Transgender youth navigate difficult path in quest to be who they are | News | Palo Alto Online |


Transgender youth navigate difficult path in quest to be who they are

Palo Alto students, families push district to evolve with changing gender norms

For years, J. kept a folder of items to remind himself that he existed.

Inside it was a place card from a formal dinner he attended, name tags, handwritten letters from a friend, a pink envelope with his name on it, a note from a teacher, a birthday card from his parents. The name on these items is not the one he was given at birth, but one he chose as a teenager to align with his gender identity.

J., who requested that the Weekly only use his first initial to protect his privacy, is a transgender man who transitioned from female to male as a student at Gunn High School. He told the Weekly that he often felt marginalized in a world so defined by binary notions of gender — that people are born either male or female without a recognition of any fluidity between the two. The contents of this folder affirmed to him that existing beyond the binary is valid.

"You're living in a society where it's formatted for you to not exist in it — the language is structured, the bathrooms are structured, the way people interact are structured, the clothing is structured, the kids' toys are structured, the shampoo is structured," he said.

J., now a college student, is one of many transgender youth in Palo Alto grappling with both their internal identities and their place in a world that is still playing catch up to changing societal norms around gender.

The Palo Alto school district is likewise scrambling to prepare for the growing number of students of all ages coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming.

For years, district parents of transgender students have been advocating for better support for their children, more comprehensive policies, more teacher training and more community education around LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning) issues.

Their efforts appear to be resulting in a slow-but-visible evolution throughout the district this year.

After more than two years of fits and starts, a new, comprehensive gender-identity policy will come before the school board for discussion next Tuesday. The policy takes a more intentional, inclusive approach to ensuring that transgender and gender non-conforming students' rights are protected.

Just two weeks ago, new "all-gender" signs were installed outside newly designated single-stall, gender-neutral restrooms at Palo Alto High School and Terman and Jane Lathrop Stanford middle schools. (The signs are also on their way to Gunn High and Jordan Middle School, and a conversation about the elementary school bathroom signage is forthcoming, district staff has said.) This is a change that J. and other Palo Alto students and parents of transgender youth have pushed for for years, as bathrooms are a nexus of discomfort and often peer harassment for transgender students.

The school district's primary online student-records system, Infinite Campus, as of this fall has new options for preferred name and gender. Before these additions, the district relied on an ad-hoc approach to accommodate students who wanted to change their names or genders on school records, meaning a student's given name might appear in another system, be used by a substitute teacher who is unaware of the preferred name, or a new name could be written on letters sent home to parents who might either not know about their child's identity or not accept it. For transgender people, being called the name given to them at birth — sometimes referred to as their "dead" name — can be a source of enormous anxiety, transgender students in Palo Alto and mental health professionals say.

Students at both high schools' Gay Straight Alliance groups recently decided to change their groups' names to be more inclusive of all gender identities and issues — Gunn to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and Paly to the Queer Straight Alliance. Gunn's student government also voted this fall to make homecoming court more inclusive, breaking with decades of tradition by removing the typical awards of "king" and "queen." Even Gunn yearbook polls like "best smile" that are typically awarded to one female and one male student will this year instead simply go to the top vote-getters.

Two school district librarians, one who has a transgender family member, are working to raise awareness and facilitate communication around transgender issues. Terman Middle School librarian Kristen Lee and Juana Briones Elementary School librarian Julie Griffin together created what they say is the nation's first open-source library guide dedicated to LGBTQQ-specific books, videos and other resources for elementary and middle school students, parents and teachers. Many of the books are also available in libraries as "honor" books, meaning students can take them home anonymously, without officially checking them out and leaving a record of their name. The district is also working with Palo Alto's TheatreWorks to create an educational play that all elementary students will soon see, in which a theater director struggles with traditional gender norms when assigning roles in a play.

Yet, Palo Alto families and transgender students say there is still a long way to go. Transgender and gender non-conforming students in Palo Alto experience peer harassment at school, are frequently misidentified by teachers and other parents, face being accidentally "outed" by teachers to other students who might not know that they are transgender, are forced to participate in many gender-based activities in schools (which can be as simple as a teacher separating a class by boys and girls, or lines entering a school dance that are broken down by gender) and, until the recent creation of gender-neutral bathrooms, had to forego something as basic as using the school bathroom to avoid potentially outing themselves or fielding questions from peers or even staff.

Brenda Carrillo, the school district's director of student services and chair of a standing LGBTQQ committee made up of school staff, parents and community representatives, said the district is making progress in many areas — moving closer toward adopting a more comprehensive policy, opening true gender-neutral bathrooms, increasing staff training — but acknowledged the work is far from complete.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Carrillo said, "but we are fully committed and aware of what needs to happen and are making every effort that we can to be forward-thinking about this while knowing that there is uniqueness in each of these situations."


