Saturday, March 2, 2013

For the Love of Coy Mathis: Being a 6 Year Old Transgender Girl

 This essay was also published in my column on
         When I go scuba diving—a new venture in my life—I’m always amazed at the incredible diversity of creation in the deep blue sea. Lobsters and other shellfish with wondrous colors and textures crawling and swimming on the ocean floor; moray eels sticking out their thick green bodies as they nibble on whatever goes by their rocky homes.  Fish of all shapes and sizes seem to change color instantly as they glide by my effortlessly.  On one of my first dives I was treated to an extraordinary opportunity of touching an octopus when it was placed on top of my hand. And as long as I kept moving my hand slightly the tentacles of the octopus would cling to my hand while its very body changed appearance when a stronger current jostled us both.  Cool!
            Coming up to dry land, I’ve been caught up in the equally fascinating diversity of creation around me. My memory of these undersea adventures was sparked as I read the story of six year-old Coy Mathis, a young first grader at Eagleside Elementary School in Colorado who was banned from using the girls’ restroom.  The reason for banning this little girl from going to the girls’ bathroom is because she was born with male genitals but behaves like a girl since she was eighteen months old. She’s always played with Barbie dolls while her same-aged brother played with dinosaurs. When she was four years old she was telling her mom that something was wrong with her body. She was diagnosed as “gender identity disorder.” But her doctors recommended not immediate medical intervention but suggested she just live life as a girl. She has always appeared as a little girl, with other students and teachers using the female pronoun to refer to her, and she used the girls’ bathroom. Before that, she used some of the school’s bathrooms that had no gender designation, but for those schools she visited that did, she used the girls’ bathroom.
            In December 2012, all that changed when the school district said that she could no longer use the girls’ bathroom. What is remarkable about this story is that there is no problem with Coy currently.  This restriction is because of what may happen with Coy in the future. To complicate things more, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against transgender students of all ages in public schools.  Currently, Coy is simply being home schooled, though she misses her teachers and classmates.
            Amid the controversy, something exciting is going on in this world, in which this story is but one of many untold tales that is showing a shift in our national consciousness about the place and presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning people of all ages. How we are constructed anatomically is as natural in the absolute broadest sense of the word as everything else under the sun that is natural, including sexual identity and orientation. It is all made possible by the condition of simply being born on Mother Earth.  And to identify or change one’s sex from male to female, or female to male, is a result of many combined natural forces at work within us. And such a transformation is not up for discussion: just ask six year-old Coy, or all the other men and women who have transitioned throughout time. What is called for now is nothing less than this: love. The hope is that others in this story take the attitude that Coy’s mom and dad, siblings, classmates, and teachers have done: not seeing this as a tragedy, but an opportunity to love people as they are as we joyously open up our understanding of human diversity…and the marvelous multiplicity of ways of being on dry land or under the sea.

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