bit brighter for kids like mine.
Other wonderful things are happening now, too: The world’s first academic journal devoted to transgender issues is currently gearing up to launch in 2014.*** Last year, Vice President Joe Biden was quoted saying that transgender rights are the “civil rights issue of our time.”
So you will understand why I feel the need to pinch myself sometimes as I contemplate all of this.
Is society really getting around to addressing transgender civil rights just in the nick of time to save my child from the hell endured by previous generations of trans folks? Is she really a member of the first generation of trans people who get to live openly and happily – almost from birth – as the gender they know themselves to be?
Did we really win the social justice lottery?
Yes, I know there is still a very long way to go on this issue. It is early days yet. But I really believe the tide is turning. The truth has come out and it can’t be put back: Trans people are an ever-present branch of the human family, and they’re not willing to be excluded any longer. And moms like me will fight to the bitter end to ensure that our children are part of every family reunion.
I can’t wait for the day I get to hear myself say this: “Remember when we thought it was a big deal if someone was transgender? That’s how it was when my daughter, M., started kindergarten! Can you believe that?”
* While these shows each approached the topic with intelligence and respect, I was frustrated by the fact that they all completely neglected any discussion of those who don’t identify within the binary. They also reinforced traditional gender stereotypes, highlighting the masculine qualities of the trans boys and the uber-femininity of the trans girls. This is pretty common in mainstream media coverage of trans issues. It’s frustrating, but… I suppose it’s a start.
** Whether you see Manning as a traitor or a hero, I think we can all agree on one thing: Chelsea Manning is not the trans poster child we were hoping for.
What I’m eagerly anticipating is for a really big, HUGE, high-profile transition that will knock all the conservative pundits off their chairs: Somebody who is universally liked and unimpeachably respectable – a Gandhi or a Tom Hanks would do nicely – to come out as trans. It’s just a matter of time, friends. Who’s it gonna be, I wonder…?
*** Transgender Studies Quarterly ran a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to launch the journal. I gave them a small donation. I’m not much of a crier, but I tear up thinking about the day I will tell my daughter that I helped in this small way. I’ll show her the first issue, which will list my name as a donor. This would mean nothing to her now, but someday I hope she’ll understand how hard her mom was fighting to give her a shot at the most beautiful life possible.
They’re still accepting donations: http://lgbt.arizona.edu/tsq-main
Throw a little cash their way and be part of history with me!