We arrived a little early for the tour, and the director looked at her watch and said, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re early. Let’s sit down and talk.” Great! We could get our questions answered about the school before the other parents arrived.
We sat in tiny chairs at a tiny table. She crossed her hands and gave us a serious look. “So. M. is ‘trans,’ right? Is that the right word? ‘Trans?'”
Huh? I thought we were going to talk about their art program.
“Yes,” I said. “M. is transgender.”
When I called to schedule the tour, I hadn’t thought about the fact that the director’s step-son used to live two doors down from us, beyond the fact that his daughter used to play with mine and it would be fun for the girls to get reaquainted at her grandmother’s school.
“We want to be prepared,” she said. “We are a welcoming place. But we need to get the right training, get the education. I’m an educator.”
Good, this is good. She’s kind of freaked out, but she’s on our side – I think.
Then she tells us that she’s already told her entire staff. All of M.’s afterschool teachers already know that she’s transgender, before she’s set foot in the place. I think about how much she’d hate that, and wince. It hadn’t occured to me that they’d bring this up – or that they’d even remember that she was transgender. Or that they’d think it was such a big deal. I suppose that’s because things have been going so well, and most days we don’t even talk about this. It’s also because this isn’t swim class or ballet class or her regular school, where the issue might actually matter. It’s an afterschool program – a couple of hours at the end of the day, when she’ll be doing her homework, singing songs, reading books. How exactly do her genitals impact those activities, I wonder? I don’t ask the director this question, though it’s tempting.
I kept thinking about something our support group leader once said to us: “It’s remarkable how quickly common sense goes out the window when you mention the word ‘transgender.’ Suddenly people feel free to say and do things that they would never dream of saying or doing under other circumstances.” (Would you, say, reveal the private medical history of a child to your entire staff before asking the parents’ permission? Would you ask two gay or African-American parents how you should ‘educate your staff about this issue’ before their family could attend your school?) We’re in such early days on this issue that people have no idea how to approach it.
The thing is that I think this woman wants to support us. I think she wants to do the right thing. The problem is, in this case the right thing would have been to zip her lips and stop talking to her whole staff about what’s in my kid’s underpants. They really didn’t need to know about that. Or she could have at least checked with me before telling all of them.
But it’s done. And since competition is cut-throat in my town for reliable afterschool care, we’re pretty much stuck with this situation. So I’m trying to make the best of it, knowing that it could be a lot worse and also feeling grateful that I’m dealing with people who do have good intentions. The director even mentioned doing a staff training about gender identity in kids, and I told her I’d put her in touch with someone who could help with this. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful; I know I’m very lucky that she’s so open to learning about this and is trying to do right by my kid. It’s just that it’s hard sometimes to always be putting out fires, and to always be in the position of educating people about my child as if she’s some sort of exotic creature they’re afraid of handling wrong. She’s just a little kid.
I went home and wrote an email to the director, thanking her for being so supportive, sending her the name of someone who could train her staff, and then doing some damage control:
M. is very private about the fact that she is transgender, and has told us very clearly that she would like to be the one to decide whom she shares this information with. We try to respect this as much as possible, although of course certain adults (teachers, etc.) sometimes need to be told in order to be able to support her. Since M. really looks and behaves like any other little girl, and is discreet about using the bathroom and guarding her privacy, no one guesses that she’s transgender, which allows her to just fit in and be herself. At her school, we let her take the lead on which friends (if any) she chooses to tell. Other parents aren’t told unless M.’s dad and I decide that there is a compelling need for them to know. I think this plan would work well at your school, too. Should other children or their parents find out, and have questions, my standard answer is to acknowledge that yes, some people are transgender, and if necessary to explain what that means, but to also explain (both to the kids and the parents) that being transgender (or not) is a private medical issue, and “Discussing other people’s private parts isn’t something we do. That’s why they’re called privates.” 🙂
I haven’t heard back yet. Fingers crossed.