What would you do if your little girl wanted to be a boy? Gal Uchovsky salutes Israeli mother who spoke proudly in the Knesset about her transgender child.
Ryland Whittington, transgender boy from San Diego, 7 years old.
Here’s the thing: Our friends who’ve lived for years in the United States, have a beautiful son named Tom who is now 7 years old. At the age of four, he realized that of all the boys and girls in kindergarten, he likes Dana the most, a lovely girl who lives not far from him and loves to play every game with him. To everyone’s delight, she came from a nice Jewish family that became friendly with our friends so that there was a tighter connection between the families.
One night a year ago, Dana’s parents rang and asked to come over, which is not so customary in non-spontaneous America. When they came, they explained to our friends that Dana told them she wanted to be a boy and that it was final. After a consultation with a psychologist and the teachers, it was decided that Dana would now take a week off from kindergarten, in which the new situation would be explained to the parents and children, and then she would return as Dean, the name she chose for herself.
Our friends behaved very well. They were a little shocked, but said immediately that if that was what Dana wanted, then so be it. Dean’s parents came to explain everything in a personal conversation, because Dean told them that the most important thing to him was that Tom would continue to be his best friend. Later they gave more details. The process started when Dean was about 4 years old, when Dana announced she was actually a boy and wanted to be a boy. In her kindergarten, which was Jewish, she had two modern-style American teachers from the who told her that there was no problem, she could be whatever she wanted. But there was also a religious teacher, who tried to explain to her that she was a girl, that’s how God created her and that was it. She also told the parents that they should take care of this issue. The parents were not confused. They took Dana, and moved her to a public kindergarten, in a more advanced area, where she met more open teachers, and Tom. So the process has matured slowly.
The next morning our friends woke Tom up and had a conversation with him about Dana. Tom was not particularly shocked. He said he really liked Dana because she was “fun, and it’s fun to play with her and everything” so he agreed that it was okay for her to be a boy like him. He asked, with some trepidation, to explain to her that if he ever got confused and called her “Dana”, it wasn’t on purpose and she shouldn’t be insulted, because it would take him a while to get used to it. He thought for a bit and then his eyes lightened. “It’s fun, what happened,” he then said. Turns out he and Dana really loved football and their big dream was about when they were old enough to join the league as NFL players. “Now,” he explained, “Dean and I can go together! And have both players in the team !!”.
Since then a year passed. Dana returned after a week as Dean with a short haircut and dressed like a boy. And the children got used to it. Tom and Dean remain best friends and they play together at least once a week. Occasionally Tom asks his parents questions about Dana. What will happen when she grows up? Will she be a mother or a father? The answers he gets from his parents usually satisfy him. For Dean himself there are quite a few challenges waiting in his life. But I think he has an amazing pair of parents to help him through in the most simple way possible. And maybe his life will end up much more normal than you can imagine right now.
I was reminded of Dean and Tom this week, after I heard the words of Rivkah Cohen, an Israeli woman who, at a meeting of the Knesset committee for the status of women and gender equality, told about her four year old girl, who was born male and a few months ago announced that he wished to be a girl.
Cohen, who understood what it was, decided to help her become the girl she wanted to be, let her choose a new name and then went on to update the world. Rivkah’s story is inspiring because in very simple words she explained that unless she was familiar with the transgender community and was attentive to this option, she might have been opaque to the process her son/daughter was going through and might have decreed suffering for her son and convergence into an inner closet for many years. Her knowledge and openness enabled her to “save” her daughter.
I would like to turn the spotlight onto any parents who have small children, and ask them if they understand that such an option exists, and that they need to pay attention to it. In other words, the question “What will you do if your son turns out be gay?” Or “What will you do if your daughter turns out to be lesbian?” This is a question of yesterday. It’s a question that more and more people around the world answer relatively easily: that they’ll be okay with that. But the world is always moving forward and today’s question is “What will you do if your son wants to be a girl?” And let’s face it, this is quite a question, even if you really are an open person and willing to accommodate the desires of your children.
Hand on heart, I know that to think that your cute son actually wants to be a girl is really, really hard. You can of course start asking, why now? Is it not enough that we are open to the idea that the child will somehow be same-sex? But the truth is that it does not depend at all on the parents. What has happened in recent years is the strengthening of the visibility and trans community and allowing such stories to be heard. Just a year ago in Haaretz a large piece on transgender teenagers, most of them in Tel Aviv, was published. But you don’t have to be in Tel Aviv. Bel Agam, for example, is one of those who at the age of 15, sat with her mother in her living room, in Bat Yam. Her mother told her that she understood what was happening and allowed her to leave for a new life. Maybe that’s why at the age of 30, she has become, at this moment, the new face of her community.
The thing is that things are starting much earlier. Preschoolers. At an age when children begin to understand something about gender and something about themselves. And I am sure that today’s parents, who are so attentive to their children, know how to recognize when their son says that he’s really a girl or vice versa. And with all the difficulties involved, modern parents respect their children’s desires and realize these desires are very difficult to fight. So here’s the question again in full force: what do you do if your lovely five year old son says he wants to be a girl or if your sweet little girl announces she’s a boy at the age of four? I know the right answer. But I’m not belittling the difficulty it brings.