Transgender at five: Tyler’s story leads to outpouring of other stories

Petula Dvorak
Columnist May 21, 2012

I heard from transgendered senior citizens who lamented their decades living a lie.

I got e-mails from confused parents who had their aha moment when they read Tyler’s story.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

And sure, I heard from the haters. The Internet troll employment benefits package apparently doesn’t offer vacation days, so they’re always there.

When I met Tyler seven months ago, he was 4 and had just switched from being known as a girl to being known as a boy. On Sunday, I wrote about the difficult journey that Tyler’s parents, Jean and Stephen, have been on since their child was 2 and began insisting she was a boy. (To protect their identity, The Washington Post used the family member’s middle names and referred to the now-5-year-old as Tyler, the name his parents say they would have given him if he had been born a boy. We also opted not to publish details about where they live and go to church and school.)

Jean and Stephen read and did research. They went to doctors, counselors, their pastor and support groups before they could accept that their child was transgender. A psychologist diagnosed gender identity disorder and offered a prescription: Allow the child to live as a boy.

No one knows how many American children suffer from gender identity issues because they so often go unacknowledged by parents and pediatricians. Scientists and doctors offered guesses that ranged from one in 1,000 to one in 10,000. But given the hundreds of online comments and e-mails I received, I wonder whether it isn’t more common than we know.

“We are going through the same thing. My daughter is 6,” one reader from Oregon wrote. “When she was just a little over 2, she started telling us her penis had been cut off, and it really hurt.”

Their family doctor won’t really address the concerns, so she reached out to Jean for help in finding experts and information. “I cannot express how frightening it is to go through this without support,” the mother wrote. “I am so afraid to make a mistake.”

A mother from Atlanta wrote to say she can relate to Tyler’s story: “My daughter reminds me of this little girl who wanted to be a boy. I am constantly reading up on transgender, gender variant and gender non-conforming. She has not been diagnosed, but I am in the process of finding out more. My husband and I have been grappling with this for a while now.”

Or this simple, desperate note from someone in Virginia: “My kid has been a ‘boy’ since she was old enough to know, I want to say 5 or 6. We need to get him hormonal help, and it is long overdue. I will drive or fly anywhere.” It included a request for doctors’ names and phone numbers.

Every fifth e-mail seemed to come from someone who knows someone who is transgender.

“A transgender child just came into my kid’s sixth-grade class,” one parent reported.

Or, “There was this child who used to play with my kids,” another parent wrote. “I always suspected there was something going on there.” Years later? Sure enough, the child is a transgendered adult.

There were stories about transgender nieces, stepdaughters and co-workers. And I heard from transgender adults who didn’t have people around to believe them when they were little.

“I didn’t transition until my early 30s because of my Mormon family and because I thought I would never find a partner and have a family,” wrote JackC6a. “But I was wrong about my prospects for happiness. Though my family has been distant and cold, I have my own family now that includes an awesome partner and child. Tyler is a lucky kid to have such a supportive family.”

I heard heart-wrenching stories from transgendered grown-ups who were beaten, shunned, ridiculed and belittled every time as children they told the adults around them how they felt.

You think this is something new? Check out this comment from Johnbh99:

“Fifty years ago I had a job in a funeral home while attending university. My partner and I picked up a body one day that appeared to be a man but turned out to be a woman,” he wrote. “We got instructions from the next of kin that all references to the deceased would use the male pronouns and the deceased would be referred as Mr. in the newspaper. This person was a respected member of the business community in a major southern city.”

Even in the South in the 1960s, the transgendered were living in our communities.

This is what Tyler’s parents wanted when they asked me to tell their story: to spark discussion and educate people about the transgendered.

Jean and Stephen received many supportive e-mails and phone calls. Folks who know them but didn’t understand what they are going through now understood.

“I was surprised at how nice some of them were,” Jean told me.

And how did Tyler feel about the story?

He was too busy playing with trucks to care what anyone thinks about him.

Follow Petula Dvorak on Twitter: @petulad. To read her previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/
dvorak
.

SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments