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.
Nicole graduated from middle school in 2016 and we faced the fear of uncertainty again with the move to high school. How would high school kids, parents and teachers respond? Though I was hopeful and did my due diligence with the school, I wasn’t sure they understood.
Yet again, my fears proved unfounded. Here too, she’s simply Nicole. She’s achieving all A’s and B’s, enjoying friendships, getting excited for dances, participating in school activities, and outside of school, pursuing her musical theater dreams.
Not long ago, her new principal said something that again floored me: “The fact that Nicole is transgender is the most uninteresting thing about her.”
The simplest truth, but the most powerful message. Transgender people are people: humans with families, friends, hobbies, talents and, above all, dreams. They are just like all of us, because they are us. The difference is that there is no difference.
My daughter is living her best life. Is it perfect? No. But she’s thriving.
The last month has brought even more milestone moments for Nicole. She sang the national anthem to rousing applause at the Boston Bruins game in front of 19,000 fans and millions of NESN viewers as part of the NFL’s “Hockey Is for Everyone” initiative. She appeared on “Megyn Kelly Today” as one of five teenagers who are part of The GenderCool Project, a movement that is working to shift the narrative about transgender youth from what they are to who they are.
Despite the vitriol from the Trump administration, the state of Massachusetts has had her back. In 2016, the legislature updated our state’s non-discrimination law to include protections for transgender people from discrimination in public places. I testified before the judiciary, and Nicole’s story was shared in media outlets across the state. The law is now up for potential repeal on Election Day, and we’re continuing to do everything we can to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t revert backward.
What’s so inspiring is that we’ve seen an outpouring of support from people all around us ― in school, in our community, in our family, and even from millions of people we have never met. We know we are fortunate, and so we try to pave the way for those who walk this path with us and for those who will walk it right behind us.
We know stories have the power to change the world. Nicole tells hers with that vision in mind ― that one day being transgender will be largely irrelevant and simply one adjective, among many, to describe her. Maybe even an afterthought.
My 16-year-old is fundamentally no different from your 16-year-old. Nicole has dreams and aspires to perform on Broadway. She has her driver’s permit and will get her license soon. She spends too much time on social media and doesn’t always do her homework. She’s a teenage girl. And being transgender is the most uninteresting thing about her.
Jeanne Talbot is the single mother of a 16-year-old transgender daughter, Nicole. She is passionate about advocating for transgender people in Massachusetts and nationally. She is a marketing professional in the high-technology industry.
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