Commentary

What a transphobic teacher needs to learn from an amazing 5-year-old transgender girl

Ellie (center) with Vanessa and Ronnie.
Ellie (center) with Vanessa and Ronnie. © Jill Promoli, All Rights Reserved.

Ron and Vanessa then did the incredible; not only did they not hide what was going on in their family, they built a new community consciousness around their child. Ron explains:

“My concerns were about how society would view Ellie. Ellie is of two different races: Caucasian and African-American. This should not be an issue in modern society in America, but it still is, to a certain degree. Ellie is also a transgender girl, so now we have a really interesting kid and a dynamic on various levels. My concern stems from this convergence — her growing up as biracial and transgender — and what she will face as she gets older. Transgender females of color face the harshest treatment of any trans people. In the African-American community, support and acceptance for transgender people have been substantially lacking, and my concern is about how Ellie will be safe and secure. Society has come a long way, in certain regards, to accepting and supporting people with different gender identities, but there is a lot more that can be done to accept and treat them fairly.”

Vanessa and Ron wrote a letter to hundreds of people in their community: Ellie’s teachers, the principal, and everyone who would touch her life. They explained her story in detail and provided eight different resources for people to turn to for further information. If a friend of Ellie’s asked a question, they answered it and then sent a copy of their letter to the child’s parents.

Ellie’s school has been entirely supportive; the principal and assistant principal co-signed Vanessa and Ron’s letter.

“Reaction has all been positive — 100 percent… which is surprising,” says Vanessa. “Now, it’s totally possible that it’s not 100 percent positive behind our backs, but all that really matters is that Ellie is respected, cared for, and that people use the right name and the right pronoun for her.”

“We’ve been very surprised by the number of people who we were nervous to tell,” adds Vanessa. “We are realistic, and know that at some point she will confront the hate, the anger, and the misconceptions in the world, and we just hope that it can change fast enough for our daughter to lead her life as freely and proudly as she does today. She tells people she is transgender. We kept this specific word from her initially but in reading I Am Jazz, she heard it once and immediately took it on as her own. Our choice to share so publicly was right for our family, but we know that other families have reasons to remain more private. We are just grateful for the response and support we’ve received.” Our dream is for Ellie to move forward in life as proud and safe as she is now.”

And, as for Vanessa and Ron’s response to people like Madeline Kirksey and others, who rant and disparage transgender kids?

“It should be a nonissue. When adults make it an issue, they are not helping anyone; in fact, their views harm children. This happens everywhere. The fact that a six-year-old is threatening to adults is mind-blowing. A lot of it is fear-mongering. There is a lot wrapped up in sexuality. Children, especially those Ellie’s age, are not sexual people. Her gender identity has nothing to do with sex and won’t be related to sexuality for many years.”

I address Ms. Kirksey and others who share her point of view in the following letter:

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