Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When Kayla Was Kyle

When Kayla Was Kyle is a book, by Amy Fabrikant. She came to Glen Rock to do a book reading last night, in our town's middle school media center. She's a professor at Columbia. She also has a transgender child. That's what her book is about- a transgender child and the journey of the child, family, and friends. That's what the seminar was about last night in the school. It was a reading and then a discussion.

It started at seven o'clock. I wanted to get there early because I thought there would be a lot of people. Who are we kidding- I would've been early regardless, because that's how I roll. I do like to get a good seat, whatever that was going to be, and I figured there would be a big turnout. I mean, how could there not be? We have at least four transgender kids in the public school system here, that I know about. It seems to be a progressive town, in that sense.

So where was everyone? 

There were about eighteen to twenty people there. What I found interesting, and hopeful, were the kids who were brought by their parents. Young kids were there. Besides for E, who turns eight in a week, there was a boy who looked to be his age. A girl a little older and a girl a little younger. I saw two teen girls sitting in the back. I was most happy to see the little kids. Because people don't realize that normalizing all people needs to start as young as possible. I always say, "it's not a thing, unless you make it a thing". E gets that. I have to assume the other kids present have parents that feel that way too.

Unfortunately, that's like preaching to the choir. I get the feeling that all the people there are already open-minded and champions of the underdog. It's those who aren't that NEED to be at seminars and readings, getting all the education they can get.

I can't lie and say I'm not disappointed that more of my peers and people I know in town weren't there. We all have kids. Just with the law of averages, we are going to encounter transgender kids. This town is like Children of the Corn. I think graduating classes here are over three hundred students. That's a lot of kids for what would be considered a "small suburban town".

Is it convenient to drag your two, three, four or five kids out in the rain to hear about a children's book about a transgender child? No. It's not convenient. That doesn't mean it's not important. I showed E the television reality show, "I am Jazz" when he was five. He's been to the PRIDE parade since in utero. He has a transgender "friend" around his age that he thinks is the bravest kid he knows. (I put friend in quotes because this person lives across the country and they've only met through sharing videos. But to E, everyone is his "best friend").

E doesn't really need a book reading and discussion like this because he is already educated and enlightened on what transgender is, discrimination, bathroom debacles, and such. I'm always looking for a good teaching or learning experience though, for all three of us, so I brought my little posse. You never know when you're going to hear something new or just get an opportunity to take someone's story in and learn from it.

I'm sure other parents and kids need these opportunities to learn though. When it's right there in our own backyard that's the time to make life a little inconvenient and take your kids. Yeah, it messes up dinner, bedtime, and last night, we got a little wet in the rain. It's worth it.

Maybe it wasn't publicized enough. I did get a reminder in an email blast from my son's elementary school. The email said the reading was appropriate for all ages. I don't know if parents of kids in elementary school think it's not a subject they need to think about, or talk to their kids about? If they don't know anyone transgender, it may not have seemed as important to come out in the rain?

I used to be a social worker of kids who were in the age group twelve to eighteen, who were abused, neglected and/or delinquent. Some had gender issues as well, but that wasn't the main focus of my work with them. What I can say is that waiting until kids are older, in middle school, it's too late. There are transgender kids who show strong signs of knowing that they are "in the wrong body" by the time they're toddlers. Kids are mean. They're mean about more benign things like glasses, clothing, hair styles. They're mean about things that are harder to "fix" like speech impediments, birth marks, and other physical differences.

They're definitely mean about not fitting into the gender box they're supposed to fit in. I can remember a kid I must have met by fifth grade, if not sooner, randomly. I think he went to the other elementary school in my town but we all funneled together into the middle school. I didn't know him well, he wasn't in my grade. It is a small town though, and you definitely knew of the kids who didn't seem to fit in.

He did not present as "typical boy". I don't want to speak for him, but in my memory, he was pretty tortured. I think he'd agree he was definitely "bullied". He was harassed by people I grew up with and considered more than acquaintances, but less than friends. People I thought were decent enough people, back then. I don't know what he thinks about his time in school. I think about him often. While even then, I was for the underdog, he was only in my periphery. I never did any bullying but I'll never feel like I did enough for those who were bullied.

It's ironic to me, that the vice principal of my high school when I was there turned out to be gay. He's married to a man, he's out and proud, and he sometimes puts photos on social media of himself in drag. Everyone I went to school with seems extremely supportive, on social media- to and of him. Yet, some of the same people, as I've also seen on social media, have issues with transgender kids using the bathrooms they identify with. The reasoning against that's been given is so flawed and uneducated. They are only supportive when it doesn't touch them or their kids. That's not how it works. That's why everyone needs to show up when there's a program on subjects they know little to nothing about.

