Second Nature

In an exclusive preview from our March issue, meet a local family that is raising a little girl born in the wrong body.

March 2008

One afternoon last August, a Boulder County public school hosted an extraordinary parent-teacher meeting. Inside the brick, single-story school in the shadow of the Flatirons, the faculty gathered to hear from one parent, Judy Martin. Martin had asked for the gathering. The way the 42-year-old mother had framed her request to the principal, and in turn to the school district's administrators, there really wasn't much of a choice. It would be prudent before the school year got rolling—before there were any chances for awkward situations, like, say, issues over pronouns, or the bathroom, or the possibility of much more traumatic incidents—that Martin be permitted to provide the back story of her daughter to everyone at the school who might interact with her.

And so, on that late summer day, after the warm-up of tea and chitchat, the meeting began with an introduction from the school district's director of diversity and equity, who reminded the audience of the district's no-discrimination policy, in particular the part that reads: "Gender identity refers to one's understanding, outlook and feelings about whether one is female or male, regardless of one's biological sex. A transgender or gender-nonconforming student has the right to dress in accordance with the gender identity and expression that the student consistently asserts at school within the constraints of the school's dress code." After taking a deep breath, Martin gave her presentation. Although her heart and mind were racing, she was careful not to rush herself or her audience. The last thing Martin wanted to do was alarm or repel anyone. Transgender people, she said, often feel like they are trapped in someone else's skin—an inescapable feeling, she explained, that therapists call "gender dysphoria." Martin then eased into the point: Her little girl, their student, Lucia, had been born as a male. Her name used to be Luc, but now, simply put, she was Lucia, and she wanted to be treated like any other girl at school.

Weeks earlier, when Martin had informed the principal and Lucia's teacher of the details, both had responded with empathy and, as Martin says, immediately seemed to "get it." She hoped to receive an equally supportive response from the rest of the staff—after all, this was Boulder County. But as Martin spoke that afternoon she glimpsed some of the audience shift in the aluminum-folding chairs and smile half-smiles. She'd anticipated some of this sort of reaction. Martin was optimistic, not naïve. She understood that while she was addressing an open-minded group that supported the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, she recognized, too, that this wasn't your "typical" transgender situation: Lucia wasn't a junior high or high school student. She was a 10-year-old fifth-grader.

In transgender shorthand, one makes the "transition" from M2F or F2M. In Lucia's case, though, the change might be more aptly described as B2G, as in boy-to-girl. She'd begun transitioning as a second-grader at the age of eight. Having explained the arrival of their new daughter to friends and family, Lucia's mom had seen her share of perplexed expressions and confusion. She suspected people wondered things like: Really, are you positive? Does that mean your 10-year-old has had sexual reassignment surgery? Are you sure you're not pushing this child?

The Martins themselves had been through similar emotions. "You hear parents say there's no manual for raising a child," Judy Martin told me not long after the school meeting. "Well, there's certainly no manual for us." Lucia's future—the sleepovers, school dances, dating, and college, not to mention the controversial drug therapies and the surgery—are always on her parents' minds. But on that particular August day, as summer faded into autumn and the promise of change was in the air, Judy just wanted the meeting to go well and for everyone to respect her daughter. Yet she couldn't shake what a friend had said to her a few days back when the two were discussing the faculty address: "Everything will probably go as you expect it will, but, just in case, you might want to think about a Plan B."