Today was the last day of school. C.J. has bid kindergarten adieu and will spend the summer gearing up for first grade. There are tears — in my eyes, not his.
I’m sad and anxious, as I have been at the end of every one of C.J.’s school years. I don’t know what to expect next. Who will his teacher be? Who will his classmates be? Who will accept his gender creativity? Who will make him feel small because he likes girl stuff big time?
C.J.’s kindergarten year was amazing. His teacher, Ms. Valentine, deserves much of the credit. She greeted him on the first day with her big blue eyes, perfect blonde hair, sweet smile and leopard-print shoes. She knew who he was. He was the gender nonconforming boy. The boy who likes girl stuff. The boy whose mom is sometimes seen as a liability…what, with her blog and all.
Ms. Valentine had, as I hoped, read the letter that I wrote to her and posted on my blog days before school started. She took it all in with an open heart and an open mind.
I met with her early on to talk about C.J., his gender nonconformity and how it all affects his learning and time at school. She was kind, optimistic and excited to have him in her class. C.J. was safe in her care; I knew it from moment number one.
“Does my teacher know that I like girl stuff?” C.J. asked every day for weeks leading up to the first day of school and for a few weeks after it started.
“Ms. Valentine? Yes, baby, she knows,” I reassured him.
“What did she say about it?”
“She thinks it’s awesome.”
C.J. smiled that red-haired, freckled-nose, dimpled-cheek smile that always makes me smile too. He loves it when people know and accept that he is gender nonconforming.
The first day of school, Ms. Valentine started a new tradition of not lining the students up by sex. There would be no “boys’ line” or “girls’ line” in C.J.’s class. She winked at me. I smiled and nodded my head in gratitude.
All of the other moms struggled with the concept. They had a hard time comprehending what was happening. If there wasn’t a line for girls and a line for boys how would anybody function? How would the kids walk into the classroom and around campus? How would the earth continue to spin? For the first week of school the other moms tried to divide the lines based on genitals every morning. And, every morning Ms. Valentine would remind them that she was doing things differently this year.
C.J. instantly felt safe in Ms. Valentine’s presence. She had pretty hair, sassy shoes and she smelled good. He was sold.
He spent the year self-editing more than ever. Not prompted by anyone — not us, not Ms. Valentine. It was totally his decision. I had been told that gender nonconforming kids start to conform more once they enter kindergarten. C.J. did just that at school. At home he remained our sparkly son.
In kindergarten, he drew himself as a boy for the first time in his life. He decided at the last minute not to wear his Rapunzel pajamas on Pajama Day. He stopped wearing the necklaces and bracelets that he beads in his free time.
He did, however, continue to wear “girl socks” every day tucked into his “girl shoes.” His Monster High lunchbox is thrashed from a year of daily use. And, he got plenty of compliments the day he wore his purple, glittered Wicked t-shirt to school.
He hated the week when he was “Special Bear.” Five days were all about him and he was supposed to share about himself, his family and his home life every day. He didn’t want to. He has his public self and his private self. Sometimes the two overlap, but sometimes he doesn’t want them to. And, that’s fine.
He did, however, love the Mother’s Day fashion show when we got to walk the runway in his purple plaid shirt, magenta bow tie and pink boat shoes for everyone to see. It was his first legit catwalk and it felt like home.
If you ask him, he’ll tell you that his favorite subjects in kindergarten were playing on the playground with his friends and doing crafts. It’s the academic portion of school that he struggled with.
You see, when your focus is on self-editing and self-preservation, learning your ABCs and 123s don’t seem important. He’s concerned about being teased about liking girl stuff and not about identifying numbers one through 30 out of sequence. In the end he qualified to move on to first grade. He meets state requirements, but there was the option of having him repeat kindergarten.
His dad and I had to struggle with the decision to push him onward and upward or hold him back. A mom who I met through PFLAG told me that her therapist believes that LGBTQ kids are usually a year behind their peers academically because they are having to deal with all-consuming social and life issues while staying on top of school work. It can seem overwhelming.
I’ve also had people tell me that LGBTQ youth are typically more gifted than their peers.
Who knows who is right?
In September C.J. will strut into first grade; into an unfamiliar classroom helmed by a teacher who we do not know. Will she have an open heart and an open mind? That’s all we ask for. But, we’ve come to realize that those are two big things to ask of someone. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
Whoever C.J.’s first grade teacher is, we hold out hope that s/he will be as great as Ms. Valentine has been. We also hope that Ms. Valentine has a bitchin’ summer and that she’ll K.I.T.
I loved your book and loving the blog. I have a gender-creative son, who is four now and we would love to connect with other families close to us for play dates. I noticed you mentioned a family in Boston. We are in Manchester, CT less than an hour and a half from Boston. I would love for my little princess to meet someone like them. Please share my email with that family and other families near my location.
