*Disclaimer: This is solely meant as my account with a student who identified himself as the opposite sex in which he was born. While the title suggests the student was indeed transgender, I cannot say for certain if he was or was not. If I wrote any pronouns incorrectly, I apologize.
Back in the mid 90’s I did my student teaching in a first/second grade classroom. I was assigned to two teachers, each with their own classroom. There was another student teacher assigned to the teachers as well. The assignment went from January to April.
So why am I bringing up something that occurred so long ago? Well, recently Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie‘s daughter, Shiloh, has stated that she would like to be called John, and identifies as a boy. This got me thinking about my student teaching days and a boy named William.
That’s what I about William after my first day in my assignment. The other 3 teachers said that I was being mean. I explained that I was in no way judging or being mean, I was simply stating my observations. It was clear from the beginning that William had very feminine traits and played mostly with the girls.
*Note: I was younger than the other teachers in the room. I took a more liberal view to ones sexual orientation than most. My experiences with the GLTB community were very different than many around me. I have long since held the belief that you’re born gay; you don’t decide or ‘change’. It is who you are.
Now it’s not like he was the only child we discussed. The teachers were filling the other student teacher and I in on some of the specifics of students. Who went to speech, who benefitted from SpEd, who to academically keep our eye on, etc.
When I Grow Up
As a part of the daily routine, we would do ‘Calendar’. If you’ve ever taught the younger grades, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a time students gather around a large calendar discussing days of the week, months, counting, place value, weather, etc. Part of our routine must have been to ask about what they wanted to be when the grew up. I remember when it was William’s turn to be ‘Person of the Day’ that question was posed to him. His immediate response was, “I want to be a girl when I grow up.” I asked him why (I know, rookie mistake; shouldn’t have done that in front of the class). Without hesitation he replied, “So I can have long blonde hair and long fingernails.” This answer was accompanied by running his fingers through his imaginary long hair and stroking his imaginary fingernails. I didn’t think much of it and moved on. So he wanted to be a girl, and had an age appropriate reason. It’s no different than another boy saying he wanted to be a firefighter so he could ride in a firetruck. First grade answers are pretty basic.
Then came the day he went around asking the adults how to spell Christina. This must have been around mid February to mid March. He was now writing Christina on all of his papers. He came to school with a yellow bandana on his head. He asked me if I liked his blonde hair. He was quite happy with his hair. I believe the girls also started calling him Christina. The master teachers refused, and immediately scheduled a meeting with the mom.
Somewhere in that time period, he developed a crush on another little boy. He would sit by this boy and try to hold his hand. This freaked everyone out, especially the other little boy.
In the meeting, as a student teacher I was to observe and not say anything. I don’t remember much from the meeting. I was of the mindset that if he wants to be called Christina do it. If she wants to grow up and be a girl, it’ll happen. I do remember someone asking if the father not having a strong presence was to blame on his behavior.
After the meeting he was once again called William, and no longer wore a yellow bandana. It seemed as if things had ‘calmed down’. I don’t know what ever happened to William/Christina. I don’t know if it was an exploration into the other gender or if he really was transgender. I would venture to say he was/is transgender. I openly admit that I am no expert. Where ever he is I hope he is happy and doing well.
What lessons can be learned from this? First of all, there needs to be more education on this topic. As a now ‘seasoned’ teacher, I’m not sure I would have a conference with the parents when a child wanted to change his/her name to something of the opposite sex. On one hand, I’ve had students who have wanted to be called Justin when their birth name was say Raul; I didn’t call the parents then. So why would I call in this case? On the other hand, it does signify more complex factors are at play. Being a 5th grade teacher, I might try to talk with the student one on one.
I also think that the stigma of being boys being boys and girls being girls needs to go away. We need to embrace each other, and especially children, for who we are, not what we identify as or who we like.
I applaud Brad, Angelina, John, and their family for shedding light on this. It was brave of John. It is heartwarming to see he has the support of his whole family. I can only hope that all children who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender receive the same love and support.