Dear President Trump,
Last week your administration announced that it was withdrawing the guidelines that President Obama issued in support of transgender students in American public schools. You said preventing discrimination wasn’t really in your wheelhouse. You said the states should decide where all those trans kids should pee.
As the mother of a young child, I have a question for you about this:
What do I tell my daughter, Mr. President?
You see, she’s nine years old. Do you remember when your daughters were nine? If you don’t, or you were too busy just then ripping off American workers to spend time with your children, I’ll remind you what age nine looks like:
Third grade. Finally reading well enough to devour Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Long hair. Knee-length cotton dresses. Shirts with kittens and sparkles embroidered on them, to differentiate themselves from icky boys (like you).
Gathering in clusters at recess to giggle and share secrets, jump rope, and pretend they’re a family of unicorns.
That’s what my nine-year-old looks like, Mr. President. It’s a pretty picture, isn’t it? It’s the Goldilocks zone of childhood, the short span of years parents wish they could bottle up and store forever, when your child is old enough to wipe her own bottom and ask interesting questions (“Mama, what does air weigh?”), but young enough that she still (kind of) believes in unicorns and the inherent goodness of all people. Amazing, isn’t it?
I was really enjoying age nine, Mr. President. But then you had to go and spoil it this week by revoking support for my daughter’s right to pee with the other little girls.
Just how do I break this to her, Mr. President? How do I tell her that the federal government (“That’s right, honey, the federal part is the very tip-top of the government, more powerful than the states and cities and your school principal.”) has turned its back on her?
How do I tell her that we’re on our own now, that our ability to participate in our community is now subject to the whim of our neighbors? If they like us, we’re probably going to be OK. But if the neighbors get spooked and decide to outlaw us, the President is cool with that, too.
Skeptical reader: “That sounds awfully dramatic. No one’s outlawing your weird ‘daughter.’ Just have the kid use a separate bathroom. Sheesh!”
In theory, dear reader, that’s a fine idea. But in practice, this is how it works: My daughter and her new best friend skip hand-in-hand down the hall, heading back to class from recess. They’ve just bonded on the playground over a shared passion for Steven Universe. Uh-oh! They both have to pee sooooo bad! They rush to the door of the girls’ bathroom. The new best friend starts to walk in and tugs on my daughter’s arm. Why isn’t she coming in? Doesn’t she have to pee?
My daughter crosses her legs. She’s been told not to go in there. It’s a law or something. (Could they send her to jail?) Her new BFF gives her a weird look. My daughter holds it the rest of the day. Or she’s late to class because she has to walk to the other side of the school to use the nurse’s bathroom. Or she pees her pants, and has to have the school secretary call me to come get her. “Where did you go?” the new bestie asks the next day. Word gets around third grade that there’s something strange about that girl who is scared of the bathroom and peed herself. The new BFF keeps her distance. The bullying begins. Then the nightmares start, and the panic attacks. My daughter refuses to go to school.
Goodbye, Goldilocks zone.
Knock on wood, this hasn’t happened to us. Yet. (Although it’s happened to every trans kid I know who can’t pee with their peers.) For now, local laws protect my transgender daughter’s access to the girls’ bathroom. But since I heard the news that the President was washing his tiny hands of my daughter’s fate, nothing feels certain and I’ve been weighing my options.
Do I keep her in the dark, hoping no one else spills the scary beans? Or do I give her some warning of what might be coming? Do I clue her into the fact that we now officially live in the new Wild West, where the biggest bullies in town get to make the rules? Do I tell her that people are trying to pass a bathroom bill in our state that would not only bar her from entering the girls’ bathroom, it would also put a $2,500 price on her head every time she did so? (That’s right, kiddies, each documented instance of peeing in a stall next to a trans kid nets you $2,500 in cold hard cash. The hunt is on!)
How exactly do I break it to my 9-year-old daughter that her fellow third-graders may soon be her bounty hunters? (And that the President of the United States is OK with that.)
I nearly had to tell her everything yesterday, Mr. President. That’s because it’s all over the news, and when I suddenly flip off the car radio during yet another debate about the politics and perils of peeing, she gets curious.
I keep it vague. “Some people are scared of transgender people.”
“But why, Mama?’ she asks. “What’s scary about me?”
The car gets very quiet. I don’t have an answer.
Do you, Mr. President?
Eagerly awaiting your reply,