That time I was Kevin (and what it taught me about our responsibilities to transgender youth)

When I was in third grade I decided that I was going to be a boy. I returned Barbies for X-Men cards, replaced  dresses with shorts and tees and swapped hair bows with baseball caps. I even decided that for me to be a boy, the name Kim just wasn’t going to cut it. I changed my name to Kevin and announced my new self to all of my friends and family without any care or concern. Kevin lasted for third and fourth grade; once “Clueless” hit theaters and I realized how cool feather pens and teddy bear backpacks were, I was back to being super girly Kim.

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Look Ma, a real boy!

Girls have tomboy phases quite often in their childhood, but mine seemed to go a bit to the extreme – to the point where my grandma started to tell me about things I can do as an adult to officially be a man. But I am not transgender, so why did I do this whole Kevin thing? Well third grade was the time when school kid crushes grew rampant, and all of my crushes were on girls. As far as I understood, being a boy was the only way to have a crush on a girl.

Alas, this is not the story of my coming out as a transgender man; this is about a kid who went through rather quirky measures to understand her sexual orientation and its fit within society. But that’s not even the most important story. To me, my time as Kevin resulted in a social experiment that, as an adult, taught me how bullying happens. I believe that school bullying is directly correlated to the small, minute actions observed by kids from the adults that surround them each and every day.

When I told my parents I wanted to dress like a boy, they helped me shop through the boy’s section at Kids R Us. When I wanted to play the boy parts instead of the girl parts at my church’s Christmas pageant, the church staff handed over the script and costume for a shepherd. And when I told my teacher that I wanted to be called Kevin from now on, he informed all of the students that my name was Kevin. I was never harassed or taunted, had tons of friends and lived a very happy childhood.

Not once did an adult question my decision to be Kevin. Sure, many people probably thought I was a bit odd and probably had some strong opinions on the way my parents were raising me, but from the outside every single adult accepted me as Kevin and moved on with their life. There were no snotty remarks about libtards running amok, telling kids that they could choose their own gender; everyone just let me be me. And that acceptance from adults resulted in widespread acceptance from my peers.

Fast forward four years – I’m in 7th grade and my family had recently moved from Livingston, New Jersey to Eden Prairie, Minnesota (for those who don’t know, you don’t get much whiter than Eden Prairie, Minnesota). I still didn’t have a label for my sexual orientation – I knew I wasn’t gay or straight, but the term bisexual seemed too superficial to me. In the same spirit as when I announced myself as Kevin in third grade, I announced to my peers that I was – as I could explain it – “kinda sorta gay.”

That happy-go-lucky acceptance that I felt in my childhood, however, was nowhere to be found in my teens. For one, I never talked to my parents about it (obviously they knew because parents know everything, but I had shut them out from being people I could turn to for help). But there were adults that I did reach out to for guidance – school counselors, teachers and priests. The feedback was far from positive. My school counselor told me that I needed to speak with a woman to discuss the consequences of my future lifestyle choices. And this moment – when the adults I turned to turned away – was the moment that the bullying began from fellow students. I’ll never forget having to walk into school with a busload of kids chanting “no faggots allowed.” There was no such thing as sexual orientation harassment at the time, so the school explicitly told me that if someone made fun of me, it was basically my fault. School was no longer safe, and consequently I became extremely depressed. It took me six years of suicidal thoughts, self mutilation and total sexual confusion before I started to feel like myself again. Yet I know for sure that I was lucky – so incredibly lucky –  because this all happened to me before there was even MySpace. I could go home and escape. If I had the internet and continued to see what students, their parents and complete strangers had to say about me and my sexual orientation every time I scrolled through my phone, I’m not sure if I would have survived.

When adults supported my coming out as Kevin, everything was fine. When adults didn’t support my coming out as gay, pandemonium happened. As grown-ups we have a ton of responsibility on our shoulders to the LGBTQ minority, whether we are personally a part of the community or not. 30 percent of transgender youth report at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime and transgender women of color have an average life expectancy of 35. This is a state of emergency, and every single one of us is tasked to solve the problem.

Does everyone understand what it means to be transgender? No. Hell, a lot of us disagree with the entire concept that someone can be transgender. But that’s not the point. Our individual thoughts on gender identity don’t matter when people are dying at astronomical rates. What matters is that as adults, we take full responsibility in the way we exude our reactions to transgender children and understand that any slight show of a negative emotion can and will lead to bullying, which can and will lead to someone’s death.

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Never underestimate the number of vulnerable kids who read your stupid, bigoted comments on social media.

To the person who writes a snarky comment about transgender people on the internet – how important was it to your ego to have some strangers react with laugh emojis? Was it important enough to post it, knowing that somewhere out there a kid is in the bathroom right now scouring the internet, blade to wrist, only to see your comment and have just one more adult prove to themselves that they’ll never be accepted? Was it important enough to post that so that the blade cuts deeper into the skin? You may think that I’m overreacting, and you may have a point, but can you prove that a suicidal kid questioning their gender didn’t see your comment? No, you can’t, so why is that a risk you’re willing to take? Why are you willing to put the blood of a child in your hands?

Everyone agrees that kids should not be committing suicide or getting murdered because of their gender identity – this is not a partisan issue. And every adult  needs to take more responsibility for what they have to say about gender identity – online and offline – knowing that it will be read by a child in an extremely vulnerable state.

I came out as Kevin over 20 years ago completely unscathed, and it was all because of the incredible adults who surrounded me and created a culture of acceptance. I’m absolutely sick and tired of the random actions our government does to undermine the life of a transgender child, and even more tired of seeing snarky opinions from the peanut gallery. If we all stopped treating gender identity as a political debate and started treating it as an urgent need to decrease deaths among our youth, how many lives could we save? When it comes to transgender youth, it’s time for the adults to grow the fuck up.

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