In 2015, our family went public in a very public way — I got in a fight with our local sheriff for writing a transphobic Facebook post about what he’d do a trans woman if he ever saw her in the bathroom. Being that he was supposed to be promoting the safety and protection of all Denton County residents, and being that my own child had recently transitioned as a transgender boy just a few months prior, I just couldn’t stay silent. I replied to his Facebook post with a powerful clapback, and before I realized what was happening, the news was at our front door wanting to get us on camera with a reaction.
Back then, we were barely talking about trans people at all. Let alone trans kids. When we went public in 2015, it honestly felt like we were the trans-inclusive family in the entire world. (Even Jazz Jennings didn’t have her reality show until later that same year.) So, naturally, a lot of reporters had a lot of questions for my family, including my son, Max.
One question that was frequently (and weirdly) asked was, “So, Max, what’s it like to be transgender?”
Come on, y’all. That’s like asking a fish what it’s like to be wet.
Max’s answer? “Ummmm, I like cats, I guess.”
And yet, it’s a question that keeps coming up, but in different ways. “What does your family think?” “What have your friends said?” “What about your church/school/team?” Y’all, he’s a kid. He doesn’t want to talk about gender any more than your kid does. And besides, being transgender doesn’t define him. As far as Max (and his friends and family and church and school and team) is concerned, he’s just a boy. There is so much more to this kid than his gender identity — he plays the ukulele (and about a dozen other instruments), he’s an accomplished gymnast, he’s a black belt in taekwondo, he makes the best tacos I’ve ever had, and as he already said, he likes cats.
This complete acceptance and affirmation of Max’s gender identity has helped him succeed and thrive in every aspect of his life: my son is popular at school, he gets straight A’s, he’s thriving on his gymnastics team, and his physical and mental health has never been better. In fact, studies have shown that when transgender children are affirmed in their gender identities, their mental health is statistically the same as their cisgender peers. Put another way, being trans is not a mental illness, and those who claim it is are either lying or ignorant of the facts.
But read the news just about anywhere, and the stories you see instead are of heartbreak, rejection, and “alternative facts” about what it means to be transgender. Stories of nonbinary students being kicked out of prom for not dressing according to our society’s gender constructs, tales of genderqueer employees being fired from their jobs because they dared to transition at work, or trans athletes being told they can only compete in sports if they agree to play on the team that matches their birth certificates. And though these stories absolutely need to be told, they certainly don’t represent the story of every transgender child in America today. Stories like those of my own transgender child, Max.
It’s understandable why these stories capture our attention. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is the mantra of pretty much any media outlet. But I argue that if all we hear about are tragic stories of struggle and ignore the beauty and promise of what a fully supported life as a trans person can be like, then we are scaring trans youth into staying in the closet, and discouraging their parents from fully embracing them when they do come out — not out of hate for the trans community, but out of an overabundance of fear.
That’s why Max is so excited to announce that he’s now an official Gendercool Champion! The Gendercool Project began in 2017 with the tag line “Who we are. Not what we are.” Gendercool’s “youth-led movement help(s) to replace misinformed opinions with positive, powerful experiences meeting remarkable kids who identify as transgender and gender expansive.” And wow is it working! Jennifer Grosshandler, the founder and CEO, is also the parent of a transgender child, and like me was tired of the doom-and-gloom narrative that was being told and retold in media outlets everywhere. Inspired by her own transgender daughter, Chazzie, she set out to tell a new story, and The Gendercool Project was born.
In just two short years, Jennifer and her “Gendercool Champions” have changed the conversation in the United States and around the world. Working primarily with Fortune 500 companies, the Gendercool team organizes and participates in enormous corporate events which highlight these amazing Champions, and brings a much-needed youth voice into these conversations. As Jennifer explains, “Our young people are building support and understanding in every corner of this country by showing the world Who they are as talented, driven young people. Their powerful message has now reached the boardroom as corporations are listening to their words and following their lead in order to best prepare for the nextgen workforce.”
There is such a thirst for these types of voices and stories that The Gendercool Project has already been featured in dozens of national news outlets across the country, including a national launch on the TODAY Show, and write ups in The New York Times, People Magazine, Rolling Stone, and TeenVogue. A recent event held at Intuit was followed by a huge piece in Forbes Magazine.
These kids are changing the world. Not by talking about “what it’s like to be trans.” But by talking about who they are as people. Because, after all, it’s hard to hate up close.
Max is thrilled to announce that he too is now a Gendercool Champion, one of only 16 transgender and gender expansive youth in the country who can claim that official title (though all trans kiddos are champions and rock stars in my eyes!). His launch today is especially significant because as an athlete, he has a unique position of being able to talk about how important sports are to him. Teamwork, accomplishment, working on goals together, pushing yourself, moving your body, and having fun most importantly! These are things we wish for everyone — not just cisgender kids, but every child!
As Max said in his Gendercool video, “I think people should try lots of different things until they find the thing that makes them happiest.” This role of public advocate may be new to him, but he is happy and excited to be able to speak out in a way that feels comfortable — by talking about things that any kid would talk about, and putting a real, adorable face to an issue that is the focus of our national conversation. That’s what Gendercool and Max are all about!