Monday, June 6, 2016

Bathrooms Aren't The Only Problem

My son is in the seventh grade, and he likes to wear pink shirts, long hair, and earrings.  If you live in the Northeast, you might ask, "So what?" No big deal.

And, for the most part, except for a few comparatively small moments, it hasn't been a big deal.  But recently there has been a surge in media coverage about transgender people and their use of the bathroom.  My son isn't transgender--that is, he doesn't feel like a girl in a boy's body.  But he doesn't identify with any of the boys around him, all of his friends are girls, and he would rather shop in the girls' department for clothes.

Last weekend, after school, two boys asked him if he was a girl.  Taught that some people are just curious, he answered politely, "No, I'm not a girl.  I'm a boy."
The boys didn't believe him, and in not believing him, began treating him the way they thought girls should be treated.  I can't use the language they did without my stomach churning and my heart pounding; but suffice it to say that it was tantamount to rape speech. At best it was sexual harassment.  The statement one boy made to another, "No, he's not a boy, he wants to be a girl. It's okay if he wants to be a little girl," was followed by what sexual thing should happen to him because he "wants to be a girl."  Prior to this they had grabbed at his backpack a few times, and I don't know what would have happened if he didn't text me with an urgent message.  I rushed to the school--I didn't even stop to put on my shoes.  The boys were being taken inside by an office assistant.  When I picked my son up, he got in the car, holding himself together until we drove away. He told me what happened, shaking and sobbing and telling me he didn't want to go back to school.  
Infuriated, shaken, I called my husband, and he called the school (because my husband, when angry, is icily succinct, whereas I get so mad that the words come out jumbled and unclear.)

The school administration, to its credit, handled everything incredibly well, not balking for a moment at taking things seriously and dealing with the situation quickly and conscientiously, involving both the parents and the police.  I have no complaints about the outcome of the actions the school took, and was relieved to hear that the parents were as horrified that their children said and did these things as the administrators were.  

But my mind dwells on the fact that we have so much media coverage about transgender issues, but no real education on what being transgender (or for that matter, gender-fluid or gender-neutral,) actually means.  We have sexual education.  My son knows what happens when you go through puberty and you get a morning erection.  He knows how to make babies.  But it's not a priority for the school system to teach children how to treat another human being who doesn't identify the way they do--some don't even know how to treat another human being, period. Our children deserve better.

"But my child goes to school to get an education." 

It's a valid concern.  But one to which I respond that if we have something called Health Class, isn't mental health just as important in every way as sex education and nutrition? I'm not talking about transgender issues or LGBT issues, because I don't want to promote the false ideology that those are mental health issues.  I'm talking about bullying and sexual harassment. The stress of being harassed wears on the human psyche.   And it's not just my son. Yesterday, as Happyboy walked home with a female friend, members of a sports team walked behind them and said things like, "What's that? You want Happyboy's (blank) in your (blank)?" You can insert your own nasty words. He and his friend moved out of the way and let them pass, and they left, laughing. 

There's a part of me that wants him to just hit someone. "One good hit," I think, my mama-bear instincts kicking in, "and they'll leave him alone."  He took Martial Arts for two years, but for him, actually hurting someone was always a problem. He's a gentle soul, an artist, and why should he have to give that up because some kids are acting so miserably? 

      Some of Happyboy's art

The school is planning a seminar next year that will address issues of harassment, bullying, cyber-bullying and their consequences--and I do appreciate that. But I long for the day when my son can go to school to get an education without fear of feeling different. When being yourself is as lauded as being part of a team. When he can go to the bathroom without people looking at him as if he's in the wrong place. When it doesn't matter if you're transgender, cisgender, gender fluid, or don't identify with any of those.  My son isn't transgender, and I don't want to appropriate those struggles; but some of the basic challenges he faces are often similar to those of transgender children. I think about that often--that if he goes through this and he's not even transgender, what must children who, on top of this kind of harassment, have to emotionally navigate having a body that isn't the one they identify with have to go through? In this day and age, where many more children are feeling confident enough to express themselves in more than just the ways society deems appropriate (read: blue & trucks=boy or dolls & pink=girl), we need to make sure that school is a safe space for them, a place where they can learn without fear of being called out for differences. And maybe even a place where someday all of our children can go to just get an education.