For many children, identification with a gender begins around age 2, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They might begin to experience gender dysphoria, which the APA defines as "discomfort related to their bodies not matching their internal sense of gender."

That term, gender dysphoria, replaced "gender identity disorder" only recently, in 2013, in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States. In making the shift, the APA recognized that terms can "impact how people see themselves and how we see each other."

When J. was young, a pink "It's a girl" poster announcing his birth hung on a wall in his room. He remembers "despising" the poster, but not knowing why. When he was about 4 years old, he said he took a blue marker and drew all over the pink poster.

As he grew up, he continued to consistently express, in various ways, that he identified with the opposite gender. When he was 8, he remembers really wanting to wear swim trunks. He kept his hair short and liked being viewed as a boy. He quit ballet because the instructor said he would have to grow his hair out and put it in a bun.

It wasn't until middle school that J. first heard of a transgender person — a student who had graduated from the school years before, he said.

"My initial reaction was just jealousy because, in my head, all girls want to be boys," J. said. "It didn't dawn on me that most girls' reactions to hearing about a trans guy is not 'Sign me up.'"

Parallel to that, he started to realize that most girls actually liked being girls — that being female wasn't an "inherently negative" part of their identity, as it was for him. In seventh grade, he said, he "put two and two together" that he was transgender, but — being in denial — he didn't talk to anyone about it.

"I just didn't feel like I could," he said, "and I think I was still hoping it would go away. I think that saying it out loud made it real."

A breaking point came in eighth grade during a unit in his English class on gender identity. He said he brought up the existence of transgender people and the teacher told him that wasn't an appropriate discussion to have in that class.

"I was angry about that and I started ranting to a friend of mine about it after class and I don't remember what I said, but somehow in the process of that rant it just kind of came out," he remembered.

He came out to another friend, and later his parents. By the end of eighth grade, he was presenting outwardly in a masculine way — wearing more masculine clothes and keeping his hair short, for example.

J. decided to socially transition his freshman year at Gunn, meaning he started to go by his first initial, "J." He asked teachers and friends to use his preferred masculine pronouns.

J. described his own gender dysphoria as a "brain-body disconnect" so intense that "all of the societal judgment, the medical appointments ... all of that is better than being trans secretly.

"That is why people transition. It's not because they want to; it's not because it's a guy that likes to wear dresses. It's because being who you are is worth it, because suppressing who you are is worse than all of that."

He said the dysphoria was even worse than the social pressure to not present in his true gender.

"As hard as the social aspect was, potentially starting to panic every time I heard the echo of my voice or saw my reflection in a window was worse," J. said.

The parents of a transgender high school student, "Scott," whose name has been changed to protect his privacy and who transitioned from female to male at school this year, wanted him to wait to transition until he graduated from high school. But, he said, the dysphoria became unbearable. Before he transitioned, he would hide a pair of boys' shorts in his backpack and change once he got to school. He slowly started asking friends to use male pronouns.

Years before, in middle school, Scott had told his parents, "I think I'm a boy."

"It was the 'I think' that kind of left some open room for me to go back on it later when I was like, 'I'm not quite sure,'" Scott said. "I wish I had said, 'I am a boy.' But I wasn't quite ready to say that yet."

It wasn't until his sophomore year when he saw a YouTube video created by a transgender boy that he more fully identified as transgender.

Scott's mother, "Susan" — who asked for a pseudonym so as to protect her son's privacy — said she and her husband worried about him openly transitioning in high school. They wanted him to instead wait until after graduation. He said he couldn't wait.

"It was frustrating for me because at that point — the dysphoria was so bad that I just couldn't anymore," Scott said. "I couldn't handle it."


Transitioning, a yearslong process that looks different for each transgender person, can include coming out to one's family and friends, name and pronoun changes, dressing differently, hormone treatments and possibly surgeries.

Professionals say that for transgender and gender non-conforming students, a daily barrage of small encounters that emphasize a disconnect between society and their identities — an inappropriate question from another student in the bathroom, a substitute teacher who says a student's given name without knowing that they go by another — can accumulate and have deep emotional and psychological impact.

"It is the difference between a child feeling relaxed, happy, confident and able to learn and the child who feels inhibited, self-conscious, socially anxious and unable to learn," said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health and founding member of UCSF's Child and Adolescent Gender Center and a clinical psychologist who sees many patients from the Palo Alto area. "It's really a dramatic difference depending on whether there are positive policies and practices in place."

J. transitioned before not only major changes were made within the Palo Alto school district this year, but also the passage of AB1266, a landmark California law that ensures transgender students have access to facilities and activities, especially sports, based on their gender identity. The new law passed in 2013 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, in the middle of J.'s senior year.

Before this year, Palo Alto schools took a mostly ad-hoc approach to complying with AB1266. Gunn unlocked select single-stall staff restrooms for student use J.'s senior year. Before that, he was allowed to use the boy's bathrooms but said he avoided them altogether or used them during class when he thought they would be minimally occupied. Other transgender students said they shared the strategy of using bathrooms that were less trafficked.

