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Writing, Cross-dressing

Writing, Cross-dressing


As a preschooler, Kyle* would tighten a belt around a long T-shirt and show off his "dress." Other times he'd reimagine a tank top as a snug one-piece. Finally, his mother asked if he wanted a real frock. "He nearly hyperventilated on the drive to Target," his father, Sam*, recalls.

Children struggling with their gender is not new. But now, instead of forcing kids like Kyle to conform to societal norms, some schools and parents are adapting to transgender kids while helping other children to accept diversity.

"We see gender expression on a spectrum," says Reynaldo Almeida (pictured), who heads Oakland, Calif.'s Aurora School, where Kyle is a first-grader, "and that's how we explain it to our students."

Aurora, a progressive private K-5 school, has introduced one of the first gender-fluidity curriculums for elementary-age kids. Through meetings with parents and staff, Aurora developed a program that addresses gender variance as part of a larger curriculum on self-esteem, empathy, and communication that the school touts as fostering "social-emotional life skills." In one exercise kids talk about the differences between an apple and a pear. Then they are shown an Asian pear -- it looks like an apple, but it can't be so easily defined.

These tasks are helping Aurora students better understand Kyle, who since kindergarten has fully identified as a girl. Her parents had read about the challenges facing transgender kids and felt they had to choose between "clamping down" on her gender expression and finding a safer classroom environment.

Not all parents were thrilled with this new subject, and Almeida, who is gay, admits some families may have not returned to Aurora this year because of it. But the school has moved forward, and parents are informed when gender discussions arise in the classroom.

So, how are Kyle's classmates reacting to her gender variance? "The younger the children are, the more comfortable they are to it," says Alexa Eurich, Kyle's teacher. "They don't have 40 years of conditioning that people are male or female."

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Regina Marler