Why do you let him have his private and public self if it’s so stressing? Didn’t you want him to be confident? Don’t you think that by letting him have private and public selfs, you’re encouraging him to think that he must act as people expect him to act? Didn’t you want the opposite? For him to always be who he is? For him to be true to himself?
Please, don’t think I’m preaching you or something like that. I do wonder all of that. These are not rethorical questions. I’d really like to know your answers. I’d really want to know what made you decide to let him do that.
When I was in seventh grade (I don’t know if your system is like mine; I’m from Argentina) there was a week when I acted like my classmates so they would like me more (I didn’t have many friends and, even today, I wonder if the ones I had were real or true). But I’ve discovered they still thought of me as the one to make fun of, so I stopped trying. I’m ashamed of that week of my life. I see it as the weakest moment of my life. I think that, because we’ve been classmates since we were 6 years old, they were just so used to see me like that that even when I finally found the courage to tell them to stop, they thought it was hilarious. If C.J.’s classmates in first grade are gonna be his classmates for some years, I wouldn’t like the same to happen to him.
I also really hope things get better. Stay strong and with heads lift up at every moment. 🙂
I just wanted to say that it is difficult for any child who does not conform to the “school standards” to have a decent time in school. My 3 children are now adults, but I can’t begin to tell you how many IEPcommittee/principal’s meetings I sat through because my children had ADHD and a host of other “alphabet soup ailments”. All 3 of my children have extremely high IQ’s but their intelligence is in areas that are not considered traditional by regular schools. My older daughter, who never went to high school officially because she didn’t have the patience for it, goes to college now. She is LGBT. My younger daughter is a 2nd dan black belt in TaeKwonDo and is currently in the IDF. My son, who taught himself Russian by listening to 19th century opera, managed to get a GED and works in business. You need to make sure that you visit the school before opening day to talk to the new teacher(s) and let them know that you are always available. I never waited for open school night to discuss my children’s issues. As a parent, I felt that I had to be an advocate for my children because all schools want students who conform and don’t challenge the system. Looking back , I can say that it was worth the struggle. I have an excellent relationship with my children and they survived going to school. Good Luck to You.
Not sure how classes are decided upon where You live but here there are of course many things to consider like ethnicity, socio-econimc mixes and the like…… then the principle and the outgoing teachers and then new level teachers meet and formulate the classes…… very often when there are special situations to factor into the mix the previous years teacher will suggest a best fit for the student…… I imagine if this were possible in your school, that Ms Valentine would already have mentioned this to the appropriate people…….
My Granddaughter is not part of the LGBT community however she has certain needs that most others do not have to contend with that make her and her approach to self and school ‘different’. And some educators are more willing than others to take the time and or have the patience to address these needs – sadly often by the time elementary education is nearing the shift into middle school principles and often teachers feel there needs to be a stronger shift towards ‘being mainstream’ something I know my Granddaughter does not now feel about herself nor is she likely to feel in the future….. it seems to matter little to her when things are not going well how much we love adore and encourage her to find her own sense of self and balance when ‘fitting in’ is such a huge and desired expectation…….. then there are some days when it doesn’t matter at all how others see or feel about her….. SELF ESTEEM is something that ALL Children should have protected and strengthened…… but this is not I Am often told the way the “REAL WORLD” works…. to which I usually reply: Well this must be why some kids are created more special than Others…. a la Animal Farm! Its an ice breaker and sometimes is met with a a heartfelt grin….
Sending a wish for many heart felt grins for You and CJ as he grows and moves through this slow but ever changing world We live in! Hope You Family have a Sparkly Rainbowlicious summer!!!!
I applaud Ms. Valentine, and CJ’s tremendous sense of self. Though it breaks my heart to know that he already knows when and how to suppress his creativity, I understand why CJ does.
I was held back after kindergarten solely because of “social issues” (I do very well academically and always have), and being a year older than everyone in my class affected me for the rest of my academic career. From being put in little kids’ summer camp when I was old enough for big kids’ camp because it went by school grade and not age, to not being able to get drivers’ ed when I was old enough because I wasn’t in the right grade, I was always out of place among my year-younger peers, which didn’t help my already existing social uneasiness stemming in the first place from feeling different than other boys. A year is a big deal when you’re a kid. I believe you did the right thing by not holding him back purely for social issues, as happened to me.
“Self editing”. Great term. When I was little that meant monitoring people’s reactions to how I dressed, how i talked, how I gestured, who I played with, etc. And if those reactions invoked a sense of shame, then I would modify my dress, talk, gestures, etc. so that I didn’t have to feel that awful thing. Eventually the shame became part of me, and that was the real shame. As a young adult I decided enough was enough and I transitioned. I now live and work as a woman in Atlanta. More importantly I have developed an abiding sense that I can face whatever feelings arise and as a consequence the shame has almost disappeared. Clearly CJ has experienced these feelings and is smart of enough to ask questions like: “does my teacher know I like girl stuff” and “what did she say?”. You should be commended as a parent for having the love, compassion and sensitivity to understand what he’s going thru. Not to mention the courage to blaze a trail on his behalf. You are truly a good mother!