At Paly, staff typically gave transgender and gender non-conforming students keys to single-stall staff bathrooms. Some elementary-age students were given access to the nurse's office bathroom. Both groups of students said they were reluctant to use those facilities because doing so would call attention to their status.

J. also struggled to get his name changed on school records before Infinite Campus allowed staff to enter "preferred name" and "preferred gender." The mother of another transgender student said she decided to change her daughter's name on her birth certificate because she knew the Infinite Campus change wouldn't come soon enough for her child.

Many of J.'s teachers also struggled to consistently use the correct pronouns, he said. School teachers and staff are now required by law to use a student's preferred name and pronouns.

One teacher just didn't use pronouns in reference to him, J. said. Another suggested in front of another student that J. should apply to Smith College, an all-girls school, he said. Other teachers tripped over pronoun usage and apologized in ways that made him feel even worse — with an "undertone of, 'you are too complicated for me to understand your existence,'" he said.

He came up with an analogy: "It's as if you stepped on someone's foot. Rather than going, 'Sorry,' you went, 'Oh, I'm sorry, you just stand at such a weird position; I didn't think that your foot would be there. I just have trouble grasping the concept of feet.'"

J. said the best way to apologize for using the wrong pronouns is to simply correct one's self, apologize and move on.

J. and other students say they feel isolated and alienated by sex-separated activities as commonplace as pairing students off for an activity. Transgender students and their parents in Palo Alto are also pushing their schools to move away from heteronormative activities, like separating a class by gender.

"When we told the administration, 'We really don't want you to break down by gender,' their response was well, 'you can pick whichever one you want.' That wasn't the point," said "Mary," the mother of a transgender elementary student in Palo Alto. "The point was it depends on the day; it depends on the hour. Sometimes she doesn't feel like either one of them. Why are we forcing kids to do that?"


At one Palo Alto elementary school, an outside organization needed to step in to ease a transgender student's transition. "Anne," whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, transitioned from male to female at her elementary school last year. This came after she grew her hair out, started wearing dresses to school and asked her parents to use the female pronouns at home. Anne's mother, "Julia," whose name has also been changed, said their family lived a "double life" for several months: Anne, then 8 years old, was using the female pronouns at home and at outside-of-school activities, but was still known as a boy at school.

Once she felt ready to socially transition at school, Anne requested one condition: that Gender Spectrum, an Oakland organization that provides education and training around gender to schools and other institutions, come in to speak to her class and others at the school. She had grown tired of routinely fielding questions on the playground about her gender. Students she didn't know would ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?" More questions and harassment came when she went to the bathroom, to the point where she didn't use the restroom at school for four months. Students also peppered her older brother with questions like, "Why is your brother wearing a dress?" Julia said.

"It's not so fun to explain (it) all the time to people," Anne told the Weekly. "If someone asks you something over and over and over again nonstop and it's different people but the same question, it really bugs me."

But that fall, Gender Spectrum couldn't come to the school right away, so Anne was still going by male pronouns at the start of the school year, while being recognized as female at home. Doing so caused a "crisis," Julia said. Normally a happy child, Anne was angry, "like a different person," and would break down every day after school.

Julia almost pulled Anne out of school to homeschool her. They instead decided on a stopgap: She would transition just in her classroom, going by female pronouns, until Gender Spectrum could come.

The next month, Joel Baum, Gender Spectrum's senior director of professional development and family services, visited Anne's school, leading a parent-education night and speaking to students. He read to classes "Be Who You Are," a children's picture book about a biological boy who identifies as a girl. He explained gender expression and identity in an age-appropriate way.

Anne remembers that in her class, he drew a line on the board with "boys" and "girls" at each end. Pointing to the line, he told the class, "all of these things are possible."

Baum said in an interview with the Weekly that Gender Spectrum's goal — whether by speaking to a class of elementary-age students, training teachers or leading a parent-education night — is to not only support transgender and gender non-conforming students but also expand people's notions of gender and gender roles.

He often tells parents: "(If) you think we're here to talk about some 'other' child, we're talking about your child because your child is getting messages about what it means to be a boy or girl that are really damaging, too."

"This isn't about 'other.' This is about all of us," he said.

Anne, now 9 years old, said she felt her transition at school went well.

"It felt like I was controlling who I wanted to be, like I wasn't letting anyone force me to be who I didn't want to be," she said.

Julia said that harassment by other students completely stopped after Gender Spectrum came in. She couldn't have imagined how her daughter's transition would have gone without the additional education and support.

"You can't have a welcoming and supportive environment if the teachers haven't been trained," she said.

As a member of the district's LGBTQQ committee Julia and other parents have been pushing for the district to implement training around gender issues in a more systemic, intentional way.

