In 2009, I attended a workshop at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference. Parents were talking about their children’s challenges in class, in the locker room, and on the playground. I raised my hand to ask a question about how to support my son, who was being hassled in the bathroom at school.
I began: “My son Sam is seven. He’s not transgender. He has long hair, and loves pink, and sometimes likes to wear a dress. He also loves Lego and Star Wars. He defines himself as a boy who likes both masculine and feminine things.”
The workshop presenter said: “Your son is transgender.”
I argued about this: Sam doesn’t say that he is a girl living in a boy’s body. His gender identity—which has been remarkably consistent since he first put on a pair of pink sneakers at age two—just doesn’t fall into either of the boxes that most people use.
But the presenter and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. He—born a girl, transitioned in adulthood, now a man—saw the world in a binary way, and assumed my child would also choose one gender or the other. But Sam is not interested in being just one or the other. After the workshop several parents came up to me and told me their kid is just like mine, an in-between kid.
I never did ask my question, which was how to talk to my son’s school about bathroom safety. It got lost during the presenter’s effort to define my kid. Which is just what I don’t want to see happen to my son: I don’t want to see his concerns get lost as people argue about what or who he is.
It’s amazing that the world is starting to talk about transgender issues so openly, that parents of transgender kids can attend a conference where they can hear from transgender adults who understand many of the issues they face. But I worry that we haven’t quite carved out a space for kids with non-binary gender expression, kids who don’t want to transition, kids who don’t fit neatly into the boy or girl box, kids who just want to be their own quirky selves.
I support the rights of transgender people to transition and live in their affirmed gender without fear and without having to explain themselves at every turn. And I also want to see people who are half pink and half blue or some new shade of purple be who they are. Without fear. Without having to explain themselves. And without having to fit into some box that was not made for them.