Congratulations on completing Kindergarten C.J.! Have a great summer!
My 7 year old gender-nonconforming son is a bit behind as well. But I think the academics that he is being taught aren’t his cup of tea, per se. He is very creative, wants to be both a professional dancer and hairstylist. The arts in most schools aren’t as celebrated as math, english, science, etc. He excels at foreign language, drawing, dance, music but has hang ups with his penmanship, math and a couple other standard subjects. My take is that he is brilliant in a completely different way that the schools do not measure. For that reason, we chose to send him to a progressive school this fall where he can get more hands-on interactive learning as he enters 2nd grade. We have entertained briefly the idea of keeping him back a grade to catch up, but we’ll see how this new learning environment works out for him.
I just lost my long comment :(. Browser crash. :(. Ug.
Ms. Valentine sounds amazing. I am so impressed that she changed the lineup routine. And she managed to have the confidence to do that in the face of all the other parents. Wow!
When I think of the difficulties that CJ is having socially and academically I think of all the other gender non-conforming kids. Sometimes it is easy for me to think CJ has it so good. Sometimes it is easy for me to overlook how difficult and challenging his life is even with all of the support you provide for him and that you solicit for him from others. Clearly his life has challenges and clearly it will continue to. The decisions he’s making about not wearing beads to school for example are both reasonable and heartbreaking. And then I think of the other kids – the ones who don’t have supportive family – who are out there on their own and that is really scary.
I love the comments that people have left for you here with ideas and options. I think it would be great if both of CJ’s past teachers could be kept in the loop. I also wonder if you could meet with the principal now to discuss teachers for next year? perhaps you could talk to the teachers ahead of time. if there are multiple first grade teachers perhaps you could screen them and get to choose which one is most appropriate for CJ. I’m sure this would be an unusual request from the point of view of the school, but it seems very reasonable given CJ’s needs…….
I have more to say but since I lost my comment last time I’m scared of losing this comment – I’m going to post this and then add more.
As I was saying: if there’s more than one first grade teacher maybe the school could help you with selecting the one that is most appropriate. I am certain that there are organizations (like PFLAG and lambda legal) that would lend their support to such an idea if it would help. (lambda legal has a free helpline that you can call. They take questions about LGBTQAI legal issues…..)
Trans youth/school issues have been in the news quite a bit lately. I wonder if some kind of training for all of the teachers at CJ’s school could be arranged?
Ms. Valentine and CJ’s preschool teacher may be good resources in other ways too. Depending on what they’re willing to do. I’m sure they have insights that could be captured and passed on to other teachers. Not just CJ’s next teacher but to other teachers for other kids. I am sure Ms. Valentine will be a helpful when other gender nonconforming kids show up in her classes.
Of course I realize you’re networking with other parents-of-gender-nonconforming/GLBTQ-kids. Maybe at some point there will be a school resources list for your area? Maybe Ms. Valentine will be comfortable being a resource for other kids and parents? For my part I hope that she will find ways to be a resource for parents and kids in your area. She has valuable experience.
Wouldn’t it be great if the school itself could be reaching out and offering support for parents like you and kids like CJ? Probably I’m dreaming but it could happen.
I hope you will find ways to continue to ask for anything/everything that will support CJ. I hope you will find ways to keep asking, and to ask with understanding. With kindness towards the school and the teachers. Explaining why you need what you need, explaining CJ’s needs. Explaining how much it matters. To me it seems like it would take time for them to think about these things. It’s true you may not get everything you ask for but you won’t get what you don’t ask for.
I know things have gone well so far. But I am concerned because there are many years yet to go. As CJ gets older I would expect there will be bigger challenges. If the principal and the school in general could be on board with your needs it would sure be great. It would be fabulous if there was some continuing support from year-to-year.
Your letter last year to the teacher was a masterpiece!
Hi, just so you know, the law now requires schools to protect all students and provide a safe place for gender non-conforming students. This is not an option for the schools. Yes, there will be teachers who are more open to the idea than others, just like in the 1960s, there were white teachers who wanted to teach integrated students, and also didn’t have a problem teaching African American history, lit, etc. So it’s good to find a supportive teacher, but my law ALL teachers, ALL schools have to support students of ALL types, and provide a safe school environment.
I think LGBTQ kids are either behind or ahead, in my experience. Seldom average. Dealing with high schoolers, people either had the attitude of academics being their ticket out of hell (and thus high ambitions) or were overwhelmed by other factors/had given up (and thus low ambitions). I also think academics can become an escape for LGBTQ kids who are talented – they may get hated on but they can succeed at this thing that really matters and takes focus. Most people make it through and are better for it!
