As long as I’ve known Peter, I’ve known there is something different about him, and this isn’t a cliché. Ask him. When we talked about writing this blog post he said, “I remember when I first met you. We joked about me thinking there was something different and you said there was but I should be whomever I want to be. You were really cool about it.” Back then Peter was Kaleigh – to the naked eye, one would think she was a tomboy, she wasn’t. Frankly, standing in my kitchen cooking with her, I thought she was homosexual and thought nothing of it. She said she was a boy, there was no doubt about it. It didn’t matter to me, and I told her; she could be an elephant for all I cared, she is a great kid.
Over the years, Kaleigh has morphed into Peter. It wasn’t as difficult for me as it was for him – I still slip up and call him ‘her'; sometimes we joke about it but most of the time I try to stay on the straight and narrow and give him a break. It’s not easy being transgender.
There are lots of definitions on the web, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Transgender – of, relating to, or being a person (as a transsexual or transvestite) who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth
Transsexual – a person who strongly identifies with the opposite sex and may seek to live as a member of this sex especially by undergoing surgery and hormone therapy to obtain the necessary physical appearance (as by changing the external sex organs)
Transvestite – a person and especially a male who adopts the dress and often the behavior typical of the opposite sex especially for purposes of emotional or sexual gratification
Gay – sexually attracted to someone who is the same sex
Confusing? A little. Not for Peter. When he was 2, he told his parents his name is Tony and wouldn’t wear a dress because he is a boy. If only it were that easy. Peter has never felt ‘right’ in his own skin, he constantly feels like he is in the wrong body when people refer to him as a girl. So much so that he can’t stand to look at his own body, it repulses him. Could you imagine hating your own skin enough to want to destroy it? By the 5th grade, Peter decided it was time to talk to his parents, the mental anguish and desire to cut himself was too much to handle alone. Although his parents are fabulous, they weren’t sure if Peter was going through a phase or if the situation were concrete. Living in a small town, they didn’t want him to make an announcement that he would later regret.
Initially, they didn’t understand the difference between being transgender and being gay. Peter is not gay. Peter is a boy trapped in a girls body. He is not attracted to boys, he’s attracted to girls. He is disgusted by the girl body parts he carries with him, they don’t belong on his body. He is a boy, plain and simple. There are many theories about why he was born in a girls body, but that’s not what this post is about. All that matters is that he’s got the wrong body. Simple enough?
After years of discussion and education, Peter’s parents decided it was in his best interest to let him change his name and move forward as a boy. Arguably, coming out as transgender is more difficult than being gay. Homosexuality is becoming more socially accepted, it’s easier to digest. Man loves man. Woman loves man. Transgender, not so much. Man brain/woman body wants to have man body and love woman. Woman brain/man body wants to have woman body and love man. See what I mean? People aren’t quite as accepting of this. As a result, Peter’s had a very difficult time, listening to him discuss it brought tears to my eyes. Name calling, physical abuse, panic attacks and ostracism, from adults and children, are some of the things he has had to endure.
Believe it or not, going into High School made things easier. Peter showed up on the first day as Peter, not as ‘Peter formerly known as Kaleigh’. Many of the kids were new and they accepted him as is. In high school it’s sometimes cool to be gay, the kids are more mature and they have LGBT groups to raise awareness and understanding. Peter was able to fly under the radar for a while, but eventually it became public knowledge and High School wasn’t as easy as he hoped it would be.
Surprisingly, as damaged as Peter is, he is equally undamaged. He feels that the school pushed it under the rug but, he defends them by saying it’s a relatively new thing and you can’t blame the kids for making fun of him and not understanding. Jenn, his Mom, feels that as difficult as things were initially, they’ve gotten better. The teachers can no longer refuse to acknowledge him as a boy, there are now laws that can be used to make the students situation a lot easier. Unfortunately, laws don’t change mindset. “Go back to being a normal girl.” “You’re a hideous boy and even uglier girl.” “Who’s gonna want a freak like you?” “Hope you die alone.” In addition to being devastating to ones self-esteem, it’s downright cruel. Why do they even care? They aren’t the ones living with the stigma and the self-loathing.
Peter uses the nurses bathroom at school because he doesn’t feel safe in either the boys or girls bathroom. He has panic attacks in the girls room and is physically threatened in the boys room. He doesn’t change for gym class, it upsets too many people as there is no place for him to change. When he is required by the school to change, he’ll wear shorts to school to avoid the issue. The list seems to go on and on doesn’t it?
It sure does. Dating is difficult, although he has had girlfriends, the people he dates are taunted. Peter would rather be alone than see people he cares for hurt. Suicidal feelings are common. He is constantly being reminded that other people dislike him, while others pull him aside to help him ‘be normal’ and ask if he is getting help. Then there’s the divorce. His Mom’s second marriage lasted 9 years, would they still be together if Peter wasn’t transgender? That’s something he worries about and like any kid, you can’t convince them the divorce had nothing to do with them.
He’s attended therapy and finds solace in music, remarkably, he says that it’s not all bad. He has some great friends and there are “people that want to be around me at the end of the day”. They don’t notice that he is transgender and they have some similar emotional issues. He’s able to talk to them about his feelings and they understand that he can’t escape his own thoughts, he’s got his own private hell.
So where does Peter go from here? What are his plans? How do his parents cope and what is their advice to you? Read Part 2 for these answers and find out where you’ve seen his Mom before.
As a parent, teacher, aunt or uncle, how are you teaching the children in your life tolerance?