In the past few months, we’ve really come a long way. I have always known our journey would take twists and turns, and while I consider myself open and flexible to changing course in my life, I guess I hadn’t really prepared for the agonizing decisions we would have to make and downward spiral of events that occurred in those first few weeks and months at the start of Alex’s third grade year.
I think the trouble started when a friend at work told me that she was considering switching her preschooler to a different one in the area. As both my kids were out of preschool, I thought back to the many we had sent our kids to—mainly because Alex had put them all through the wringer with her behavioral issues. Thinking back on the schools that I liked –and those I didn’t—I decided to look them up on Yelp. I came to discover that the one I loved, a Montessori, had not yet had any reviews written on it. So I wrote a glowing review that mentioned bucolic settings and freedom for children to explore their world. Then, I looked up the school that we didn’t have a good experience at—the one whose parents flipped out and demanded my child be kept away from there when Alex tried to kiss him. The one that my then infant baby came home lethargic one day and then the next day, threw up a metal “D” ring. The one, I later found out, whose Director was acting “less than professionally” and spread gossip and rumors about me (for God knows what purpose). So, finding it my civic duty to warn others about this establishment, I wrote a less than stellar review about the school (excepting the teachers, who were actually phenomenal). And that’s when the proverbial fit hit the shan.
I guess I either didn’t take it into account that some of my Facebook friends have children at that school (or rather, thought that anyone would read my Yelp review or if they, would have the maturity to realize that it was only my experience and am perfectly within my right to share that experience on Yelp), but whatever the case may have been, I was publicly skewered by someone I had been acquainted with for several years, since the time both our 3rd graders were attending that school.
From that point, things started getting really weird at school and with life in general. People unfriended me on Facebook. People stopped talking to me and avoided me at school functions. But worst of all, Alex was losing friends and being ostracized at school.
In the midst of all this, her teacher’s own beliefs began to emerge and he let me know in no uncertain terms that it was his opinion that we were indulgent, permissive parents who were completely snowed by a child who was fabricating a gigantic ruse all for the purpose of getting attention. Incredulous, I asked for clarification.
“So, let me get this straight. Are you suggesting that Alex is only pretending to be a girl in an effort to get attention from adults?”
“Yes, that is what I’m saying,” he replied.
“Why on EARTH would ANYONE choose this as a way to get attention?” I asked barely holding back my fury. I truly could not believe that he would have the balls to suggest such a thing. Thank goodness it was a phone call, otherwise, I am sure I would have done something that I would later regret.
“Oh, there are LOTS of reasons,” he had the balls to reply.
“Are you fucking KIDDING ME!? So you think my kid is wearing dresses, telling everyone she’s a girl, and just generally acting in a feminine way as some kind of joke? As a lie?” It was at this precise moment when I realized what a dire situation we were in.
To recap: my daughter was sent to school every day, to a hostile environment who refused to acknowledge her for who she was telling the world she is, where friends had abandoned her left and right, where parents had instructed their kids to stay away from Alex, where the teacher himself called her MISTER Alex and for the life of him, could not get the pronoun right even though he spent more time around Alex than others who at least tried to use it correctly.
It hit me that all day, every day Alex was exposed to repeated, incessant questioning of her very self. In a best case scenario, that would make anyone anxious and insecure, but you couple that with a child who has other behavioral stuff going on, and that is a recipe for disaster.
During this time, we had been working with an attorney at the ACLU who was in contact with the district regarding allowing Alex the same privileges all other children were provided at the school—that is, to use the appropriate restroom and not be sanctioned to the nurse’s office because they could not figure out what to do with “her kind”. Conversations with her teacher and the principal only proved to further fuel my fury when it was said that they “could not allow it because it would be offensive to others at the school and would anger other parents.” It was also during this time that I was intent like never before to demand Alex’s equal treatment and I went so far as to promise to Alex that come Hell or high water, she would be using the girl’s bathroom by the end of the year.
To say that the ignorance of the entire school district was astounding is a ridiculous understatement; but I truly had no idea at just how far behind in understanding our issues they were. Feeling daunted and overwhelmed, I couldn’t help but realize that in the center of all this was my child—Alex. She would put on a brave face every day, and face the people who ostracized her, who questioned her, and even the people who supported her but felt it Alex’s duty to educate others. When our attorney informed us that the district would still not agree to adopt policy to protect the rights of LGBT students, and that they might be willing to allow her access on a “trial basis” (excuse me? When was the last time anyone was granted civil rights on a trial basis?), that I realized the situation had reached critical mass in earnest. It became clear that the way forward in the current situation was to proceed with a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the school district. I weighed heavily the potential for being a part of ground-breaking progress for transgendered people and the cost for which it would be--essentially, Alex's childhood. We would have to prepare for the possibility of unwanted media attention, for the liklihood that it would make national news was there. I recalled every family of a transgendered child who has put their face in the media, and the risk and gift and sacrifice that presents. And in the end, I could not bring myself to do that. In the end, I recognized that my child's happiness was of paramount importance--even over a personal sacrifice in the name of progress. I quickly began to look for a backdoor option. With life or death urgency, I realized she had to get out of that school immediately.
There are a few times in our lives when the heavens and stars coalesce in such a way that proves another force is behind the Steering Wheel of Life. A time when timing and fortuitousness present themselves at that exactly perfect moment. Some call it the Law of Attraction or karma or an act of God. What happened over the course of the next two weeks was nothing short of a miracle for Alex.
We had located a school nearby that prescribed to the Montessori method (as mentioned earlier, the utopian preschool I wrote a glowing review on was a Montessori). It was a new school that was chartered directly through the state, and still in the process of recruiting enrollment but was quickly reaching maximum capacity. We met with the Director, and on November 2nd, Alex began the next chapter in her journey.
I will not soon forget that poignant moment when she came home from school after the first day. With tears in my eyes, I asked “Well, did you use the bathroom today?”
“Yep! I did. I used the girls’ bathroom,” she proclaimed proudly. With that, I heaved a sigh of relief, releasing months and months of pent up anguish, anxiety, and frustration. I welcomed with excited anticipation what our new life free from the hyper-focused fixation on her gender issues. With a new door opened, I grew excited at the possibilities of all the ways we could spend our free time as a family and finally, after all this time, get on with the business of living a normal life. Suddenly, I found time in my life to explore and share and my interest in astronomy with my kids. We suddenly had more time in our lives for the dog that Alex had been begging for (Welcome, Barney-the Best Dog Ever!), In general, our lives became normal, and in that normalcy resides unity, peace, happiness, and affirmation.
Although Alex has found a haven of sorts, her struggles are far from over. Recently, she asked why the parents of her dearest friend since age 3 (whom she desperately longs to see and who desperately wants to see Alex) refuse to schedule a playdate. I didn’t, and still don’t, have a good answer for her. Sometimes, Alex, adults are just assholes who make ill-informed decisions.
Regardless, of these and other ongoing issues (she was recently diagnosed and is receiving treatment –successfully —for ADHD), Alex is happy and in a good space now, a space that acknowledges her inner spirit and allows to be herself – freely and without reservation.