For the past eight years, Adolescent Counseling Services' LGBTQQ+ program, Outlet, has trained new teachers in the district in two-hour sessions offered once a year. Last year, Gender Spectrum came in for the first time to lead a second training, also about two hours long, district staff said. Outlet also provides workshops for Paly's and Gunn's Living Skills classes, and, as recently as two weeks ago, did a training with all school psychologists. Schools typically contact the organization throughout the year to provide other training and education for staff, or students, or on a consultation basis as needs or questions arise, according to Outlet Program Director Anthony Ross.

The district has said it also plans to train classified staff, like secretaries. Gender Spectrum will also be leading a training at Paly in January, at the district's request. Baum said there are more and more schools and organizations requesting trainings — so many so that Gender Spectrum is restructuring its services to meet the high demand.

J. himself led a staff training at Gunn his senior year. He explained different terminology, what it means to be transgender, what would make him feel more welcomed at school (from using the right pronouns and gender-inclusive language to mentioning transgender figures in history or the news). One bullet point on his presentation read, "What you do as a teacher can make a world of difference in the life of a trans student."

Ever since Anne's gender expression became markedly more female, Julia would talk with her school about which teachers they think might be the best fit for her daughter each year.

"I might be told that some teachers, because of religious or cultural background, aren't as accepting of gender non-conforming children as other teachers, so the pool of available teachers to entrust my child to can be cut down considerably," Julia said. "This is frustrating and not OK. But at the same time, I'm very grateful that the school is making sure my kid isn't going to be put with a teacher who can't accept an 8 year old for who she is."

Daisy Renazco, a Gunn teacher and the school's longtime Gender and Sexuality Alliance adviser, said it often takes hearing a student's personal experience to cause a shift in teachers' understanding and practices.

"I think a lot of it has to do with awareness and understanding," she said. "To an adult that isn't connected to a trans student or (doesn't) understand what that perspective is, it seems really new. 'Why do I need to do this?' It doesn't make sense until you start to really hear the stories."

"To shift hearts and minds takes time, in order to shift a culture," she added.

Baum said beyond being required by California law to support transgender and gender non-conforming students, teachers have a "moral responsibility" to their students.

"What we're talking about here, at the end of the day, is all kids deserve to be treated with kindness and respect," he said. "As an educator, you do not get to decide which child is safe and which one isn't."


Rapid and recent shifts in the biological, environmental and societal understanding of what shapes gender identity, particularly at a young age, mean that parents whose transgender children came out even just four years ago struggled to find adequate resources and informed psychological support in the area.

The first child psychologist that Julia and her husband saw, who they were referred to by their pediatrician, told them during their first session that transgender children were so rare, she'd never come across one, Julia said.

They brought a photo of Anne, who was then presenting as a boy, and the psychologist told them that she could tell by Anne's bone structure that she was, in fact, a boy.

The psychologist instructed Julia, a stay-at-home mother, to distance herself from Anne and become less feminine — to not wear dresses or jewelry or paint her nails — to "break the emotional bond" between them. The psychologist also said that Anne should only be allowed to play with boys.

"I was supposed to kind of retreat into the background and not pay much attention to her," Julia said, while her husband was supposed to become "this amazingly interesting person doing all the fun things with my kids."

"But I was supposed to ... give the impression that I found my daughter 'not very interesting,'" she continued. "This psychologist in that one visit concluded that, since I was a stay-at-home mom, I'd 'over-bonded' with my daughter and so she wanted to be female like me."

Anne's parents reluctantly followed the psychologist's advice. It didn't feel right, but she was the expert, Julia said.

At the time, Julia had no idea that a child so young could be aware of gender identity. Other information, resources or other parents going through the same thing were scarce.

Following the psychologist's advice for several weeks turned out to be a disaster, Julia said.

The next psychologist was not much more helpful, despite having several transgender patients. After a year of sessions, when Anne still saw herself as a girl but had learned not to express it directly, the psychologist told Julia and her husband that "being transgender is a very lonely thing, (and) you want to try to avoid your child becoming transgender if possible."

At that point, they had bought Anne a dress, which she wanted to wear all the time, Julia said. The psychologist told them to pretend the dress was in the wash, limit how much she wore it and to not buy any more dresses.

"Emily," whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is the mother of a Palo Alto transgender student. She had a similar experience with a child psychologist who told her, "this happens to a lot of kids" and instructed her not to allow her daughter to wear dresses.

This now outdated approach didn't work for either family, but they said they didn't know where else to turn at the time.

"As health providers, we don't have a good track record," said Maria Porch, a Los Altos psychotherapist who treats transgender and gender non-conforming adolescents and adults. "We don't have a positive history. It definitely has impacted how trans people seek care — or how they don't seek care."

