At the school where I work, they are celebrating National Coming Out Day with assemblies that highlight the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity curriculum introduced in BC schools two years ago. I am so grateful to live and work in an inclusive environment that respects people of all genders and sexuality, because I am bisexual.
But more importantly, because I watched a boy the same age as my daughter, suffer excruciating anxiety and miss too much school until he changed his name and came out as the trans boy that he always felt himself to be. As a girl, his body language was wilted and caved in on itself. He rarely smiled, or made eye contact and seemed to be disconnected from his person. Then he came out to his classmates, and thanks to the SOGI education they had received, the class cheered for him, immediately accepting his new pronouns. The very next day the body language and demeanor of this boy was wholly different. Suddenly he was standing upright and walking tall. He moved with confidence and I watched him laughing with his friends for the first time in months. He attended camp for the first time, and started going to PE again.
It was a remarkable transformation. I have shared with many, the human drama that I was privileged to bear witness to. It touched me deeply. I had never met a trans gendered person before, and he was astonishing to behold.
In August, Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival hosted a series of short films focused on trans youth. As fate would have it, one of the films was directed by a woman I had consulted about my short film, so of course I was eager to see it. The whole series was a revelation, but especially moving was hearing the trans kids describe their experience, one I had just watched unfold at school. My heart went out to the brave children, some of whom were present at the screening and sat at the front of the theatre afterwards, earnestly answering questions from the audience. Their courage was astounding.
It has been quite a learning journey, but what struck me about the whole experience, was how resistant my brain seemed, to the concept of trans gender kids. It was hard for me to understand. I found it inexplicably challenging to adjust to the boy’s new pronouns. I accidentally referred to him as her. I thought it would be easier for me, and it was alarming that I might not be as open minded as I always thought.
As I watched the film, moving though it was, I could hear my brain debating with these children as they described their feelings. I wanted to cheer for their bravery and fight for their chosen pronouns, yet my brain kept saying, “Yeah, but…” Yeah, but wanting to play hockey instead of ballet classes doesn’t make one a boy. Liking make up and dolls doesn’t make one a girl… and this type of example seemed to be the context of each child’s self-discovery.
As a bisexual woman, gender norms seem unimportant to me. Who I am attracted to or my ‘male’ characteristics don’t define my womanhood. My life and experiences do. So, I found myself asking that question… what makes us women and men? Clearly not biology or sexual attraction… these kids may only have interests and friends within which to reflect their gender identity, but I trust them when they say they felt like they were in the wrong body. I believe them. I just can’t relate. I feel connected to my body quite intimately. We have survived a lot together, and being a woman is a big part of how I define myself: a bisexual single mother, pro-choice advocate, filmmaker, and sexual assault survivor.
But that’s me. And as much as I deserve to be believed, and trusted in how I define myself, watching that young man grow into himself over the past 6 months has convinced me that everyone deserves the same trust and belief, whether you can understand or agree with it or not. It is all I needed, to see that gender identity education and inclusion matters. It mattered at my school, to that boy and his family.
And it matters to the other kids out there who may be suffering in silence the same way. We need to change the culture of shame and silence, by believing.