Monday, July 22, 2013

My letter to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Education Committee

A lot of my friends and loved ones are part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and many of them are struggling with PYM's recently formulated policy requiring that attenders at PYM youth events be housed and use the bathroom with their "biological gender." PYM's policy can be read here. The policy about activities with "intimate aspects, such as sleeping room assignments, using bathrooms and changing clothes" is not in keeping with the spirit of inclusiveness the Education Standing Committee is explicitly striving for. A number of my friends are also considering responding in writing to the policy, and many will also be part of the conversation about this policy at PYM's upcoming annual sessions. Some of my friends are finding this policy very painful, and some are quite angry about it. It has been helpful to us to share our thoughts and what we've written, so I am posting the letter I sent to the committee earlier this evening. I did not feel angered or hurt by the policy, perhaps because I am confident that as trans Friends and their loved ones and allies share their Light, the policy will not stand as it is written for long.


To the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Education Standing Committee:

Dear Friends,

I recently read your policy on welcoming trans youth. I was struck by the clear desire to welcome and support trans youth, and by the committee's humility in recognizing that they are in need of further Light. In that spirit, I am responding to your invitation to write although I am not a part of PYM; I am a Quaker who lives in Michigan. However, I am also the parent of a 6-year-old who was assigned female at birth but socially transitioned to living full-time as a boy at age 4, and I wanted to introduce you to him as an example of the kind of trans youth you might someday find joining you at PYM youth events.

Our son has been at every FGC Summer Gathering since he was born, for the last two years attending as a boy. Although there are people who remember him from before his transition, most people who encounter him at FGC are not aware that he was assigned female. My oldest son, who is 12, has friends at the Gathering whom he has known since toddlerhood. When our six-year-old reaches that age, so will he, and most of his friends will know him only as a boy. Imagine the confusion and discomfort that would be caused if, in that setting, he were expected to room with girls and use the bathroom with them. It would be painful for him, and disorienting to adults and children alike who know him as a boy. It would be little different than asking my oldest son, assigned male at birth and affirmed male in his gender identification, to room with a girl when he reaches high school age, and use the girls' bathroom.

The thing that trans youth of all ages need most from us is affirmation of their chosen gender, and any act that undermines their sense of themselves can be painful and damaging. Many people without experience of trans youth have concerns about bathroom use, but I have had the opportunity to meet a number of other parents of trans kids of all ages, and have heard of very few problems when schools and camps have allowed young people to make their own decisions about which bathrooms they are most comfortable using. For instance, I know a ten-year-old girl, assigned male at birth, who changes in the girls' locker room of her public school, and has done so over a long period of time without incident. This kind of support is tremendously important to trans and gender-nonconforming kids, and it carries very little risk.

I'd like to offer you three resources as well. TransHealth is a free conference that takes place every May or June at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The conference has been invaluable for our family; it is where I have had opportunities to meet other families, as well as to hear from doctors and therapists who work extensively with trans youth. You mentioned that some adults would be educating themselves about trans issues; I encourage Friends to review next year's conference program when it becomes available and attend any sessions that seem useful (and perhaps one or two that seem challenging).

It might also be useful for you to know that the right to use facilities consistent with a person's affirmed gender is afforded civil rights protection in some places. You can find a comprehensive list here. Colorado's Division of Civil Rights recently ruled that the state's anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination against transgendered people, apply to a first-grader whose school had not been allowing her to use the girls' bathroom. The decision included the opinion that asking the girl to "disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive" (quoted in a New York Times article about the case.).

Finally, an article about my son's gender development will appear in the August issue of Friends Journal. Trans and gender nonconforming kids follow all kinds of paths; this is just the story of his so far, but you may find it interesting.

I will be holding you in the Light as you continue your work.

Su Penn


1 comment:

Tania said...