Porch is a member of a growing — though still small — pool of local mental health professionals with experience and expertise in gender-identity issues. The pool is even smaller for parents seeking support for younger children rather than adolescents.


Parental attitudes play a critical role in the lives of transgender youth. Still at the forefront of new laws, school policies and societal acceptance, many parents become staunch advocates for their children, pushing schools to put in place the required accommodations and support. But not all parents are able or willing to do so, leaving some students to navigate the changing tides on their own. (For students in this position, having comprehensive policies in place like the one coming before the Palo Alto school board are of critical importance, parents say.) Transgender youth under 18 who do not have their parents' acceptance also cannot do things like legally change their name.

Parents also work through their own process of understanding their child's identity.

Alan Marcum, the father of a transgender man who transitioned after transferring out of Paly, said his son's transition eventually catalyzed a change in his own understanding of gender norms.

"I used to see gender as highly binary and not completely but very strongly correlated with sex," he said. "It's much clearer to me now that though many of us identify at one end of the spectrum only, or another only, there are those who identify in other parts of the spectrum ... and still others who are highly fluid, not just around the center but around a much broader area of that."

But, this was a process for Alan, whose son, Rayden, came out to his parents in a concise note left on a whiteboard on the refrigerator before going out of town for the weekend. It read: "I'm transgender; please use male pronouns."

Alan said he was not upset — nor totally surprised — about Rayden's identity but about the way that he communicated it to his parents.

"If I had a magic wand, I would have Rayden sit down with us and explain it and let us ask a lot of questions — potentially even talk with us with someone else there who could help answer questions. Because my questions were not meant to attack or disagree; they were meant to understand. That's all I wanted to do, to understand."

Mary, the parent of an elementary-age transgender girl, said her advice to other parents to is "trust their gut."

"Although you hear different messages from people or people telling you, 'She's too young to make this decision'... it's just letting her be who she is," Mary said. "Parents who have a kid like this know that it's who they are, and if you just let all the noise fall away and follow your gut, I feel like it leads you in the right way."

Parents said they sought understanding of their children's identities by reading anything they could get their hands on — information that in the past wasn't always reliable or readily accessible — and by calling health care and mental health professionals, legal experts, LGBTQQ advocacy organizations.

"When I first came to realize that I had a transgender kid, I didn't know anyone who was transgender, much less any parents of transgender kids," Emily said. "It was really isolating. Even having the support of wonderful staff and teachers, it can feel daunting. How do I know I'm doing the right thing? Will people love my kid? Will she find acceptance? Will she be safe? All those things that every parent worries about for their kid."

There is now a strong parent support network in Palo Alto. Earlier this year, Julia started a monthly play and support group for parents of young transgender children. (This was also a new development in the area; Julia said previously, the closest groups were in Oakland and Santa Cruz. There is an existing support group for parents of transgender teens and young adults that used to meet in Palo Alto but now is in Sunnyvale. More information about local support groups is available at

There are now more than 40 people, about 30 families, from throughout the Peninsula who are part of the group Julia organizes. Many of the Palo Alto parents are now active members of the district's LGBTQQ committee and have been deeply involved with the new policy coming before the school board next week.

Transgender students and their parents are hopeful that the signs of sea change throughout the Palo Alto district will continue. The most important might be the new gender-identity policy, which, if approved, they hope would help codify a new culture in Palo Alto.

Parents say there are pockets of empathetic, supportive, gender-affirmative teachers and administrators that they view as true allies for their children. And small shifts do continue to happen, like Emily's daughter's teacher switching from starting her class by saying, "alright, boys and girls," to using terms like "scientists," "artists," or "authors," depending on the subject they're learning. Some Gunn teachers this year added a preferred pronouns sections on their beginning-of-the-year "get to know me" sheets.

As for J., he no longer relies on his folder full of items to remind himself that he exists. He recently almost saved a Starbucks cup with his name on it to put into the folder.

"I realized that it had hit a point in my life where I was me more often than pretending to be someone else, (and) that I didn't need to do that anymore," he said. He left the folder at home when he went to college this fall.

But until across-the-board, institutional culture change is accomplished, parents and students continue to advocate, so that they can live fully authentic lives, wherever they are.

"Everyone's journey is different, and you can't know, especially in the beginning, where the journey will lead," Emily said. "My daughter has to be the one who figures out where her path leads. I see my role as helping clear the boulders and sharp sticks out of the way so she can navigate that journey more easily, and then putting a helmet on her, so she has the resiliency to overcome the obstacles we can't foresee or change.

"Fortunately there are people along the way to help her, and she doesn't ever have to walk alone. ... The most important thing is knowing you are not alone."

Related content:

Gender terms and definitions

Palo Alto school district eyes new gender-identity policy

On privacy, early intervention and medical advances

Outlet offers LGBTQQ youth a place to be

Stanford Children's Health begins to offer transgender health care

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84 people like this
Posted by Gunn Alum Mom
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 6, 2015 at 8:28 am

Thank you for this informative article to help spread understanding and tolerance.