I think I was both behind and ahead. Maybe CJ also? – behind in some things, ahead in others? He’s certainly ahead in fashion, art, crafts, design, dance.
I was behind in lots of things, which, i think, made it harder to realize I was ahead in some things. I think others also tended to see one or the other (gifted or slow) rather than both.
You are right to be concerned. Each year will get more difficult, for CJ and for you. It’s true that the anxiety interferes with the learning, then the sense of being “behind” causes more anxiety. I am still struggling with how to deal with that as we enter middle school. I have found a couple good, progressive private schools and think of homeschool as a viable option also if the public school route becomes too painful.
It is so great to hear that CJ had a successful kindergarten year. As someone who knows Ms. Valentine, I’m sure she will miss CJ’s bright smiling face and the warm spirit that was added to her classroom!
I wonder if there is anything such thing as an academic counselor/tutor for gender-nonconforming kids? It seems CJ might benefit from someone who understands his struggle and could provide extra support in academic areas.
Glad to hear i’m not the only mom who is anxious about grade one. My son also had a fabulous kindy teacher who let him be himself.
Thank you so much for this…you have articulated exactly what I’ve been feeling. I’ve also heard that gender creative kids can fall behind academically, because they are so focused on grappling with the “gender stuff.” CJ has a great home life and that will be a huge asset for him as he gets older…great work, mom. 🙂
I am sure that along with many others we hope and pray that CJ finds an open hearted teacher when he arrives at school. It shouldn’t be too much to ask to for a special child blossom and grow !
Bless you all
Don’t worry. Both situations can be right. He can be academically behind his peers his entire life and still be the most gifted person they will ever meet. It’s just a different kind of intelligence. The general consensus is that academic intelligence isn’t all that’s needed in the world. CJ sounds perfectly suited t fit into the world as it is becoming. He may be exactly the sort of bright individual all sorts of industries are looking for and can’t find. He just has to get thru’ school, and with you at his back he’ll be just fine.
I would suggest giving Ms. Valentine’s contact details (with her permission, of course) to C.J.’s new teacher, so they’ll have a colleague to ask for advice as well as you.
I’m glad you didn’t hold C.J. back. Although it’s scary moving on, being held back would surely not do his esteem any good. And we’ll all keep our fingers crossed that his next teacher is just as fabulous and perfect as Ms. Valentine.
I love all your stories about CJ. Just as a reminder, you can homeschool. I homeschooled both my children including my gender-nonconforming now 18 year old. There are open and accepting homeschool groups. CJ is not “behind.” CJ is where CJ needs to be academically. Some kids aren’t ready for academics until they are 8 or 9, while others are ready at 4 or 5. Our school system, just like it leaves gender queer kids out (sic), also has no room for kids who are not ready for academics when the “standards” say they should. And you made the right decision about not retaining CJ. Retained kids are more likely to drop out of high school, and do not do better the second time around. I don’t know why the schools don’t get that while retention “looks like” it’s working in the short term, one just needs to look at these kids in high school or middle school and ask them questions to discover that the long term effects of retention are far from positive.
BTW, it’s illegal for teachers to line kids up according to sex parts. It’s been illegal for a long time, and it is a federal law. The fact that it is still done is reprehensible. A word to the principal should put an end to this sexist practice.
You are so right about the “self preservation and academics.” We were also told this by our psychologist and, as our son is 18, you can really see the truth in that. Ms. Valentine has been named appropriately….don’t you think? She was definitely a gift to C.J. and your family!
As a child I was always terrified of school. I had no kindly Ms. Valentine just confused teachers. I am SO happy things have changed in the many decades since I was C.J.’s age. May all his teachers be as great and keep on reminding C.J. how amazing he is. That self esteem boost and allies among his classmates will help him shine.
The NGLTF survey that came out a few years ago does show that people on the overall trans* continuum are more academically educated, often holding master’s and doctoral degrees. That said, however, school is a struggle for many of us and for some of us, it’s where we choose to isolate ourselves (i.e. throwing ourselves into our studies). It’s not about “who is right/wrong”, simply the uniqueness and potential of the child. From the literature I have read, C.J.’s academic progress is quite on par with general/typical child development because even if the child goes to preschool (whether half-day or full day), kindergarten is a whole different arena; I definitely think he’ll begin to shine academically now that he’s more used to the academic routine of his school. I hope that this may alleviate some of your worry. 🙂
Keep being the amazing mom (and family) you all are and C.J. will be just fine. 🙂 Congratulations on completing the school-year C.J. 🙂
You’re an awesome mom. I will send good energy/say a prayer that CJ gets another teacher who understands his Divinity. I think it’ll happen! Tell us when you know! Can you put a request in for a particular teacher? Maybe his Ms. Valentine can have some pull?