A few weeks ago I wrote about a project that M. and I were cooking up: A play group for young kids just like her. She decided to call it the “True Self Play Group.”
I sent out an email to everyone in our local support group and got a dozen replies. Wait, math time: 12 little kids + 1 or 2 parents per kid = Too many people to fit in my tiny house!
We ended up renting a room at a nearby community center. Everyone would bring some toys to share. We’d meet on a Sunday afternoon for just a couple hours. I talked it up with some friends who have older transgender daughters and suddenly we had two teenagers on board to help out and serve as “trans teen role models.” Wow.
I want to paint the scene for you, friends, but it’s hard because the whole thing felt so big, so momentous, and yet was so simple — at least on the surface. Just a group of about 10 kids hanging out in a big room, doing normal kid things: Sitting around a table doing crafts, sprawled on the floor over puzzles and games, playing with princess dolls and Hot Wheels. The parents milled around the edges, chatting, watching. Most of them I barely knew or had never met. I kept wanting to hug all of them.
There were three little girls I couldn’t take my eyes off of. They looked exactly like M. did about four years ago: Dressed in gauzy and impractical princess gear, they were tiny and tentative, maybe 4 and 5 years old, clutching their mothers’ hands when they first walked in the door. Their girl lives were so brand-new that they all still had close-cropped boy haircuts, just like M.’s was while she waited impatiently (“Why can’t we make it grow faster, Mama?!”) for it to grow out. One of them had a long scarf wrapped around her head that draped down her back. (“It’s her hair,” her mother told me. “She only takes it off at bath time.”) One of them had brought her extensive collection of Disney princess dolls. She laid them out, one by one, in a neat row on a low table and the others forgot to be nervous and gathered round to admire and compare notes on their favorites.
One of the teenagers had brought her collection of nail polishes and offered to give manicures to the little ones. Her mom and I stood together, watching her 13-year-old (tall, thin, shy, and with a dancer’s perfect posture; she’s a serious ballet dancer) delicately paint the little girls’ tiny nails. The mother looked giddy with pride.
M. didn’t have time for a manicure. She had found R., and together they were busy building an elaborate and gravity-defying Hot Wheels course and squealing when their race cars flew perilously off the tracks. (“R. is JUST like me, Mama!” M. told me later. “She’s transgender AND she’s seven, AND her parents are divorced, AND she wears glasses! Except she has brown hair, and mine’s blond.” She shrugged. R. was still pretty near perfect, and we’re going to have a play date soon.)
Only a couple of boys showed up, and they looked pretty glum when they walked in and saw a room full of girls – even ones who like Hot Wheels. I promised their parents I’d work on recruiting some more boys for the next play group. When I sent out the invitation, I said that kids all along the gender spectrum were welcome – those who identified as trans (like M.), those who were questioning, non-binary, and those who were simply non-conforming in their gender expression. I wanted the group to be a welcoming spot for any child who falls outside society’s narrow gender norms and needed to find other kids who were the same. One child, who looked about 8 years old, appeared to be a typical little All-American boy (sports team jersey, jeans, sneakers, short hair). The mother introduced her to me as a girl, but she had a boy name. “We’re trying the name out today, for the first time,” the mother said. “But with female pronouns?” I asked, wanting to get it right. She nodded.
We plan to meet each month, and M. is already counting the days to the next one. I’ve recruited some more teen volunteers – several trans teen boys and a teen who’s non-binary – so that the kids will have more role models to look up to. (And I have to admit that it is equally important for the parents: When I am see these happy, confident trans teen girls, I am filled with hope.)
My friends, it was amazing. My hope is that we keep on meeting, month after month, year after year, and that our kids grow close enough that they can lean on one another when things get rocky – when they have to deal with medical treatments, when their peers are cruel, when their cisgender parents (as well-meaning as we are) don’t have a clue.
One of the mothers of the little princess girls sent me an email later that day:
A. loved having her nails done by such a “beautiful big girl”. Of course she wasn’t thinking at all about their gender spectrum status or anything like that – to her they were girls just like her. When we were driving home and I said to her, “Those girls were transgender just like you” she seemed surprised at first. Then she said, “I’m glad I’m transgender”. Wow, I’ve never heard her say that before.
I wrote an email to our support group list that night, thanking those who had come, describing it for those who hadn’t been there, and giving out details for the next one.
I was about to hit “send” when a sentence came into my mind, and I paused and typed it at the end of the email: “I think this may be the best thing I’ve ever been part of.”
I am so lucky.