Key take-away: "What we're talking about here, at the end of the day, is all kids deserve to be treated with kindness and respect," he said. "As an educator, you do not get to decide which child is safe and which one isn't."

45 people like this
Posted by fcservices
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 6, 2015 at 10:19 am

Our thanks to the individuals and families who shared their experiences for this article. Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley's LGBTQ Youth Space recently launched a free monthly Family Night for family members with children or youth who are LGBTQ. We also offer culturally-competent LGBTQ youth and family counseling at our Palo Alto office and in San Jose. For information, please visit Web Link.

The program's Youth Speakers Bureau also is available for presentations.

30 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

There is very much a one-sided trans narrative that's being played out in the U.S. these days. There is actually debate within the medical community itself about how to treat gender dysphoria in children--particularly as one study indicates that 80 percent of the children with gender dysphoria cease being that way at adolescence (which makes puberty blockers an issue--particularly as the use of them followed by hormones tends to lead to sterility.)

We still don't have a good idea of what causes gender dysphoria--it's associated with any number of other serious issues. A recent Finnish study shows that more than a quarter of the girls who came to gender clinics were on the autism spectrum.

One of the big concerns about GID is the high rate of suicidal attempts and ideation. What's less discussed is that there's no indication that transitioning reduces the ideation or attempts. Also not discussed are the effects of a life spent on hormones.

The 4thwavenow blog is geared toward parents with children who have GID and offers an interesting and serious counter to the current pro-transition narrative we're hearing. Even if you don't end up agreeing with the blogger, I think it's worth thinking about the issues she raises.

23 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2015 at 3:56 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

Not to sound insensitive (by no means), but I think that many of the approaches to transgender issues is faulty.

Instead of encouraging a physical or material "transformation" (where transgender adults and youth go through medical procedures in the effort to make their bodies align with the gender that they associate with), I think that a better effort is to teach people to be happy with who they are.

If you're biologically a male, then you should come to terms with that biology -- even if you mentally identify as a female -- rather than try to surgically, chemically or otherwise physically alter it. Likewise, if you're biologically a female, you should come to terms and learn to accept that biology too. Otherwise, it will be an expensive, never-ending pursuit of changing to a gender "look" manufactured by society.

I have seen people encourage transgender teens and adults to pursue alternations or adaptations. Instead, we should teach people to be happy with who they are on the inside and outside. There is nothing wrong with your physical body EVEN IF that body doesn't necessarily align with a gender that you prefer to associate with on the inside.

Please do not mistake this with some sort of ignorance. I just believe that we should learn to accept who we are and how we were born -- body, genes and all -- and not cling to any artificial means of achieving a physical gender or dress code that we might associate with with a gender that we feel like in our minds. Does that make any sense?

If you are born this way (physically speaking), we should learn to not be ashamed of it.

8 people like this
Posted by seriously
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2015 at 8:55 pm

one needs to understand the natural order of the world.

25 people like this
Posted by William Jennings
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2015 at 1:56 am

This is a one-sided story. The Weekly should have interviewed at least one person who disagrees with this approach. Allowing boys into the girl's bathrooms and showers is problematic at best. Report both sides of the story please.

49 people like this
Posted by mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:46 am

@William Jennings - they aren't boys. They are transgender girls. The girls bathroom is where they belong. Why is it problematic? What are you afraid will happen?
Policies like this have been in place for more than a decade in various parts of the country - LAUSD, NYC schools, lots of city ordinances across the country. You know how many documented cases there have been of a trans person assaulting another person in a bathroom - zero. It's not a problem. It's a fear tactic and it's doing a disservice to everyone in our community.

18 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2015 at 9:28 am

Bathroom usage is not based upon the mind. Usage is based upon the pipes (anatomy). People should be accepting of who they are. This means they should accept their biologic anatomy. The bathroom and locker room is based upon that anatomy. Gender dysphoria is about the mind; it doen't determine bathroom usage.

16 people like this
Posted by mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 9:52 am

I don't think it's as simple as just plumbing. So the trans man in the photo in this piece should use the women's room?

Web Link

The fact is, people are complex and thus issue is complex and reducing it to plumbing does not acknowledge the complexity.

In these scenarios, it is the trans kids who are being bullied and harassed, not the other way around.

59 people like this
Posted by reality check
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 7, 2015 at 9:56 am

@Anon - there is also "debate" about the efficacy of vaccinations, the curability of homosexuality and whether the earth is round.

@Nayeli While I appreciate the tone of your message, your advice is deeply misguided. If you were speaking about someone who wished they were a size smaller or a few inches taller or had clearer skin or a cuter nose or smaller ears or whatever, that might be appropriate (though I note that there are interventions for nearly all of those concerns and people don't seem to object to them).

