I am M.

jazzIt’s my birthday today.  And so far, the gifts I have received include a series of exuberant hugs and kisses from M. and… a phone call from her freaked-out first-grade teacher.

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?”

“Yes.”

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.

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13 thoughts on “I am M.

  1. I don’t think children will keep her secret nor should be expected to. You cannot protect her from mean people. There will always be people who love her and people who won’t, the same w all of us. Tell her that you will always love her, and people who are mean are sad, unhappy people and it has nothing to do w her. She is tough and strong and she has a great mom to help her through. Life is hard, and she can do hard.

  2. I worry that the kids won’t not tell. Kids talk. Kids tell things. At that age, they tell in innocence. Maybe her classroom kids might not be mean, but the third and fourth graders sure will. “Oh look, a boy in a dress” I appreciate the fact that M is very confident and secure in who she is, but I don’t think this is the age for the other kids. OR do what I do and tell everyone everything and then there is nothing to gossip about. But kids seek to fit in and follow the crowd. One mean kid will stir up a lot of other kids who may not otherwise be interested. So- I wouldn’t say “don’t do it” I would say “don’t do it now”. M has had all her life to deal with this. It’s way beyond any other kid her age. But the struggle is there. Ugh! If the other kids grow up being taught this is fine, what a much better world this would be. Sigh. Good luck with this one!

    • I agree. I don’t think it’s necessary to open that can of worms just yet. Like you said, she’s got many miles ahead on this long journey. Keep it smooth for as long as possible.

  3. Rock, meet Hard Place.

    There’s no safe, risk-free place for M in this, is there? (rhetorical question)

    At some point the sh**ty side of people is going to smack her right in the mouth. Will it be this time? Who knows, but she has you, and a whole bunch of folks who love her, on her side. That’ll make the difference.

  4. M is special and will always be so but so far she hasn’t had to face what she could face if the information about her seeps through to another group of children And it will. Children have spats, when that happens one of those who know the truth will talk. They may even talk before then, not realising the import of what they do.The playground could become Hell for her and your protection can’t reach that far.
    Children themselves can adapt to and quickly forget things but their parents, especially the ultra religious aren;t always so kind. When words like abomination start being thrown it’s difficult to duck.
    If it happens, and these friends are told, I hope it goes well and stays well. I’m just afraid of this coming back and biting her in the bum.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  5. This is so hard!!!!! Not telling her friends, keeping it a secret from people in her life might make her ashamed. Yet telling people… everyone knows the dangers and heartache in that. I wish there was a safe little bubble where you could put her where she could just be herself, openly, and no one would bat an eye. Barring that, I’m saying prayers for you both. Some thoughts on what to do though. First, M. is only six, but she’s shown she’s wise beyond her years. It seems like she’s capable of understanding the concept that who she is – is perfectly acceptable and beautiful and perfect. But that other people may not be so comfortable with who THEY are, and so will feel threatened by her decision. Not because there’s anything wrong with her, but because they aren’t secure enough to be who they are, and allow others to be different. Sometimes people who are insecure think everyone should be like them. And when people aren’t like them, they get scared and then say and do mean things. That might take some time to completely sink in for her. But once she gets that, I feel like allowing her to talk about it with people has to happen. No matter how bad the responses. At least she has you to help navigate it. And telling now means that the people who love her most are showing her the next step in acceptance of who she is. That feels so much more important now. She’s strong now, and talking about this is only going to force her to be stronger. Six is so young, but I think both of you can do it.

  6. One more thought, every single kid has something they are most scared others will learn about them and make fun. Their Achilles heel. Transgender is M’s. Always will be. I wonder if it’s only our understanding of just how different that is than say, a child who is afraid their birth mark will be made fun of, is the reason we fear for her heart after she tells people. I wonder if kids think the birthmark and transgender are equal on the playground in terms of how much teasing she’ll get. Either way, it’s going to happen. You both are going to have to face the kids (for her) and the parents (for you) in asserting her right to be M. There’s something to be said for having your mom stand up for you no matter what.

  7. Ok, I promise this is the last one. You are awesome. And so is M. An inspiration to every mother who sometimes struggles to accept her kids for who they are. Which is all of us. So thank you for sharing your heart with us and showing us it’s ok to sometimes flounder. And inspiring all of us to be better mother’s.

  8. My daughter went from being out, to moving and not being out simply because we started a new school. I have to say, I sincerely prefer not being stealth. If your school administration is willing to have Gender Spectrum or whatever organization is near you (I know GS travels) to come in and train the staff, that can really help. I do not think these children are too young. So much of how the children react depends upon how the adults define the situation for them. If they freak out, the kids will, too. If they embrace M., the kids can, too. Yes, it means that M. is more vulnerable, but these children can also be taught to be proud and supportive of M. Of course, the decision is a personal choice to be made based upon how receptive the school and community are as well as other factors. I wish you all the best.

  9. Ahhh I’ve just stumbled across your blog in ‘freshly pressed’ so glad i found you. As a mum all you want to do is the best by your children however hard that is. You are both an inspiration. I hope both yours and M’s life is the best it could possibly be.
    xo

  10. I am in awe of you and your beautifully strong and independent daughter. What an eye opening read your blog is and I am extremely grateful that I stumbled upon it and learned so much. That is my definition of a perfect day and your lives are a wonderful gateway to a sparkling, bright world filled with possibilities for all children and frankly adults. I love your blog a lot and enjoy knowing that I am rooting for M., her friends, and for you the parents who have loved your child with every soul in your bodies and accepted who she is and offered unconditional support for her journey in life. Wonderful read.

  11. Sadly at this age kids are not able to hold secrets. Unfortunately many people at any age are not able to hold secrets. I’m very very scared for little Miss M. I’m very very scared that people will treat her different and will bully her unmercifully.
    While I do not ever want her to feel like what she is is a shameful thing, I feel that she is young, and despite the fact she has shown incredible grace and maturity with being a transgender kid, she still is a kid after all. With kids feelings and kids sensitivity – probably even more so than most.
    So what do you do? Do you allow her to reveal her secret to three select people and pray that they will never utter a word to anybody else until everybody is old enough and mature enough to deal with it properly?
    Or do you ask her to not say anything yet until she is a little bit older? Either way you can risk scarring her. I’m not being mean I’m just looking at this from a devils advocate perspective.
    I remember I was around 23 years old when I told a few people that I was bisexual I swear they shrink away from me like I said that I had the plague! The automatically assumed that meant I was going to hit on them. It was quite disgusting and I never said it to anyone else again until today – I am 39.
    I was bullied in school just being a normal kid. And I remember as young as fifth-grade having feelings of wishing to die because I could not stand the bullying anymore.
    I want to say allow Little Miss M to take the reins on this one. Allow her to make a decision after she is read/reads a book on bullying – watches a movie on bullying – after she knows the full consequences of her decisions.
    I may sound like I am over analyzing and overthinking this, but I’d never want to see her hurt or feel sad or ashamed like I was.
    Please give that little sweetheart a hug and let her know that there are good people in this world.

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