Transgendered Colo. Child Inspires Support, Condemnation

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 13, 2008

The parents of an 8-year-old boy who wants to live and be treated as a girl have been working with the Douglas County School District to allow their child to attend school as a girl.

An eight-year-old child with a boy's body but a desire to be recognized as a girl has found support from her own parents, but the parents of some of her classmates are less certain.

The Denver Post reported in a Feb. 8 article that the child, who was not named, wished to dress and live as a girl despite her male anatomy. Such a desire, which is common among transgendered people, can emerge early in life; still, the age of the child in question has led to concern, even condemnation.

The child's parents have sought assistance in placing the 8-year-old into a school she attended two years ago. The discussion, which has been ongoing since last fall between the parents and the school district, is how best to honor the child's needs while addressing community concerns.

The Denver Post article quoted school district spokesperson Whei Wong as saying, "The discussion has been how best to do it," with the ultimate aim of "ensur[ing] the kid feels safe physically and emotionally, and other kids don't feel threatened in any way."

The child's classmates are only part of the equation, however. Said Wong, "Some parents are really concerned and freaked out about it."

One unidentified parent was quoted from her comments to local TV outlet 9News. Said the parent, "I see this as being a very difficult situation to explain to my daughter," and specifying that the difficult question in this instance is "why someone would not want to be the gender they were born with."

Trans-Youth Family Advocates has been working with the school district and the family to find constructive ways to meet the needs of the family and the school. The Denver Post article quoted Trans-Youth Family Advocates president Shannon Garcia, who remarked that parents of transgendered children "don't understand this is a health condition."

Added Garcia, "They don't know why their children are like this, and they don't know where to find help."

Part of the confusion stems from an inability on the part of adults to distinguish between an individual being gay and being transgendered.

Gay people typically experience a natural sexual attraction to members of their own gender, despite a strong social expectation that they will feel attracted toward the opposite gender.

Transgendered people, by contrast, are not necessarily gay; the question is not which gender they may find attractive, but rather, which gender they are convinced they belong to, their physical anatomy notwithstanding.

One common explanation is for a transgendered person to say that she is "a woman trapped in a man's body," or vice versa.

Transgendered individuals report extreme psychological distress at not being able to dress and act in what, to them, is a gender-appropriate manner.

Transgendered individuals who have undergone sex-change medical procedures have reported that once their gender has been reassigned through surgery and hormone therapy that they feel "right," or "at home" in their own bodies, for the first time in their lives.

The Denver Post article quoted Laura Thor, a Denver social worker, who outlined the difficulties faced by parents of transgendered children. Such parents, she said, must trust in "the goodness and tolerance of the rest of the public to respond to this child favorably."

But the wider community does not always understand the issue, often viewing it as a matter of character or morality.

In the case of transgendered children, the perception is often one of suspicion and disbelief that an individual so young could possibly know to contest his or her physical gender.

In a news report posted last April 27, ABC News details the case of a child born as a boy who, at the age of six, and with her parents' support, made the transition to living as a girl.

The ABC News report said that age the age of 15 months, the child was unsnapping the fastenings of her onesies to make them resemble dresses. Praise from her parents that she was a good boy would be met by the child with the insistence that she was a good girl. Finally, her parents realized that this was no passing phase.

Indeed, as the child's mother told Barabara Walters on the news program 20/20, "A phase is called a phase because it is just that. It ends. And this is not ending. This is just getting stronger."

The ABC article suggested that in the days before the Internet, the condition of trangenderism was so poorly understood that parents would turn their backs on their own children it they not conform to gender expectations.

But now, as families with transgendered children find each other online, they are able to offer support and share their stories.

But the Denver Post article's online readership seemed to illustrate the dangers of relying on the community at large for support and understanding.

One online commentator wrote that, "Eight years old is a little young to be making a choice that is promises a lifetime of pain."

Other commentators seemed willing, if not eager, to inflict that pain.

Wrote one user, "This is nauseating. Both the parents of this child AND Douglas County Schools should be prosecuted for child abuse."

Added the user, "Nothing could MORE epitomize just how sick and unbalanced this society has become."

Another commentator opined, "There really is no way that a healthy child raised in a decent home came to this conclusion. This is activism on the part of the parents and this is child abuse."

Added the commentator, "Adults have a right to be activists even for poorly chosen causes, but using a child is criminal and an obscenity."

Someone else wrote in to say, "You know what? If this kid wants to become a tranny, might as well let him. I'm sure the other kids in his class will do what his parents should have done and make him change his mind real quick."

Some users, however, wrote in from a different perspective. Commented one, "This is not your child and therefore not your choice. This little boy wanting to live as a girl is not hurting you or anyone in society."

The commentator continued, "I'm shocked by the close-mindedness of some of the people who made their opinions known. Children who are trans-gendered are not all that uncommon, but their story just doesn't usually make it in to the media."

A gay user wrote in to say, "I am sure the parents have had this child in therapy of some sort, but I question the wisdom of placing the child back in the Douglas County Public Schools? It seems to me that they ought to consider some sort of home schooling for the present time."

Continued the user, "I can't see that the district can protect this child from the fear and hateful behaviors that are sure to come about... some of the comments [in this discussion thread] "prosecute the parents", "sick and warped", "pervert"... are totally out of line though. These are the things parents of the kids who will be classmates of this child are saying, and I find that bothersome."

One posting came from a mother of a transgendered child, who wrote in to say, "My child transitioned in 2nd Grade, at her school, without ever taking a day off. That was more than 4 years ago."

However, the mother continued, "I also understand the other family's fear. It is a fear shared by most people who have never heard of this condition (for lack of a better word) and who aren't sure where or how to get educated."

The mother's posting continued, "Historically, transgender people most often lived their lives trying to be the person defined by their biologic sex. They waited until far into adult-hood to live as their identified gender which usually resulted in family pain and turmoil for those around them and internal heartache within themselves."

Said the mother's posting, "This life journey led to high risks of drug and alcohol addiction, body mutilation and more often resulted in death or suicide. One of many horrifying statistics states that 50% of people born in the wrong body will not live to see their 30th birthday."

The mother of a transgendered child continued her commentary, writing, "What most of transgender adults have in common is that they knew about this since they were a child--most define the age of earliest memory at about 3 or 4 years old."

Added the mother, "In an attempt to save the lives of our children, many parents are now listening to their young ones."

Insisted the mother, "This is NOT a choice. No one would choose this life for their child. No one wants their child headlined as 'Douglas County boy, 8, wants to live as a girl'."

The mother's posting went on, "Like the parents faced with children suffering from leukemia or any other condition they are born with, we hold our children's hands and know that--each step we take with them is nothing compared to each step they take on their own."

Wrote the mother, "Their bravery is what gets us through each day."

Social and religious conservatives chose not to see the issue from the vantage of parents such as the mother who authored the eloquent posting.

At Onenewsnow.com, in an article titled, "Colorado school encourages gender confusion in second-grader," the conservative Web site's report on the story quoted Peter LaBarbera, the president of the anti-gay group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, as saying, "If the parents are so misled to encourage their child in this gender-confused behavior, they should not be allowed to teach that same behavior to all the other students in the school."

Noting that Trans-Youth Family Advocates had been assisting the school district and the family of the transgendered child, LaBarbera claimed that organizations like Trans-Youth Family Advocates were "in the business of mainstreaming gender confusion."

The article said that LaBarbera had characterized the case as one in which a public institution "normalized deviance."

Said LaBarbera, "I think it's a terribly sad situation. This boy needs help, the parents need help, obviously."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.