M. tells her friends

friends2I left you all with a cliff-hanger last week:  M. had announced that she wanted to tell her best friends in her first grade class that she’s transgender, and her teacher and I were scrambling to figure out how this was going to work.  M. didn’t want any other kids to know – just her crew: Kevin, Ana, and Claire.  M.’s teacher, Patricia, charged right into battle mode:  She called up the guy who runs our support group for parents of young transgender kids and grilled him on the best way to support M. and the kids she wanted to tell. She attended a training session about transgender kids in schools (last-minute, after hours, on her own time, even though she has her own small child waiting at home for her!) that happened to be taking place last week at another local school. She called me to discuss strategies.  She ran various scenarios by M. and the two of them came up with a plan together.

My job, I realized, was to get in touch with the other parents.  I was pretty sure that Ana’s parents knew, because I think M.’s dad had told them when the kids had a play date, but I hadn’t ever had a chance to talk with them about it.  I didn’t know about the others.  It’s a school that attracts very socially progressive parents, which is a big reason why we picked it, but I was still pretty nervous. What if they weren’t cool with it?  What then?

I sat down and wrote this email:

Dear parents of Kevin, Ana, and Clare,

Hi, this is Marlo, M.’s mom.

I wanted to write you all a note because you may be getting some questions from your kids this week about M..  Some of you know (I think?) that M. is transgender.  She was born male, but has never identified as a boy.  As soon as she could talk, some of her first words were, “I’m a girl.”  She’s lived full-time as a girl since she was four years old, and is quite private about her transgender status.  In fact, she’s asked us not to tell anyone without her permission.

Last week, however, she decided that she wanted her “close friends” at school to know.  She already told her pal Sophie when they were in kindergarten last year, and now she has decided that she really wants her buddies Kevin, Ana, and Clare to know as well.  I asked for Patricia’s help in finding a way to share this information with your kids in an age-appropriate way.  Patricia plans to read a book to the class called “I Am Jazz,” (http://www.amazon.com/I-Am-Jazz-Jessica-Herthel/dp/0803741073) about a transgender girl whose story is very similar to M.’s.

M.’s hope is that her friends not share this information with other kids, but I’ve told her that it can be easy for kids her age to forget.  I also don’t want your children to feel burdened by a secret that might be hard not to talk about.  Patricia is planning to explain to your children that M. “wants them to be the first to know because they are her really good friends,” and that M. would like to be the one to tell people herself.  Instead of referring to this information as “secret,” I prefer to talk about “privacy,” as secrets tend to be associated with shame and fear.

I explained to M. that her friends may not know what the word “transgender” means.  I asked her how she would explain it to them.   She said, “I’ll tell them that I was born as a boy but that I’m a girl in my heart.”    When I asked her why she wanted to tell these three friends, she said it was because she wanted her close friends to understand who she really was.  That made a lot of sense to me.

I’d appreciate you not sharing this information with other families at school, out of respect for M.’s wish for privacy.  If any of you would like to talk with me about any of this, I’m more than happy to chat, answer questions, etc.  There will be a training for school staff about transgender issues later this month, and I’m hoping that the school can also host an informational evening for parents in the new year.  I’ve learned so much from this experience with M., and am always happy to share what I’ve learned, so please don’t be shy about talking to me about it!  M.’s dad is also very open and happy to chat.   I’m so grateful that M. knows kids like yours – they have obviously been wonderful friends to her, and have made her feel safe to share this with them.

With gratitude,

Marlo

I re-read the email about eighty times, hit send, and then held my breath.

And here’s how it all went down:

That afternoon, Patricia read “I am Jazz” to the kids during story time.  Apparently she’s already read them quite a few other books that dealt with gender roles and stereotypes, and this one didn’t seem to impact the kids much differently than the others. She reported that there was general approval of the plot and characters and it was deemed a good book with a nice story.  (“I think it’s because I do talk with them a lot about gender, about biases, and about not judging people who are different,” Patricia said, “So they just took it in stride.”)

Later, Patricia gathered M. and the three friends together for a private talk.  M. took the lead, telling them that she was transgender and explaining it something like this:  “When you are born, your body is a boy or a girl. But when you turn three years old and can talk, you can tell your parents if they got it right about which one you are in your heart.  And I’m a girl in my heart, so I told my parents.”  Patricia explained that it was about respecting M.’s privacy, and the kids seemed to get that.  She also talked about how important it was for good friends to be allies and help each other out.  “Some people don’t understand about transgender, and some of them may ask questions that aren’t appropriate or that don’t respect privacy. If that happens, you can be M.’s ally by explaining about privacy and respect – like we do with other issues when kids aren’t being nice or appropriate. Or you can just come get me to help talk about it with those kids.”

Isn’t this AWESOME??!?!!!?!?

