My daughter came out as transgender a little more than a year ago. It was no surprise to me and my wife. We had thought it was a possibility for several years. Nearly all her friends were girls, and, at home, she sometimes wore my wife’s clothes.
Like most parents, we just want our daughter, who was then in the fifth grade, to be happy, productive and successful, and that hasn’t changed since she came out.
She announced in a letter to her schoolmates and their families that she was transgender and that while her new name was Maddie, which she had picked, she was still the same person. “In my case, I am one of those unusual people who was born as a boy but my whole life I have felt like I am a girl,” she wrote.“I am transgender.”
An older girl she didn’t know came up to her in the playground and congratulated her for her courage. “If anyone gives you any trouble, let me know, and I’ll give them a black eye,” she said.
When Maddie’s doctor, a specialist in transgender care, told her a couple weeks ago she could begin taking female hormones, my 12-year-old daughter cried. “I finally get to be a real girl,” she said after climbing into my wife’s lap. ”This is the happiest day of my life.”
That pure joy brought tears to our eyes, too.
One night I reminded Maddie to take her estrogen pill. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s the best part of my day.” She constantly checks her chest to see if her breasts have started to develop, even just a little. She was overjoyed when she bent over and her breasts brushed against her jeans, and they were more sensitive than before. Something actually was happening. She was becoming a girl.
Maddie dresses like a girl, wearing dresses for fancy occasions when she borrows her mother’s shoes, and will put on makeup. She has let her curly brown hair grow long, although she prefers to wear it straight, and it was her idea to have blond highlights. One time she told me her bra hurt her. I told her she shouldn’t wear one, since she doesn’t have breasts. “Real girls wear bras,” she explained.
She’s also an accomplished tennis player, a sport she picked up on her own. In these days of isolation, my work is often interrupted by the rat-tat-tat of her smashing the tennis ball against our garage door. Sometimes, she says, the garage door wins. If Maddie stays interested, she’ll probably play in high school and maybe college. Like lots of kids her age, she dreams of turning pro.
So when Idaho’s Republican Gov. Brad Little, recently signed a bill prohibiting transgender girls from competing in high school and college sports as females, I had to wonder what he and his supporters were thinking and whether they knew what it means to be transgender. He signed another bill that prohibits changing gender on a birth certificate after the first year.
Does the governor think that my daughter “decided” to become transgender because somehow it will help her win tennis tournaments and go on to fame and riches? Is that why she had a hormone blocker implanted in her left arm to prevent the start of male puberty and with it the facial hair and a deeper voice she so dreads?
Does he know what it’s like for my daughter to wake up every morning trapped in a body she doesn’t want, wondering how this mixup occurred? Who cries sometimes because it’s so hard to be transgender?
We’re lucky that we live in Southern California and not somewhere like Idaho or one of the 20 or so other states that are trying to curtail transgender rights. My daughter hasn’t heard any negative comments, nor have my wife and I.
On the last day of school last year, the fifth graders had a party at one of the student’s homes. I was watching my transgender daughter, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, splashing in the pool with her friends. One of the mothers asked me how things were going. Then she told me that she hadn’t heard anything negative about my daughter revealing she was transgender.
Maddie doesn’t want to be known as the transgender girl. She just wants to be known as a girl. She not only wants to legally change her name, but also to change her gender on her birth certificate, which, while not possible in Idaho, can be accomplished in California. When I asked her how she felt about the Idaho laws, she said, “It’s annoying.” After all, she’s 12, and she hasn’t experienced the negative reactions she might if we lived elsewhere.
When my daughter decided to come out, she was playing at least a couple hours of tennis nearly every day and recently had competed in her first tournament, as a boy.
I called her tennis coach, and told him we needed to talk. We met on a rainy day at a local coffee house. I told him that the person he knew as Zachary was transgender, that while he was a boy on the outside, he was a girl on the inside and that soon he would be transitioning to being a girl. Pat admitted he really didn’t know what transgender was and asked lots of questions. I asked him to treat Maddie as he always had. As we were leaving, Pat said, “Tell Maddie I support her.”
That’s not to say everything went great. Maddie would explode when the kids in her tennis class would call her Zachary or refer to her as “him,” which happened every day. Sometimes she’d be in tears when I’d pick her up. I tried to explain that it takes time for people to break habits, but that explanation didn’t help. While I’ve stopped calling her Zachary, I still slip and use “him” once in a while, which leads Maddie to stomp out of the room and complain to my wife.
I was worried that in a sport as staid as tennis, still the world of private lessons and country clubs and where players are required to wear white at Wimbledon, Maddie would be forced to play tournaments as a boy. As far as Maddie was concerned, that would mean the end of her tennis career. She was a girl.
Tennis in the 1970s had perhaps the most famous transgender athlete, Renée Richards. (Caitlyn Jenner never competed as a woman.) The U.S. Tennis Association tried to force Richards to take a sex chromosome test before she could complete in the U.S Open. Richards sued, and a New York judge ruled that she could play as a woman without taking the test.
As Jon Wertheim wrote in Sports Illustrated last year, the judge “also rejected the USTA's bizarre claim that allowing transsexual players to compete would unleash an army of male athletes seeking gender reassignment in order to infiltrate women's sports.”
I contacted the USTA’s main office in Orlando, Florida. Much to my surprise, the USTA, unlike Gov. Little, now had a policy that made sense. You can play in tournaments as whatever gender you choose as long as it’s not an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. The policy begins, “It is necessary to ensure, insofar as possible, that transgender athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competitions.”
For transgender girls, there must be hormone therapy “for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sport competition.”
I signed Maddie up for a new USTA number as a girl with her new name.
Maddie played on her school’s girls volleyball team this year, which was made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. None of the players on the other teams or their parents seemed to know she was transgender, or at least no one made a comment. My daughter was a good player, but not the star.
I worry that when she plays in a tennis tournament, someone may learn she’s transgender and create a fuss. I’ve heard enough about youth sports to know how crazed parents can be. But I’ll have the USTA policy by my side, just in case.
If someone keeps complaining or makes nasty comments? I’ll say that same thing I would to say Gov. Little: How dare you.