I still remember it like it was yesterday. There he was, sitting behind the desk in the elementary school nurse’s office. Handmade art adorned his walls. Superheroes, rainbows, and typical school nurse warnings decorated his space. Wash your hands signs, Band-Aids, a cot in the adjacent room. I remember every single detail. Students clearly loved and admired him. There he sat on the other side of the desk with a smile on his face. “How can I help you?” he asked in a warm, welcoming voice. He knew why I was there because he had watched my daughter come into the school in kindergarten.
This was before the change. This was before she came to us. It was a tough time as parents because we really couldn’t get our arms around what was going on. As straight cis parents, we were completely clueless. We knew from her youngest time that she was different from our older two boys. She was drawn towards characters and into magical thinking. She loved dressing up and playing Frozen. But she was never Hans or Olaf. She was Elsa. This is accepted as “normal” behavior for children when they are two or three, but when they are picking out pink pony backpacks for Catholic pre-K, things start getting dicey.
When we started public kindergarten, the disparity between our child and those in their natal assigned gender became increasingly apparent. At this point, we were not allowing our child to wear skirts and dresses. They were stuck with shirts and pants that we felt were neutral enough. Shopping was anguishing. I would go into Target and hope that nobody would catch me in the girl’s section. Why do they have a “girl’s” section? Why did I feel embarrassed? These are all questions I ask myself in retrospect. At the time, it was all so hard.
But, there he sat. Such a kind, gentle soul who knew he was about to change my world. I explain other children are teasing my baby. I had heard that the nurse was part of the LGBTQ community, so I thought he might be able to help me. You see, I thought my precious baby was gay. That explained it. My son wanted to be Elsa and wear dresses because he was gay. I knew gay people. One of my very best friends was gay (cliché, yes I know). We could do this.
So I went into his office and politely asked him, with tears in my eyes, if he could help me. I explain that my son wears a pink shirt to school and the children make fun of him. I ask if he wears pink shirts and dressed up when he was a boy. Did he know? With the most kind and loving words, the nurse let me down. “No, Mrs. Moore. I did not dress up in my mom’s clothes or emulate girls. Your baby is not gay.”
There it was. That was it. The words left unspoken were tremendous. They just sat heavy and silent in the nurse’s office.
The next day the nurse showed up at school with a pink Wonder Woman shirt on and burst into the kindergarten classroom, “WHAT do you think of MY shirt?!” he proclaimed to the gleeful children!! My understanding from my daughter is that the children all loved the nurse’s pink shirt because they loved the nurse. When they saw him they didn’t see pink or blue, boy or girl, straight or gay. They saw a human who cared deeply about who they were and genuinely for their welfare.
The nurse has since moved on from the school and so have we. However, he sends our daughter notes in the mail to randomly remind her of how special and loved she is. He does this without prompting or because of a birthday or anniversary. They arrive out of the blue, usually at just the right time. Last weekend we attended a PFLAG Christmas party and had the honor of sitting on Santa’s lap (his husband) and visiting the Elf (our dear nurse). We had the pleasure of love and hugs galore, affirmation, kindness, and acceptance. This special person is the embodiment of what each and every child should have in their lives as they discover and become who they are meant to be.
We are blessed, thankful, and better because he is in our lives and so is every child whose life he has touched.
For more information on the impact of schools on transgender youth please visit Teach for America’s: Standing Up for Transgender Students.