Laurie Frankel on Her Transgender Daughter: 'The Biggest Bully at My Child's Elementary School Is the Federal Government'

Novelist Laurie Frankel talks about what it's like to be a parent of a transgender 8-year-old

Laurie FrankelCredit: Natalia Dotto
Photo: Natalia Dotto

Laurie Frankel is the mother of a transgender 8-year-old girl and the author of This Is How it Always Is.

I was sitting in traffic last week when people on the radio started talking about where my kid should go to the bathroom. It was weird. One of the unfortunate hallmarks of parenthood is spending an inordinate amount of time considering your child’s basic biological evacuations. As her mom, I’m stuck with that, but it was puzzling that anyone else would be contemplating it.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, she was boy. Over the course of first grade, she slowly transitioned to being a girl. In her case, that meant trading shorts for dresses, pants for tights, sneakers for glittery sneakers, short hair for long, and the boys’ bathroom for the girls’ bathroom. I learned on the radio that this last bit was dangerous and indecent, chaotic and confusing, offensive run-amok political correctness and frankly a little bit gross.

In real life, though, it was none of those things.

No one expressed to her, her teachers, her principal, or me feeling unsafe, offended, or confused. Fellow parents didn’t think about my kid going to the bathroom. (In fact, if they did, that would be alarming.) On the playground after school, they expressed curiosity about her situation, relief and sometimes surprise that she was doing so well, happiness that she was happy.

Her classmates did not care at all. They were six. They didn’t consider restrooms political (again, it would alarming if they did), and they certainly didn’t feel like the little kid they jumped rope with at recess posed any threat to their safety.

But as soon as I opened my inbox, my incredulity turned to fear. Emails from family and friends all began, “Are you okay?” They’d seen on the news the administration’s decision to withdraw protections for transgender students. They emailed again this week when the Supreme Court declined to hear the trans rights case before it. They read in the paper that our state is reintroducing failed ballot measures to force my daughter to use the boys’ bathroom at her elementary school. In contrast to what she’d experienced in first grade, that really would be dangerous, indecent, and confusing for her and her classmates. Banning her from the only safe, sane bathroom she could use would make it impossible for her to learn, grow, feel happy, make friends, be proud of and confident in who she is.

I felt sick.

I was terrified.

But quickly, I was also angry.


Since my 8-year-old endangers literally no one, the politicians denying her rights must be lying when they claim to be doing so for reasons of safety. Since what they have proposed is not implementable — no one sits outside the bathrooms in the elementary school pulling down each child’s underwear for inspection before admission (another thing that would be alarming if it were true) — I can only conclude that they have proposed it for other reasons: to scare people, to incite and justify violence, to make my kid feel wrong and bad about herself, to make certain she’s regarded as dangerous, indecent, abnormal, to exclude and isolate her.

My daughter is not being bullied by her peers, who have been understanding and accepting and also unfazed, clear that we should all be our best selves, that change is scary but good, clear on what matters and what doesn’t. She’s not being bullied by her peers or their parents or her school or her community. She’s being bullied by her government.

If her government were a classmate, it would be given detention and made to stay after school. It would have to copy on the board, “I won’t bully small children for political gain. I won’t bully small children for political gain,” over and over. It would have to write a three-hundred word essay on who it hurt and why and how it would avoid doing so in the future.

And even though I know I can’t give the president detention, I do have to wonder: How can the biggest bully at my child’s elementary school be the federal government? How can where she pees be on that government’s first month to-do list when it has so much more pressing work to do? How can it be a government priority to take away my third grader’s confidence, security, and ability to thrive? How can they claim to be revoking her rights for reasons of safety and privacy when doing so destroys her safety and privacy?

My 8-year-old is afraid of zombies, multiplication tables, and being forced to eat raw tomatoes. I am afraid of her being shamed, isolated, intimidated, victimized, and denied her civil rights. The politicians stripping her of those rights and protections profess to be afraid of using the bathroom with her. Since non-discrimination laws have been in place in the state where we live for more than a decade without incident, those fears seem about as well-founded as the zombies.

Mine, unfortunately, are real.

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