scarletazalea's comment, from her original posting of this article: "Sometimes I think there is hope for this crazy world of ours."
See Tom Be Jane
June 6, 2006 -- The country's youngest transgender child is ready for kindergarten. But is Florida's Broward County school district ready for her?
by Julia Reischel | reprinted from Broward-Palm Beach New Times
It's a spring break morning, and by 11 a.m. at the Anderson home, chaos is erupting. School is out for the week, and the twin boys are throwing a ball inside the spacious, two-story house. Upstairs, the preteen daughter pretends not to hear her mother calling. Lauren Anderson, a tanned and well-dressed stay-at-home mom who seems incapable of sitting still, cajoles her offspring to behave as she waits for a babysitter to arrive.
Her youngest, Nicole, 5, is frowning. Nicole's face is framed with delicate brown braids, and her fingernails are painted a rainbow of colors. She plans to go swimming with a friend at the community pool, but at the moment, she doesn't like the way her dress feels. She yanks the hot-pink halter-top over her head, telling her mother, "This is poking me. I want to change my dress."
Minutes later, she scampers back, now as naked as a jaybird except for her underwear. Without the dress, you can clearly see her penis, tucked carefully into her pink patterned panties.
Born a biological male whom the family named Nicholas, Nicole today dresses, acts and lives as a girl. She's been insisting she's female since she could talk, say the Andersons, who asked that their real names not be used for this article. "He has always been attracted to the flowers, the bright colors, his Barbie dolls, and his beloved mermaids," Lauren says, using the male pronoun for her child. In fact, talking with Lauren, who fully supports Nicole's desire to live as a girl, it's clear that the family is still working out the grammar of how to refer to its youngest.
"As a young toddler, he wouldn't let me snap her onesies together because she wanted to wear a 'dwess' like his sister," Lauren says, mixing pronouns like he and her interchangeably.
Lauren admits that the family is feeling its way down a path very few families find themselves navigating. Although it's common for young boys to play with dolls or paint their nails -- what parents classically refer to as "a phase" -- it's much rarer for a child to so completely identify as the opposite sex. And what to do about it has been the subject of fierce debate for decades.
When it's not just 'a phase'
Some therapists insist that such children should be discouraged from living as the opposite sex because, they have found, the large majority of such children grow out of it. Studies show that many end up as gay adults. But a growing coalition of therapists, scientists and activists disagree and refer to such children -- even those as young as 3 years old -- as transgendered, insisting that the child's new identification shouldn't be discouraged.
The Andersons are in the latter camp, encouraging Nicholas to be Nicole. Experts consulted by this reporter say the Andersons are the only family in the United States supporting a 5-year-old's choice to live as the opposite sex. This fall, the Andersons plan to enroll Nicole in a Broward County, Fla., kindergarten class as a female. They are convinced that's the only way she'll be happy.
Lauren says she constantly feels as if she's flying by the seat of her pants. "There is no protocol," she says. "Nobody knows of anybody. No 5-year-olds who go to school fully transitioned. There's no book called How to Raise Your Gender Variant Preschooler."
Nicole "carried like a girl" when Lauren was pregnant, but when Nicholas was born, he was definitely a baby boy.
"So we dressed him all boyish," Lauren says, as she fondly turns the pages of a fat baby album. There are pages and pages of little Nicholas -- with his family smiling at his bris, dressed in a tiny football uniform, being hugged by his older siblings. Nicholas looks happy. But Lauren says his desire to be treated like a girl was constant.
"At first, I thought it was cute," she explains. "I don't have a problem putting nail polish on a little boy. I don't have a problem if my son plays with dolls. His older brothers went through a similar period of doll playing and asking for nail polish on their toes. There's no reason to say no to a phase. I never once said 'no.' A phase is a phase."
So baby Nicholas was allowed to wear high heels. To play with Little Mermaid and Barbie dolls. To grow his hair a little longer. But instead of being satisfied with these concessions, Nicholas always asked for more. One day, he asked for something his parents weren't expecting.
Lauren was sitting at her computer working when 2-year-old Nicholas, who, like all the Anderson children, had a frank understanding of anatomy, came to her with a request: "I want the fairy princess to come and make my penis into a vagina," he said.
Lauren mentioned Nicholas' strange demand to his pediatrician at the child's three-year birthday checkup, expecting to be told that the behavior was part of the phase. "She got a concerned look on her face," she says. "This was not the reaction I was looking for." The Andersons were advised to look into Nicholas' desires with the help of a therapist.
Frightened, Lauren says she turned to her college copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and looked up something called "Gender Identity Disorder," the clinical term for transsexualism. It seemed to describe Nicole's behaviors exactly.
"The neutral thing doesn't work"
The Andersons began allowing Nicholas to act and dress like a girl in the safety of their home or in the anonymity of the grocery store or at Disney World. That summer, Nicholas' camp even allowed him to wear a girl's bathing suit. But at preschool, Nicholas remained a boy and seemed satisfied with relegating his girl time to afterschool hours. Until he turned 5.
"Right at the age of 5, it was like 'boom,' " Lauren says. "Since he hit 5, he totally rebelled and refused to wear boy clothes. Every single day was a fight. By the end of the school year, she looked like a totally different child."
Today, Nicole gets to be all girl at home and is supposed to be "neutral" in public at her preschool, where many of her friends, all girls, call her "she." But every day, Nicole chips away at the vestiges of her boyhood.
"I try to do the neutral thing, and it doesn't work," Lauren says, "Slowly, every day, a new article of clothing will come out of the closet. And we end up looking like a girl."
Lauren says the potential for bullying won't change her mind. "I don't want to take that child's soul and squash it," she says.
Logistically, the Andersons believe, having Nicole attend school as a girl shouldn't be difficult. Most of the classrooms at the school have attached single-stall bathrooms. With the cooperation of teachers, other children would never have to know.
Marilyn Volker, a Miami sexologist, says other transsexual children have successfully navigated Florida schools, often with the discreet help of teachers. "Sometimes only individual teachers know about it," she says. "Often, the teacher deals with it."
"This is a child with wonderfully supportive, loving parents who's got medical and mental health professionals on her side," lesbian rights attorney Karen Doering says. "I think as far as being able to handle bullying, I think this child will do just fine."
School district insists protocols in place
Although the Broward County School District would not acknowledge that it had received communications about Nicole's needs from the Andersons, it insists that it has protocols for dealing with a GID child.
"We take each child as an individual," district spokesman Andrew Feirstein says. "Any time a student enrolls in a district school and has specific needs, all appropriate information is gathered for an evaluation. District professionals meet together and work with parents to determine the student's best educational plan."
The Andersons say they contacted Nicole's principal in January, sending along two letters from mental health professionals who explained Nicole's special needs.
Then they waited. With registration for fall's kindergarten classes already beginning, the Andersons are still in the dark about the school's plans, making the task of listing Nicole's gender on the registration forms difficult. "I'm not going to put male or female. I'm going to put down 'I,'" Lauren says, which she means to stand for intersexed.
Oblivious to the fight swirling around her as only a 5-year-old can be, Nicole is headstrong and boisterous. She seems to be a happy, healthy -- and perhaps a tiny bit spoiled -- little girl.
A month ago, Nicole debuted in her first theatrical role in a local community musical. On the show's closing night, the stage is dark, and a chorus of small, childish voices lisp a showtune. Parading around the stage singing along and concentrating hard on her stage directions, Nicole is possible to pick out only because she is the youngest child in the show, a good head shorter than the other girls.
If anyone in the crowd or the cast knows that Nicole was once Nicholas, they don't seem to care -- proof, the Andersons say, that Nicole will be able to function happily in public as a girl.
This story is excerpted from Broward-Palm Beach New Times and reprinted with
the author's permission.