For trans people, you are suggesting they deny the very core of their identity. The idea that the trade off is between learning to "accept who you are" and an "expensive, never-ending pursuit" is completely false. The trade-off is between living authentically and suffering. The Gender Spectrum website (Web Link) has some great information to help you better understand.

@seriously - the natural order of the world is that it is comprised of a vast array of diversity.

50 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2015 at 10:44 am

--the "80% change their mind" stat is bogus. That study lumped together kids who were gender nonconforming but didn't identify as transgender (ex: a boy who likes to wear pink but identifies with a boy) with transgender kids. The reality is that it's rare for kids who are insistent, persistent and consistent in their gender identity to change their minds. Research shows that transgender children have a gender identity that is as consistent as that of cisgender (not transgender) children.

--transitioning does indeed reduce suicide attempts.

What dramatically increases the rate of suicide attempts are parents who don't support their transgender children, which is what the blog you posted encourages. 57% of trans youth who aren't supported by their family will attempt suicide. Here in Palo Alto, I think that's something that's more worth considering.

52 people like this
Posted by Another Resident of Palo Alto
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 10:52 am

Given that we are talking about transgender kids who are a small percentage of the general public and given that these same kids experience significant higher rates in suicidal ideation, why are we imposing our narrow ideas when we should be supporting them in a safe and welcoming environment vs. adding increased barriers and additional hardships.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2015 at 12:29 pm


No, it's not bogus. What is bogus is the idea that we know that early social transition is the right thing--particularly when the suicide rate doesn't drop post-transition.

The debates within the medical community does exist (not comparable to vaccination). This study was just published in a peer-reviewed journal--please notice A) the concerns and B) the conclusion that there is *no* consensus for the treatment of children with gender dysphoria:

Early Medical Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Gender Dysphoria: An Empirical Ethical Study.
Vrouenraets LJ1, Fredriks AM2, Hannema SE3, Cohen-Kettenis PT4, de Vries MC3.
Author information
[Portion removed due to potential copyright infringement.]

The current craze for trans has the earmarks of a fad--it reminds me of the fad for recovered memories and multiple personality disorder--i.e. something that is extremely rare and nebulous starts to seem much more common. Not the least of the problem is the moving goal posts--the 80 percent figure comes from a study of children who were brought to gender clinics, not boys who wore a dress one day or a girl who played with her brother's trucks.

A similar issue exists with trans and crime rates--an MtF charged with a serious crime will be dismissed as "not really trans." Nonsense. Particularly when people seeking MtF treatment have a relatively high rate of criminal activity (10 percent pre-transition) and no decline post-surgery. Swedish study, also peer-reviewed.

The no-trans-has-ever-committed-a-crime-in-a-bathroom is a non-starter. No one's ever tried to collect the statistics. More PR spin. There's plenty of MtF violent crime--such as the MtF who knocked out a woman's teeth when she questioned the MtF's presence in a women's changing area.

I think the district's approach to the bathroom issue works. All kids should feel safe and private gender-neutral bathrooms are an excellent option for this.

But the blind acceptance of the pro-transition narrative concerns me. This article is one of many that doesn't question the "facts"

2 people like this
Posted by another one
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ reality check: I understand what you're saying, but I still feel a need to disagree. In my opinion, there is much difference between someone hoping to lose weight, clear up their skin or fix something through natural means and someone who is seeking to fundamentally change their anatomy to conform with a gender that they associate with on the inside (or what society says that gender should look like).

I think that a better comparison is with skin bleaching, blepharoplasty or plastic surgery that changes the person beyond natural measures. Should a young black, latina or asian girl be encouraged to bleach her skin because she wants to feel white (if she associates with the white race on the inside)?

Rather, I think that we should focus on getting people to accept who they are and the way that they were born. No person should feel a need to pursue surgical, medical or chemical alterations in order to achieve a certain look that they weren't born with.

All people are beautiful. Period. There is no ideal look. Instead, we are all born with shades of melanin. We all have different body structures. The physical gender of each person is the biology and anatomy of that person. It is beautiful. We should never encourage people to think that their anatomy is wrong and that they were born as a mistake. Rather, we should teach people to accept who they are (inside and outside) and how they were born.

We should teach children to love themselves -- inside and out -- and to learn how to appreciate others in the same way.

2 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

[Post removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by reality check
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm

We should teach our children to respect themselves and others. That doesn't include you deciding what is and isn't appropriate for someone else. If you don't want/need to change anything about yourself - good for you.

No one is forcing treatment on these kids. In fact, there is a set of protocols, often multiple years being seen and evaluated by someone, prior to any medicine or surgery. And for prepubescent kids there are NO medical interventions at all. Indeed whether a trans person ever decides on medical interventions is a matter of personal choice and does not make them any less their asserted gender.

