A lot of you wrote to me about my recent post, “That’s why they’re called privates.” In a nutshell, I was writing about touring a new afterschool program for my daughter, and the director had got wind of the fact that she is transgender and had apparently told her whole staff before we’d even talked about it. So, yeah, I was pretty upset and a lot of you were pretty peeved on my behalf, too. Thanks for all the support!
While I do think the director screwed up, I also think she’s a good person and wants to do the right thing. After our initial tour, I sent her some resources, including contact info for someone who could train her staff (since they all already “know”). I also made it very darn clear that I didn’t want any of the other parents told about M.’s gender status.
So what happened?
Well, I got an email several days later saying that we got a spot in the program. But they didn’t say boo about the trans thing. I’m hoping they’re working on it. At the very least, I’m hoping they keep their mouths shut from now on and not keep chatting about my kid’s genitals to people I don’t even know. Gah!
The plot thickens a bit now, because all of the kids who attend this afterschool program also attend the school that M. will start attending this fall. That’s right, I’m moving her to a brand-new school. She’ll be leaving the tiny private school known for its uber-progressive politics (which is why M.’s dad and I picked it in the first place) to a large public elementary school. (Why? Short answer: It’s four blocks from my house instead of a cross-town drive through rush-hour traffic. Plus it’s FREE.)
M. told a few of her pals at her current school that she’s trans, but she was so young. She was only five years old when she first told her buddy Sophie at the start of kindergarten. She’s getting older (age seven!) and is becoming more and more private about her trans status. She’s also becoming increasingly aware of how other people might view her, as well as increasingly able to make conscious decisions about whom she tells. So I think she’s ready to manage her privacy in the larger (and potentially less supportive) environment of a big public school.
And not one single child at her new school knows that she is transgender. M.’s dad and I met with the school’s counselor last fall, and made it clear that we didn’t want anyone else told without our prior consent. She was extremely supportive and promised to keep the information to herself. She also arranged to have a training about gender identity, to be attended by the entire staff of the school (which is happening this week!).
So M. will get a fresh start. She’ll get to decide whom she tells, whom she trusts. We do plan to tell her classroom teacher, but don’t see any need to tell the rest of the staff. If she has any problems, she can go to her teacher or the school counselor. As far as anyone else is concerned, she’s just M., the new girl in second grade.
Or she will be unless someone outs her. That’s part of the reason I was so upset about her being outed to the staff at the afterschool program for her new school. The more people who know, the more likely it is to get talked about. And yes, I know, it may not be possible to keep this private. And yes, I know, sometimes keeping things secret can make them feel shameful and weird when they aren’t and shouldn’t be. But I want my kid to have choices. I want her to have control. I want HER to be the one who calls the shots on her private shit. And I don’t want other people talking about her privates! As we used say, way back when people MY age were in elementary school, “That’s just none of your beeswax!”
So, ever since deciding to move M. to our neighborhood school, I’ve been thinking about how to plug up any potential information leaks. It occured to me the other day that a boy on our block just graduated from the school, and that he remembers very clearly when little M. was a little boy named X. Suppose he tell his buddies whose younger siblings still attend the elementary school? It would be a pretty tempting tid-bit to share at lunch with his fellow seventh graders, I imagine. So I called his mom. She seemed surprised by my request. “But he doesn’t go to the school anymore,” she said.
“I know, but I bet he knows kids who do. Maybe on his baseball team?”
Pause. “Oh, yeah. I’ll be sure to talk with him.”
It ended up being the same kind of conversation I’ve had a hundred times with the well-meaning liberals who populate my home town.
“It never occured to me to keep it a secret, I mean, WE don’t have any problem with M. being transgender!”
“I know! I know!” I respond. “And I am SO grateful for your support. But, you see, not everybody feels the way you do, and even though YOU are totally cool with it, M. really isn’t cool with everyone knowing. See, SHE is the one who could get teased or bullied if everyone knows, so…”
Pause (while they silently count all the people they’ve already told). “Oh. Yeah, OK.”
It’s likely going to be a life-long question for my daughter: To tell or not to tell? Whom is it safe to tell? Which people in my life need to know this about me and which ones have no business knowing? She’s just starting to ask these questions, and ultimately she’s the only one who can answer them.
My job, as I see it, is to keep fighting like a tiger to give her the space, privacy, and safety in which she can come up with her own answers.