Something very special happened today. I went to my girls’ school to drop off paperwork for my older daughter, and I saw my younger daughter on the playground. She waved excitedly at me, and then turned around and went back to playing with her friends. And I wanted to cry with joy.
For some background, when she started school — in a different school district — she was a little boy who loved to wear pink sparkly dresses with astronaut rain boots. She hid her love of pink when she started school, because she already knew that boys weren’t “supposed to” like the color pink or wearing dresses. The school counselor called me on the third day of school to suggest that she wear sneakers like the rest of the kids so that she would fit in. Little did she know that was the LEAST of my concerns. I suggested that she encourage the other kids to be more accepting of diversity instead of modeling a need to conform.
During this time, it routinely took five adults to peel her off me — and the car’s door frame — screaming and crying to get her into the school building in the morning. They would always call me an hour later and tell me that she had settled in, but clearly, she knew that she didn’t feel safe and she didn’t want to be there. It was so, so hard to make her go every day.
Over the two years she was there, she started to come out of her shell in fits and spurts, and started allowing her true self to show more and more. At first she’d wear pink socks inside those big rain boots where no one could see them. Then she’d borrow her sister’s shirt, but one that maybe had just a touch of embroidery on the sleeves. You’d have to really look to see the feminine touch in the design. She chose the “princess” snack in kindergarten one day instead of the “heroes” theme (and isn’t that a whole ‘nother conversation about gender expectations and the messages we unintentionally give to our kids) and sparked a classwide discussion on what girls and boys can choose to like.
By first grade, she was ready to try wearing her favorite pink twirly dress to school. We worked with the staff intensely to make sure she would be safe and supported, and for a magical week, she was so happy, for the first time. And then she shut down. Completely. Right back to kicking and screaming about going into the building. All she would tell us that next Monday was that she was tired of feeling scared and she wanted to go back to hiding in her boy clothes again. That’s the word she used — hiding. It took a month for her to open up and tell us that on the last day of that week, when half the staff was out with the flu, she was circled by older kids on the playground and bullied about wearing girl clothing.
You can imagine the trepidation she felt about starting a new school as a girl, when everything about being a girl up to that point had been so hard.
But she did it. She agreed to give it a shot, and she spent a quiet year getting to know the new school, the new community, the new routines. And slowly, she started to feel safe.
She just started her second year there, and when I went today, she smiled and waved at me. She didn’t run over and beg to go home. She didn’t cry. She smiled, waved, and went back to playing. A staff member inside pointed out some artwork that she had featured in the new school calendar and told me that she’s quite the artist. Her teacher from last year caught me on my way out and commented that she seems so happy now. That she gives her a big grin and a hello when she sees her in the hallway. Both of them know that she’s transgender, but they see her whole self, not just that one medical fact of her.
Small things, but so, so important. I’m seeing my little girl be her authentic self in a community where she feels safe, and it’s the best feeling in the world. So thank you, to all of you educators and school staff, who have made such a big difference in my daughter’s world. Words cannot express how your small acts of kindness have changed everything for her.