My son was just diagnosed, finally, with Tourette's Syndrome. There were rumblings in the twenty-three doctors I'd seen prior to the one who finally gave me a diagnosis. Nothing ever concrete, and no doctor I trusted anyway. In the past, I'd looked up tic disorders and Tourette's. Guess what? Even at this point, after twenty-four doctors, now, now it's the final diagnosis, I found out that I could FILL A BOOK, with all I DON'T know about Tourette's. Why? I really didn't *need* to know anything. It hadn't really touched me- yet. Guess what I've been doing? Learning about Tourette's.

This is the SAME. Except you can't wait to educate yourself and your kids. The chances of Tourette's becoming something you need to know about? I don't know. I don't know anyone personally, with a kid in my son's elementary school, that has Tourette's. They may be there, but no one I'm acquainted with, has mentioned it and it hasn't come up. The chances of you or your kids coming into contact with someone from the LGBTQ community is pretty high.

Like I said, I've been told of at least four kids in our town. That doesn't seem like many, but it's enough that the bathroom and locker room issues have had to be addressed. If that has to be addressed, then it affects the general population. The general population needs education. Otherwise it's just logical that there will be discrimination issues. Bullying issues. Self-esteem issues.

When I brought E's tics to one particular teacher's attention, she said, "Maybe if the other kids start making fun of him about the tics, he'll stop". If we had a different kid, or were different parents, we could've freaked out about that. Our kid doesn't have a problem with confidence and his tics never bothered him. He also can grow out of his tics. He could get medicated if the tics were really bad. You don't grow out of transgender. You don't medicate it. So that kind of ignorant thinking (and talking) from a teacher, administration, or other kids, could lead to serious consequences for everyone. 

Back to the book reading, the reading was put on through GLSEN. GLSEN (pronounced "glisten") was founded in 1990 by a small, but dedicated group of teachers in Massachusetts who came together to improve an education system that too frequently allows its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students to be bullied, discriminated against, or fall through the cracks. There are chapters all over the country, but I believe the one in North Jersey, who put on this program has only been around for a little over a year (Don't quote me). The North Jersey chapter is on Facebook here- This is the main page of the whole organization-

The principal from Hamilton School, one of the elementary schools in town, was there. I heard amazing things about her and how she handled having a transgender student go through her school before and after transitioning. I'm thankful we have a principal like that working in our district.

The reading specialist from Byrd school was there. There may have been other teachers from town there but I'm not sure because I didn't recognize anyone else. The Superintendent was not there. The principal from Hamilton said the Superintendent was instrumental in having this reading, and wanted to be there but couldn't. It's nice that she was instrumental. I'm happy she's supportive. However, I feel that culture and atmosphere comes from the top. In my opinion, the top down should lead by example and should've been there. All of "the top"- administrators and educators alike. Or, at least, have had someone representing them.

The Board of Education members weren't there. The principals from the other schools- Byrd, Coleman, and Central were not. The school nurses were not. The middle and high school principals were not. Do they get training on this topic specifically? I don't know. I feel like we as a community should know. We're told we have a strong anti-bullying stance in our schools. We're not told anything about this subject specifically. Anything I know about transgender kids in town, I know from the local news.

I'm not trying to be negative and only focus on who wasn't there. I'm happy there were any people there. I just wish there were more. I am very passionate about this. Why this topic? Partially, because I've seen the horror that comes from ignorance. Also because I can only imagine how difficult a road it is to feel like you're living in the wrong body. How difficult it is to be discriminated against for it, and to fear for your life if you live your truth publicly. Lastly, the fact is- transgender is. It exists. It's not going anywhere. We are going to have to make provisions for people who are different in society. We need to get used to it. That's why THIS.

I also feel like, within the school system(s), I'm seeing a lot of reactive, but not a lot of proactive. Waiting until you have to deal with "situation" is not the time to educate the staff, students, parents and kids. PRIOR, to a situation is the time to gain knowledge which also turns into compassion. I would like to see a much broader approach to inclusiveness. I would like to feel that at least in our little town, we're doing our part to be progressive in our approach to making sure there is a safe place for everyone. This is the time people's asses need to be on fire to be activists vs slacktivists. Let's harness that and work with it to do some good.

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