Transgender, Transvestite, Gay – What’s it to You?

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lesbian, gay, transgender

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?

 

 

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Comments

  1. Meg Spurrier says

    Thank You for writing this. I am an old friend of Peter’s family. In fact, he wouldn’t recognize me on the street but I would recognize him. You are right Peter has always been all boy. When I baby sat him and his older sister, he loved playing tiger and cowboys. He didn’t like playing little girl games.
    This was all before he turned 2.
    Thank You again for helping people understand. And Peter, if your reading this, you are always Welcome to visit a small cattle farm in KY.

  2. says

    I’m looking forward to reading part 2. I have never known anyone in this situation so it’s hard for me to grasp all the emotions and daily issues that must be involved. I do have someone to whom I am close who is a hormonal hermaphrodite – a female body that produces male hormones, so she has a deep voice and body/facial hair, etc and she has struggled with many of the same issues you wrote about. I wonder if, someday, we will have a better understanding of all of these things and come to realize that they are just a part of us… like being tall or blonde or left-brained.

    • Karen says

      I can only hope that one day we will have a better understanding. Seems people need cold, hard facts before they will accept people. They want proof that it is okay for them to be different. It’s really too bad, how is a child supposed to educate the people around them so that they can be accepted? I am sorry to hear about your friends struggles.

  3. says

    Great post! I’m glad Peter has friends- I can’t imagine how difficult high school is for him. It’s wonderful that his parents are supporting his true identity, though! Kudos to you for sharing Peter’s story and to him for his openness. Looking forward to part 2!

  4. says

    I hope it is okay I linked your blog to ours. :) I loved loved loved your blog post. You have a way with words that I do not. I also had a very similar conversation with Peter about whether or not he was “gay”. I think we are all so lucky to know him because he is able to talk to us about it without getting so aggravated or think we are being mean when really even as close as we are to him I think we are all just ignorant to all he has to go thru and has gone thru.

    • Karen says

      Of course it’s okay, Janelle! Peter is a great kid, he’s got incredible inner strength. Although, he could clean his room a little better…

  5. says

    I remember meeting Kaleigh call me Tony when he was in the same Kindergarten class as my son. The first time I volunteered in the classroom he came up to me and introduced himself: my name is Kaleigh, you can call me Tony. Two things struck me that day, and over the course of many days that I helped in the class. The first was that Kaleigh call me Tony was a boy and that I hoped that it all worked out for him. The second, and more importantly to me, was that he was a considerate and compassionate kid who recognized in my own son a reserved aloof shyness. I would notice him including my son whether he wanted to be included or not, and going out of his way to be friendly and encouraging. A 5 year old being so aware and caring, I was impressed, I still remember some of their interactions to this day. I stumbled across this blog post through the Chelmsford Patch, and I was struck by the realization that I knew this kid. Although I don’t actually know Peter or his family, since Kindergarten was the only class the two ever shared, I can’t help feeling so happy for Kaleigh now not Tony but Peter. And I wish Peter and his family all the best the world has to offer.

    • Karen says

      What a beautiful tribute to Peter! That is exactly the kind of kid he is. Compassionate. So glad you found this blog. He made quite an impression on you. You brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for commenting!

    • Jenn says

      Deirdre, Thank You so much for your kind words. That is exactly my son….he would never want someone to feel excluded as he’s spent so much of his time being excluded. Thank you for taking the time to post.

      Best,
      Jenn Solomon

  6. says

    Thank you for writing this.

    The issue with being transgender is not understood enough. I have long defended people like Peter by asking the person who was judging “when did you decide that you were a guy/girl? You didn’t, you just knew. How would you feel if you knew you weren’t in the right type of body?”. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes, it makes them think.

    I’m sad to hear that Peter has to go through all those hardships at school. But, his supportive parents have helped him a lot, by accepting who he is.

  7. says

    When reading this article one of the things that really stood out to me was all the accommodations that are made for someone based on other peoples fears and beliefs. That Peter can not have the ability to live his life without fear and be his true natural self. The fact that we are so judgmental as a society and that because other people are so upset that he can not change in the locker room is… I can not find a word. When if they took a moment to sit down and say Hi, they would learn all the wonderful things that he enjoys and that he struggles with Math along with the rest of his peers, that he is just like them. Karen, thank you for sharing this heart felt post.

    • Karen says

      I agree Tami, society fears too much. Difference should not equal fear, but it does. Everyone assumes the work about someone who is different, we don’t give people a chance. There are no rules in life, nothing is black and white, gender is no different. It’s okay for animals to be asexual and for scientist to discover new things daily, but it’s not okay for us to discover new things about humans. I wonder why that is?

  8. Deborah Solomon says

    Karen,
    I am a psychologist in town and in Nashua. My son Noah knows your son Peter a little; they have talked a few times. I read your blog aloud and he now understands. I know Peter will have another supporter because of your and Peter’s bravery. It is inspiring to see parents and families who work hard to support and understand their children. It is not always the case, even though almost all parents really want to be able to. You and your family deserve utmost respect for the risks you have taken, even if you had no choice in taking them.
    Dr. Deborah Solomon

    • Jenn says

      Dr. Solomon,

      Thank you so much for your note! I really appreciate you sharing Peter’s story with Noah. God knows we need all of the supporters we can get. I also truly appreciate the kind words it really means a lot.

      Best,
      Jenn Solomon

      PS. Love your last name.

    • Karen says

      Hi Deb, It’s very confusing who’s who in all this. Jenn is his Mom, I am his cousin/aunt/relative of some sort :) I did let Jenn know as soon as I saw this and she thanks you. She thinks it’s very sweet that you read this to Noah and really appreciates it. As for me, thank you for your support and understanding. It’s not easy being Peter and I know he will appreciate all the support he can get. Have a great weekend!

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