by Jeanne Talbot for the Guardian, 31 March 2018.
Since my daughter began living as her authentic self as a transgender girl three years ago, two school principals have said shocking things to her. Shocking because their words were more affirming than anything I anticipated or could have imagined.
Nicole was assigned male at birth, and that’s whom I thought she was, and it’s how I initially raised her. For me, much of that time was filled with fear. Her insistence that she was truly a girl began when she was very young and did not wane. It grew as she did. It took me 12 years to realize what she knew from the start: that she is a girl. I had to learn that it was not a fad, not a phase, and not something that she was going to outgrow.
Letting go of my assumptions meant digging into research, meeting with experts and medical professionals, and talking with parents who were already walking this path. Though I had come to accept my child as my daughter, I never quite lost my fear of what I believed would be a very difficult road ahead.
When Nicole began fully and publicly living as a girl in the middle of seventh grade, she wanted to turn a page and truly be seen as Nicole. Her school wanted to do it “right” because they knew although she was their first transgender student, she would not be their last. A date was set and the school prepared to train staff and teachers and adjust their policies to provide an affirming and safe space for Nicole and, ultimately, all their students.
But Nicole couldn’t wait any longer. She had been living as her true self at home for a while and couldn’t keep pretending to be a boy at school.
I called the school and said, “She’s coming tomorrow.”
That morning was filled with both excitement and anxiety. We hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. Would the kids understand and accept her? Would her friends reject her? Would teachers and the administration have her back?
None of our fears materialized. The principal began by introducing her as Nicole, then deftly engaged the students in conversation:
“Does anyone know what it means to be transgender?”
“What would it feel like not to be called by your name?”
“How do you think your school leaders and teachers will respond if you intentionally call Nicole by the wrong name? What would that feel like?”
A girl in the front row raised her hand sheepishly and said, “I think that would be like bullying.” The principal nodded. “Yes, it is bullying and none of us do that at this school. Right?”
Nicole had arrived. The principal had set a positive tone and expectation. And then she was, forevermore, Nicole always, everywhere and in every way. At school, I no longer had to worry whether or not Nicole would be supported and protected by administrators, teachers and staff.
It was what that same principal said to Nicole a few months later that stopped a breath in my chest.
“Nicole, you are my greatest teacher.”
His greatest teacher. A teacher of living authentically. A teacher of courage. A teacher of perseverance. A teacher of doing the right thing, even when it’s difficult.