The day-to-day life of a transgender child outside of home
Published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 5:09PM MDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 19, 2013 10:23AM MDT
Wren Kauffman came into the world as a little girl named Renna, more than two years ago; he started living life as a boy.
It was a steep learning curve for his family, who noticed their young daughter’s odd requests to become a boy as she got older – finally, when she was 9, she told her parents that she felt as if she was living in the wrong body.
A short time later, Renna became Wren, and the clothes and pronouns changed.
Now Wren is 11-years-old, and in Grade 6 at Victoria School for the Arts – and provided a challenge his school was more than willing to handle.
“We weren’t 100 percent sure how to go about it, we haven’t been faced by this issue before, with a child so young,” Stacey Taylor, Wren’s teacher, said. “We have transgendered in our high school, but not in our elementary level.”
When he started at Victoria School, nobody knew about Wren’s past, but word started to leak out.
Finally, after a few months, Wren told his classmates his secret – a reveal he was apprehensive about.
“I was nervous that people would not like me anymore and they would treat me differently,” Wren said.
However, after he told his secret, nothing changed in his classroom – he said no one has bullied him or called him names.
At all Edmonton Public Schools, there are rules to protect lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer students – the district was the first in western Canada to enact such rules.
“With regards to the washroom, he uses the male washroom,” Taylor said. “Same as the camping trip, he identifies as male so we put him with the male students.”
Wren’s story bears a striking difference with other stories of transgender children – recently, the story of Coy Mathis, 6, in Colorado has made headlines.
Coy was born a boy, but identifies as a girl, and lives as a girl now – after the change, her school banned her from using the girl’s bathrooms.
Now, she is homeschooled.
“We see this dichotomy, you are either male or female,” Dr. Kristopher Wells, from the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the U of A said. “This binary is so toxic, and that’s what leads to bullying and violence that we see every day in our schools.”
Dr. Wells has written a book about transgender students – a resource that’s been picked up and used by school boards all over the world.
It’s a resource meant to help school officials handle a complicated issue that challenges the common definition of gender, and what happens if a person doesn’t fit into the traditional role for each gender.
“Unlike a person’s sexual orientation, which can be hidden, often at great cost, a gender transition is always public,” Wells said.
Wren’s story has certainly challenged his parents’ backgrounds – his mother Wen grew up Catholic, and his father Greg admits when he was younger he used homophobic slurs.
“If you were to tell me as a 19-year-old that I would be going to the pride parade, I would tell you, you were crazy,” Greg said. “In many respects, your child takes you to places you had no idea you were going.”
Now, Greg is part of a subcommittee with the Public School Board, overseeing such issues – and he appears in public service announcements about it that will air on TV.
“It’s important for people to understand the story, that whatever their concept of normal is, that needs to shift,” Greg said.
The Kauffman’s would like to see gender-neutral bathrooms, and an ‘indeterminate’ option on the gender portion of passports, like they have in Australia.
In Alberta, a birth certificate can’t be changed unless the person has sex re-assignment surgery, which some transgendered choose to not have.
“That place young people like Wren from being outed, and being in a place where great harm can come to them,” Dr. Wells said.
Wells said the best teachers are children like Wren, who he calls ‘gender angels’ – he says they are paving the way for a better understanding of being transgender.
As for Wren’s future, he says he wants to either be an artist, a photographer, or maybe a child psychologist, to help children like himself.
He also said he’s going to be pan-sexual, and explained exactly what that means.
“That means it’s not the person’s parts I fall in love with, or gender,” Wren said. “It’s their personality.”
As for his parents, they believe the transgender community is about 20 years behind where the gay community is now – they wanted to share their story to help anyone else facing similar struggles.
They hope that one day, their struggles won’t be repeated.
“One day I hope it just doesn’t matter,” Wen said. “We know about this, and it just doesn’t matter.
“People are people and we come in all shapes and sizes.”
With files from Stacey Brotzel