2 people like this
Posted by Kim
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:24 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ reality check: However, the State of California says that children under the age of 18 cannot consent to things like sex, smoking, etc... Youth under the age of 21 cannot even consent to alcohol. Why should we allow youth to have a decision to undergo chemical, surgical or other forms of reassignment treatments and procedures when they lack the majority to do so?

Why can't it be enough that we teach them to love themselves and their own bodies? After all, they are "born this way" and shouldn't hate themselves.

1 person likes this
Posted by Good Grief
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2015 at 3:03 pm

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by a friend
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2015 at 3:07 pm

A lot of people are so concerned about bathrooms. For one, bad things can happen to people in bathrooms irregardless of gender, like men can follow other males into bathrooms and bad things can happen. Also if this is such a concern, why do we have huge bathrooms with so many units, why do we not have individual bathrooms like at some restaurants (which are usually gendered even though they only have on toilet, which does not make sense to me).

Besides all the nonsensical bathroom debates, we should let people be who they are comfortably, not try and force them to be sad and something they're not. And to rebuttal those who claim that trans isn't real (trans is real by the way, so get over it) why should you "fix" trans kids by forcing them to dress how society thinks their biological sex should dress, why can't they be happy and make their own decisions on their gender expression. Maybe some people will be insensitive to them, but why should they hide themselves and conform sadly. Hiding and trying to fit to outdated societal norms is a major reason why many trans people take their lives which is an extremely sad and preventable issue.

I just hope everyone can try and be kind and understanding to trans people, they really don't need to have anymore negativity in their lives, they should be allowed to live happily and proudly with their identity. I am very proud of my trans friend and the other trans people interviewed for being so brave in their identity, thank you for telling your stories.

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Reality Check, that's just not true. Puberty blockers are given before adolescence--thus, by definition, to children. The protocols are not consistent and the research behind them is iffy--thus, the conclusions in that abstract I cited--it says specifically that there is "no consensus on treatment."

Read some of the comments on the 4thwave blog by parents who resist medical treatment for their kids and tell me that there's not a ton of pressure for their children to undergo gender reassignment.

Tell Germaine Greer that there's no attempt by trans activists to silence people who don't share their views.

I am less concerned about who's right and who's wrong than I am by squelching of honest discussion and debate over quite a serious matter. Taking away people's fertility and sentencing them to a lifetime of heavy-duty medication isn't a decision that should be made lightly. To put physically healthy minors on puberty blockers and then hormones is a draconian strategy that should discussed and generally discouraged.

Would you tell an anorexic her distorted body image is right and we should all see her as too fat? Would you tell someone with body dismorphia that, yes, that healthy leg *should* be amputated?

Why would you think a six-year-old would have an adult's understanding of what it is to be a man or a woman? I ask, because children younger than that have been diagnosed with GID and been socially transitioned.

The lack of scrutiny is shocking.

33 people like this
Posted by Cincy
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Cincy is a registered user.

I graduated from Paly 51 years ago. I thought I was the only person in the world who ever felt my biological sex was incompatible with who I knew myself to be. Times and public understanding being what they were, I was in my late 40s before I was afforded the opportunity to transition my social role to what what it should have been from birth.

I'm so proud that Palo Alto is taking an aggressive approach to protecting students whose gender identity differs from conventional expectations. Go Vikes!

10 people like this
Posted by PA parent 2008
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:57 pm

PA parent 2008 is a registered user.


[Portion removed.] I did what you asked and checked out some of the comments from that blog. The most recent post from 4thwavenow herself is from Oct 28. Here's an exerpt:

"I have seen many articles in the more conservative press that do a far better job of identifying the problems with transgenderism than the liberal or even "mainstream" media. Unfortunately, many of these right wing treatments are extremely homophobic, condemning the transgender trend as part of the "gay agenda." Ironically, while many in the LGB camp have jumped fully on board with the "T," in fact the trans trend is harmful to gay and lesbian people (as has been written about many times on this blog), both because kids who would otherwise grow up gay/lesbian are being "transitioned," and because of the invasion of women-only spaces by males/MTFs who believe they are lesbians. "

Um, wow.

4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

I would like to ask some really open questions here, please be kind. I have known people who got gender reassignment as adults, and all were happier. The children of two friends have undergone reassignment, and in one case, I was really really not surprised based on knowing the child since very early age. In other other case, it was kind of a shock. I am not one to judge others so I really don't want to be in the debate above. I would like to know a few of the most important things I need to know as an adult in the community to be supportive.

Second - how prevalent is hermaphrodism (is that the term?) and is that commonly a factor in gender reassignment or not at all? Is there a spectrum when it comes to gender identity because of that?

6 people like this
Posted by PA parent 2008
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2015 at 4:43 pm

PA parent 2008 is a registered user.


You are wonderful for asking your questions. One of the best ways to be supportive is to educate yourself about gender identity. is a great place to start and should answer your questions.

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