With long blond extensions and a pair of rainbow-colored shoes, Kylie Clifton arrived for her first day of school as her true self — not the Kyle she used to force herself to be.
Then 12 years old, Kylie was nervous about going to school that day and coming out as transgender, but thanks to welcoming teachers, administrators and students at Portage North Middle School in Michigan, that part of her transition went as smoothly as possible.
“It was great,” Kylie, now 14, tells PEOPLE. “I really didn’t get any negative comments. People were interested in what I had to say. It was great having all the teachers wishing me luck, and supporting me that day, and having the support of all the friends I told.”
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” her mom Ginger, 46, adds.
Possible Problems Under Trump
While other transgender students like Gavin Grimm have struggled for understanding in their school community, Kylie found support from the get-go. But she and Ginger are worried that might change with the Trump administration’s guideline reversal that strips away her ability to use the bathroom of her choice, especially in the newly red state of Michigan.
“Michigan is an iffy state,” Ginger, who works in human resources, says. “When Kylie gets old enough to get a job, she could be not hired, or fired, simply for being who she is in the state of Michigan. There’s no slam dunks here by any means.”
“We’re fortunate that we’re supported here by our community, we’re in a community that has LGBT protective ordnances, and we’re in a great school, but we don’t feel that we necessarily have protections at the state level, and now at a federal level we certainly have concerns.”
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Kylie adds that entire idea that people are going to start scrutinizing everyone who comes into the bathroom is absurd.
“It really does affect me to know that I could be forced to go into a bathroom I don’t agree with,” she says. “Is it supposed to be a war zone where people assume or not assume that someone’s not supposed to be in that bathroom? How crazy does that sound? Generally you’re in the bathroom to use it for what it is — a utility. That scares me.”
Just two and a half years ago, in the fall of 2014, Kylie was still trying to figure out who she was, and struggling with a lack of information.
“That was before Caitlyn Jenner came out. So Kylie knew she was different, she knew she considered herself in her mind a girl, but she didn’t know what that meant, she didn’t know what it meant to be transgender,” Ginger explains. “It really wasn’t in the media or talked about in the U.S.”
Kylie was dealing with intense anxiety because she wasn’t comfortable in her body, and was having trouble finding a solution online.
“At first I didn’t connect the dots,” she says. “At that time, I didn’t have a lot of self-respect for myself, which is really sad to think about. It was very much anxiety building up.”
Her Google searches finally led her to the word transgender.
“I just remember how quickly it clicked for me, as soon as I saw the word and read what it meant.”
The next step was to tell her mom, but after several attempts to get the words out failed, Kylie opted for a simple solution — a text.
“She texted me a Wikipedia link to transgender. That was it. I went up to her room, and said, ‘I got your text, and I think there’s something we need to talk about,’ ” Ginger says. It was an immediate relief for Kylie. “It was such a great feeling that I had finally connected the dots, and had been able to communicate that to my mom,” she says.
A Welcoming School
Her school administrators were surprised when Ginger and Kylie told them the news, but they were immediately supportive and helpful, calling in an LGBT resource center to train all the staff.
The initial plan was to have Kylie use the two single-stall bathrooms, which was fine for the remainder of her sixth grade year, but because they were so far away from her classes, she asked to use the girl’s bathroom the next fall.
“I had been using the girl’s bathroom everywhere else, and [the school was] perfectly fine with that,” Kylie says.
“It’s literally been a non-issue to use the girl’s bathroom at school or anywhere else for that matter,” Ginger adds.
Kylie’s now in eighth grade, and heads off to high school in the fall. The guideline reversal could have an impact by that time, but Ginger is hopeful considering how well Kylie’s transition has gone in the community so far.
“Our experience has been so positive with having open communication, so I definitely want to do that at the high school.”