Then I went online and read the email that Patricia had sent to all three kids’ parents:

M. had a conversation with her friends today and I was there in case she needed guidance.  M. explained in her own words what transgender means. Your kids have had a lot of conversations about gender in our class and so there were no big questions. I have always felt that gender topics are important to talk with children about and always find ways to talk about it in class. Today, it was really evident that these conversations need to happen more – especially with younger kids. One of them said something like, “Well, gender doesn’t matter, it’s who you are and what you feel.” Wow! I Also introduced the word ally to them and told them that when M. is ready to share with more people some kids may have questions about it. We all agreed that they can remind people that there are things that are private and that with conversations like that, they can to ask a teacher for help. Kevin brought up name calling and said that if anyone call anyone names (not just with M.), that they will make sure to take a stand against it. Your children are amazing and I can’t say enough about how honored I am to work with them everyday!

And then I got these three emails:

Marlo, I am so happy to get your note and glad M. feels comfortable sharing with her friends and feel proud that Claire is among that group. Claire mentioned the conversation to me. We discussed the difference between privacy and secrets (she used the word privacy and asked me to be private too).

I find it amazing M. had the language for this degree of self knowledge at such a young age and am certain it reflects upon you and her dad for honoring her individuality. She is a lucky girl. Thanks for reaching out and for the heads up so I can best answer any possible questions in the way M. would like.
G.
Marlo,
I really appreciate your taking the time to reach out to us and share this information about M.  It’s so nice to know that she feels close enough to Kevin to want him to know.  We’ll be sure to answer any questions he might have and to help him understand that this is something she’d like to keep private.
T.
Thanks, Marlo! As you say, we’ve been aware for awhile and of course are so happy that M. found wonderfully supportive parents and an amazing school that can support her being who she is. I don’t think Ana knows but I’m positive that she’ll be happy to know, and we’ll help her understand the privacy issue. Ana has been talking about the Jazz book a lot – she really liked it.
M.

After dinner, I asked M. about all this.  “Did you tell your friends today about being transgender, like you and Patricia had planned?”

“Yes!” she beamed.

“How’d it go?”

“Great!”

And then she refused to utter another peep about it.  “It’s private,” she said.

friends1

19 thoughts on “M. tells her friends

  1. You and M. really deserved this – you’ve both done such great work already. And what a fantastic teacher! Can we transfer to your school, immediately?!

  2. Damn you, you keep making me cry! I am just so overwhelmed with the kindness and openness people are capable of and that we see of infrequently. Thank you, M., M.’s dad, teacher, her friends and her friends’ parents. You guys rock.

  3. Thank you so much for your blog. I’ve been following your journey over the last year and feel privileged to be able to read about M’s and your process. This journey continues to inspire me and fill me with hope for the generations to come. As a psychotherapist it has been helpful for me to have more and more insight into these bodies we inhabit and how they get boxed in, in so many ways.

  4. Wow! This is all amazingly beautiful on so many levels! This part really makes me tear up since it resonates strongly with my own experience: “She said, “I’ll tell them that I was born as a boy but that I’m a girl in my heart.” When I asked her why she wanted to tell these three friends, she said it was because she wanted her close friends to understand who she really was.”

    When I wrote my coming out letter to my parents at the beginning of 2013, a good friend who is very thoughtful and insightful (and also a published author) proofread it for me and offered feedback. One of the things I value from the conversation that followed was a question he posed to me, and the answer it led me to. He asked of these three words, which was most important to me in this situation: Approval, Acceptance, Understanding. What did I want most from this letter? After a couple minutes of contemplation, I realized that although I want all three to differing degrees, the desire for them to understand me is paramount. From this I realized how much my desire to be understood determines how I operate in the world and communicate with others. It also drives me to work on figuring myself out and building my own understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.

    I’m so happy that M. and you are finding this level of understanding and support from the people around you! It’s so important. It sounds like M. has a strong sense of self and that will be valuable for helping her as she navigates her life as a trans person. As always, wishing you both all the best as you proceed through the joys and challenges of this life. ❤

  5. Thats so awesome, M & you both have so much love & support, I hope its ok but I would dearly love to share this on my Facebook page, but will wait for your permission, or should I say M’s.
    I think its so great that these days things are becoming easier not only for Trans Kids but us oldies as well.
    I can see Kevin acting as M’s big brother & protector, he sounds really great, its a long hard road ahead, but you & M have made a start with telling her besties.
    Im so looking forward to more posts from you, I do cry at times, for M but also wishing that my parents were so supportive when I knew over 40years ago

  6. Such fantastic news. A supportive teacher and supportive parents make a world of difference bur M herself and her friends are being more adult about this than many adults.
    I hope life continues in the same vein and M is left to be who she is without the stupidity of name calling and bad reactions from some idiot parents at the school.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  7. Ahhh my heart is so happy for you and M. today. I have tears of joy in my eyes that your beautiful little girl has found an accepting, supportive community at such a young age. And her teacher sounds AMAZING. This was just such an inspiring story to hear – thank you for sharing it.

  8. I echo everything said by all other comments. And remember, Gendermom, this is only the beginning. I couldn’t be happier for you, M and her friends and their families. It is, indeed, wonderful.

  9. I stumbled across your blog because your post on your daughter’s meeting with Laverne Cox was shared with me by a friend. I’ve spent a good amount of my day reading through your blog, and this post was the one that finally made me cry. You and your daughter are beautiful, and I’m so happy you have people around you that can see it.

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