Vanessa, a teacher in Washington DC, and her husband Ron are experts now in how trans kids should be treated. But they had to learn fast, when they realized their four-year-old daughter, Ellie, is transgender.
They are a family rooted in strong values. Vanessa’s parents lived the ultimate love story – meeting young, falling in love and spending their whole lives together. Ron’s parents were also in love, but the family had to deal with tragedy. When Ron was 10, his dad died of brain cancer.
‘The emotional scars were still deep, knowing my dad was no longer living. So, when I met Vanessa and thought about raising a family, I really wanted to ensure she and our kids were what I focused on – my role as a husband and dad. They came first,’ he told me.
Their son, Ronnie, was born first. Ellie was due 18 months later.
‘We had an amniocentesis and found out the “sex,” but at the time we really didn’t think about sex and gender being different. We pretty immediately formed a family identity as “Vanessa and Ron with two small boys.”’
The amnio did not tell the truth about Ellie, however. The packaging was misleading. As soon as she was able to speak, Ellie set about clarifying who she was to her parents. ‘I’m not a boy. I am a girl. I’m a girl in my heart and my brain. My penis is my only boy part. The whole rest of me is girl,’ she would explain to them out of the blue, without prompting.
Vanessa was disturbed when she witnessed Ellie trying to fight her own inner truth. Ellie would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, poking her chest and attempting to convince herself of something she was told but did not believe: ‘Boy, boy, boy! I have to be a boy! I have to like Power Rangers!’
Witnessing this struggle, Vanessa and Ron knew it was time for them to transition. Their daughter had spoken, and they had to listen.
Ellie had already rejected the name she had been given at birth. She had been okay with it until she realized people would see her as a boy if she used it. So she informed her parents that she was ‘Ellie.’
The results of Vanessa and Ron’s full acceptance of Ellie was dramatic. ‘She blossomed, became happier and just seemed more herself,’ Vanessa says. ‘We have a happy, silly, strong-willed, outgoing daughter. Before her transition, she was mostly quiet, shy, sometimes angry and certainly not outgoing.
‘At the forefront of parenting is ensuring the happiness and safety of your children. It was clear that by not listening to her, we’d be putting her at risk, and that is not something we were willing to do.’
Ron and Vanessa then did the incredible; not only did they not hide what was going on in their family, they built a new community consciousness around their child.
Ron explains: ‘My concerns were about how society would view Ellie. Ellie is of two different races: Caucasian and African-American. This should not be an issue in modern society in America, but it still is, to a certain degree.
‘Ellie is also a transgender girl, so now we have a really interesting kid and a dynamic on various levels. My concern stems from this convergence – her growing up as bi-racial and transgender – and what she will face as she gets older.
‘Transgender females of color face the harshest treatment of any trans people. In the African-American community, support and acceptance for transgender people have been substantially lacking, and my concern is about how Ellie will be safe and secure.
‘Society has come a long way, in certain regards, to accepting and supporting people with different gender identities, but there is a lot more that can be done to accept and treat them fairly.’
Vanessa and Ron wrote a letter to hundreds of people in their community: Ellie’s teachers, the principal, and everyone who would touch her life. They explained her story in detail and provided eight different resources for people to turn to for further information.
If a friend of Ellie’s asked a question, they answered it and then sent a copy of their letter to the child’s parents.
Ellie’s school has been entirely supportive; the principal and assistant principal co-signed Vanessa and Ron’s letter.
Vanessa says: ‘We’ve been very surprised by the number of people who we were nervous to tell. But reaction has all been positive. 100%… which is surprising.
‘Now, it’s totally possible that it’s not 100% positive behind our backs, but all that really matters is that Ellie is respected, cared for, and that people use the right name and the right pronoun for her.
‘We are realistic, and know that at some point she will confront the hate, the anger, and the misconceptions in the world, and we just hope that it can change fast enough for our daughter to lead her life as freely and proudly as she does today.
‘She tells people she is transgender. We kept this specific word from her initially but in reading I Am Jazz, she heard it once and immediately took it on as her own.
‘Our choice to share so publicly was right for our family, but we know that other families have reasons to remain more private. We are just grateful for the response and support we’ve received. Our dream is for Ellie to move forward in life as proud and safe as she is now.’
And what do Vanessa and Ron think about adults who rant or disparage trans kids?
‘It should be a nonissue. When adults make it an issue, they are not helping anyone; in fact, their views harm children. This happens everywhere. The fact a child is threatening to adults is mind-blowing.
‘A lot of it is fear-mongering. There is a lot wrapped up in sexuality. Children, especially those Ellie’s age, are not sexual people. Her gender identity has nothing to do with sex and won’t be related to sexuality for many years.’
And Vanessa has a message for her fellow teachers about children like Ellie.
‘It is the job of a teacher not only to support our students, but also to value their diversity. It is our job to ensure students are safe, physically and emotionally,’ she says.
‘The well-being of our children is directly linked to affirming families and communities. For children, school is where they spend most of their time. Discrimination and disrespect puts a child at higher risk of self-harm and suicide. A teacher wouldn’t bully a cis student and get away with it.’
We’ve withheld the Ellie, Vanessa and Ron’s family name at their request.
article by Rob Watson via gaystarnews.com