It all started last week, when I brought home a copy of “I am Jazz,” the new children’s book written by famous transgender teen Jazz Jennings. I saw Jazz on a Barbara Walters special years ago, when she was a little kid – probably around the age M. is now. She was the first transgender child I had ever heard of, and at the time I assumed she was so rare that I’d probably never encounter a kid like her in my life. Ha!
I showed the book to M. “This is written by a transgender girl. Wanna read it?” She snuggled up on the couch next to me. My mom was visiting. She sat nearby, watching us. It turned out to be “one of those moments.”
Jazz’s book is lovely. It’s nicely written – simple and straightforward, and walks you through a story that is essentially identical to my child’s story: A little “boy” who never felt like one, who eventually convinced her parents that she was actually a girl, and who emerges as a happy, well-liked girl with nice friends and a supportive family.
M. sat very still while I read the book. She was silent when I finished. My mom looked like she was going to cry.
“What do you think of this book?”
“It’s really good,” M. said. “Really good.”
M. decided that she wanted to have her teacher read the book to her class at school. “And when it says, ‘I am Jazz,’ I’ll read that part.”
“Do you mean you want to tell your class that you’re transgender?”
“Yes. But ONLY the kids in my class. I’ll tell them they can’t tell anyone else in the school.”
It’s been an interesting week since then. I suggested to M. that some of the kids in her class might “forget” and tell others. She saw the wisdom in this. “Yeah, like Andrew. He kind of loses control a lot. I won’t tell him.” The list of classmates worthy of her secret got shorter and shorter until she had whittled it down to just three by the weekend.
“Why do you want to tell your classmates that you’re transgender?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “Just do.”
“Is it maybe because it’s something important and special about you, so you want to share it with your good friends?”
I brought “I am Jazz” to school this morning and gave it to M.’s teacher. She was eager to read it to the kids, but clearly worried that M. was getting in over her head. “I just want to protect her,” she said.
She called me a few hours later. She and M. had been strategizing together. M. wanted to tell her three friends as a group during free-choice activity time. The teacher was worried that the kids would tell other kids. I’m sure she was imagining what I was: The whole school finding out, parents freaking out, M. at the middle of a storm she had inadvertently started just because she wanted her best friends to understand who she was.
As of press time (right now), we’re not quite sure what to do. M.’s teacher is making some calls to people who work with young trans kids (yes, M.’s teacher is awesome). I have realized that I should probably call the other kids’ parents and fill them in on all this (I think these particular parents already know that M. is transgender and are supportive of us, but they’ll need a heads up on how to field the questions their kids are likely to come home with).
I’m also realizing that it may be too much to expect of a six year old – to keep this interesting information about M. to themselves. I don’t want these kids to feel pressured or put on-the-spot, but I do want my child to feel seen by those she cares about. It’s a tricky one.
Any advice, friends?
I’m actually not too worried about all this. M.’s teacher is pretty freaked out, but I’m not. I think that’s because I can see that my child is feeling proud of who she is, wants to share her true self with her friends, and is confident that they’ll respond with kindness. The other day, she told me, “I’m different and that’s special.” However this latest drama plays out, I know my kiddo’s got the self-love and moxie to rock it. And that’s a pretty darn good birthday present.