The 1997 film “Ma Vie En Rose” depicts a young French boy who insists that he’s actually a girl. The lighthearted film was at least a few years ahead of its time in addressing the very real reality of so many transgender children, born into one body, but identifying with another gender. Now, more than 15 years later, a real life “Ma Vie En Rose” tale is playing out in Colorado. First grader Coy Mathis (pictured) has identified herself as a girl, despite being born with male genitalia. She’s dressed in typically-feminine clothes for the past year and both her passport and state identification recognize her as female.
But the Fountain-Fort Carson School District has asked that Mathis refrain from using the girls’ bathroom at school. Instead, they ask that she use the boys’ bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse’s bathroom.
The move, said school officials, was not for Coy’s sake, but for her fellow students. “I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom,” said the district’s attorney W. Kelly Dude. (Can you even believe the irony of that last name?)
Coy’s parents feel that the school’s decision smacks of discrimination and leaves Coy open to “stigma, bullying and harassment,” says lawyer Michael Silverman. Silverman, who is part of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, believes this can be a powerful teaching moment for students. “Coy’s school has the opportunity to turn this around and teach Coy’s classmates a valuable lesson about friendship, respect and basic fairness.”
Coy’s parents are expected to file a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division this week.
The parents of transgender children often have to fight not only real tangible battles for their children, but also more theoretical ones. Critics claim that transgender kids — especially very young children — are simply going through a phase. But for children going through gender dysphoria — the clinical term for the state of feeling a disconnect between one’s physical body and one’s gender identity — there’s nothing temporary about their feelings.
No clear statistics exist on just how many transgender kids are out there — rates range from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000. And the transgender inclination can show up early; there are reported cases of infant-age children expressing gender dysphoria and clearly stating a gender preference. Renee and Ryan Jennings’ son was just 16 months old when he began telling them that he was a girl. Now 11, Jazz (not her real name) happily lives as a girl. As far as it being a phase, Renee Jennings says, “A phase is called a phase because it is just that. It ends. And this is not ending. This is just getting stronger.” Similarly, 14-year-old Mario, who was born female, says he chooses to live as a boy because he never felt like a girl. “I feel uncomfortable in female clothes,” said Mario. “I feel like why should I wear this when it’s not who I am? Why should I be this fake person?”
Feeling unauthentic and uncomfortable in their own bodies is at least partially why so many transgender teenagers take their own lives. While there are no clear statistics on the rates of suicide among trans teens, “it is plausible to hypothesize that transgender youth, in common with LGB youth, have elevated risk and lower protective factors and higher rates of suicidal behavior,” according to a study on preventing suicide in the LGBT community.
But back to first-grader Coy Mathis. If Coy’s parents challenge the ruling on Coy’s bathroom use, it will be the first challenge under Colorado’s anti-discrimination act. In the meantime, Coy is being homeschooled. Coy is lucky to have such supportive parents, willing to fight for her rights to be treated just like any other kid.
So many others are not so lucky. And until all parents and schools start treating trans kids with respect and dignity — and approach their gender transitions as a necessity — we’ll continue to see record numbers of trans kids taking their lives.