Tyler and his mother were at their suburban Maryland bus stop last week when the ugliness reached them. It came from a father in their social circle who felt free in Trump’s America to excoriate those who are transgender. That’s when Tyler’s mother, Jean, learned that her 10-year-old has been spending time with a guy who hates people like him.
“Our sons are really good friends. So my child is in this man’s house,” Jean said. “I just think, a year ago, he wouldn’t have thought it’d be okay to just say a bunch of stuff like that in public. He has no idea there’s a transgender kid right in front of him.”
Jean was rattled. She sparred with the dad a little but kept it reserved. She didn’t want to out her child, who has been living as a boy since he was 4 and whom I first wrote about when he was 5.
“Now I’m really worried. I told [Tyler] to protect himself. To be careful,” she said. “I told him, ‘This man is not a safe man.’ ”
She wishes she could tell him about Tyler. “If the dad knew that he is transgender, it would change his mind. Because then he’d know. But I can’t do that. It’s not safe anymore.”
Tyler’s world is changing. Again.
Just two years ago, Tyler’s family was exhilarated by the growing acceptance of people living openly as transgender. Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair, actress Laverne Cox was everywhere, transgender officers were serving openly in the military and a transgender woman was working as an aide in the White House.
By then, Tyler — we use the family’s middle names to protect their identities — was done talking about being transgender. “I am a boy. That’s it,” became his mantra.
The family, pioneers who allowed their 4-year-old daughter to begin living life as a boy, exhaled.
He has now lived more than half his life as a boy. During the first half, he was a mostly miserable girl who, at age 2, started telling parents, pastors, family and friends that he is a boy.
After extensive research and visits with doctors and psychiatrists, his parents decided to follow a doctor’s prescription for the diagnosis of gender dysphoria: “Let him live like a boy.” And what happened next was a little magical. “He has a childhood, a real childhood. And that’s what I wanted for him,” his mom told me.
I have been following Tyler’s journey since the first day he showed up at Sunday school and announced that he was a boy. The world was largely unprepared to embrace a preschooler announcing that he was transgender.
“Everyone kept telling us it’s just a phase,” his mother said. “Five and a half years now. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a phase.”
They sit him down every year and ask him if he’s sure this is right. Does he have any doubts? I asked him the same thing.
“I’m fine. This is who I am,” he told me with the slightest eyeroll.
“Okay, is there anything that your sister likes that you like? Anything that makes you think you have something in common with her when it comes to being a girl?”
“We both get mad at our parents sometimes,” he says. A shrug. “That’s about it.”
The last thing he wants to talk about is being transgender. He’s asked to stop going to the support groups his family started for young transgender kids. He wants to just be a kid. Not a transgender kid.
Jean has always painted herself as an accidental activist. She’s a teacher from Nebraska. She wasn’t looking for a fight. But she did it for her child. So he would have a better life. Only now it’s clear that Tyler will probably have to pick up the fight on his own behalf, into adulthood.
Caitlyn Jenner, who had supported Donald Trump during the election, came to that realization last week, after the Trump administration withdrew federal protections that President Obama put in place for transgender kids in public school bathrooms.
“I have a message for President Trump from, well, one Republican to another. This is a disaster. And you can still fix it. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community,” she said, holding up her hand like a mock telephone in a Twitter video she sent out. “Call me.”
Tyler also has something to say to the president.
“I would tell him to just let people be people,” he said. “Just because you were born a girl doesn’t mean you have to stay a girl. People change, you know?”
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