"In The Life" Episode Profiles Transgender Children

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Sunday April 8, 2012

Jackie Singer of Laurel, Md., is not unlike other 7-year-olds.

The first-grader enjoys reading books, riding her bike and picking on her brother. Her father, Brian Singer, remains very protective of his precocious child who also enjoys mermaids and Sponge Bob.

"The day she was born, she was a boy," he noted to EDGE in a recent interview as Jackie talked in the background. "I held her in my arms. I put her to sleep. I fed her. I changed her. I burped her and I did all these things for her. Those feelings don't change, except now we have to accept her as a girl. Nothing has changed. I still love her."

The Singers are among those who appear in the latest episode of the LGBT newsmagazine "In The Life" that highlights families with transgender and gender non-conforming children that began airing on public television stations across the country on April 1. Michelle Kristel, executive director of In The Life Media, said she and her colleagues produced "Becoming Me" as a way to "elevate the discussion" around trans children.

"Our producers spent time with these families to learn what their everyday experience is like," she said. "The result is an extremely important segment that's already being used as a resource for parents and an educational tool for social service providers."

Catherine Hyde, who is one of two trans coordinators of PFLAG's chapter in Columbia, Md., appears in "Becoming Me" with her 18-year-old daughter Will. She first told her mother that she was a girl when she was four, but mental health professionals encouraged what Hyde described as boy play.

"We wrestled the Barbie dolls out of Will's hand, saying that boys don't play with them and you can't wear a tutu," she said. "Will was heart-broken by all of this."

Hyde noted that psychologists said that depression and anxiety prompted Will's suicidal thoughts when she was six. This struggle continued as Will approached adolescence. "We continued to disallow things," said Hyde. "Of course, we had no idea why we had such an angry child."

Will began to assert her gender identity and expression after she came out as gay in middle school. She told her mother during an argument while painting the basement of their home into which she moved when she was 15 that she was "a girl on the inside and a boy on the outside."

"You can be as gay as you want; but if you go trans on me it's on your own time, your own money and out of my house," responded Hyde. "I really slammed the door on gender identification to Will."

Studies: Family Acceptance Can Have a Positive Impact
The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University suggests that LGBT children and young people who live in an affirming home are healthier and have higher rates of self-esteem than those who do not. The research project also notes that children with parents who affirm their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression are potentially more likely to experience lower rates of depression, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and suicide.

Ann Philips of Gaithersburg, Md., said that her son Joel played with his older sister's Barbie dolls and liked long hair and high heels when he was a young child. He also complimented women's dresses while in the supermarket checkout line with his mother.

As a therapist, Philips said she and her husband quickly realized that their son would probably identify himself as gay when he was older. She also wrote a novel, "If You Believe in Mermaids... Don't Tell," that featured a 13-year-old boy named Todd who challenged societal gender norms like her son and other teenagers whom she met at a parents support group in Washington, D.C.

"We tried to offer a gay-positive household to sort of work it into the conversation-cities that were more tolerant," noted Philips. "If we were traveling somewhere we might say San Francisco is a good place because they are very fair to gay people."

Joel, who now lives in New Haven, Conn., came out to his parents when he was 16.

"We were just very gratified that he was willing to trust us with that information," said Philips.

Hyde revisited the conversation about her daughter's gender identity and expression after she heard a series about trans people on "This American Life" while she was in a car wash a couple of months after the argument with Will.

"It was one of those WTF parenting moments and I went 'oh my God, that's what I have.' This is my child," she emotionally said. "Someone was reaching out and grabbing me and saying you idiot, you know. And I said, you know what, I'm going to reopen the conversation with Will."

Will at first dismissed his mother's change of heart, but she soon began to receive puberty blockers from Chase-Brexton Health Services in Baltimore with her support. She later told Hyde that she wanted to become a drag queen after they after they attended Baltimore Pride.

On her 17th birthday, Hyde took her daughter to a drag brunch at Perry's Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

"Around the age of four; I lost my happy baby to this angry, depressed, contrary little thing," she said. "When Will finally got on stage and did drag, I got my happy baby back."

Log onto In The Life Media's website for more information about "Becoming Me."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.