“You can’t change your chromosomes!”
These words are shouted angrily across an elementary school playground, from one young child to another.
The phrase is one clearly taught to the boy, out of ignorance, and he lobs it out like a rock from a slingshot. It catches the other boy off guard, hits him straight in the heart.
That boy runs those hurtful words through his mind for the rest of the school day, then carries them home, heavy on his shoulders. He tells his parents about what happened at recess, learns what that boy meant, and cries himself to sleep. The schoolyard taunt rings in his ears. His parents promise each other — once again — to protect their son, however they can.
It happens over, and over and over again. But the family is willing to take the shots, because even with the teasing that can come from being transgender, they know their child is happier than he’s ever been.
“It’s been hard, he’s faced some nastiness,” Layne’s mom says. And most of the nastiness has been at school, where children spend the majority of their day and where they forge most of their friendships.
Layne’s been trying to define his identity from the time he could speak in full sentences. It began when he was about two, his mom says, when Layne was living as a little girl.
But Layne never really was a little girl. As a toddler, she preferred boys’ clothes, and didn’t ever want to take part in more girl-style play with her big sister. That didn’t bother mom or dad. Plenty of girls are tomboys, they told each other.
“I’m a boy!” their daughter stated. At first, they thought it was just their child’s already-keen sense of humour.
Then at age three, the questions began.
“I know I’m a girl but how do I be a boy?”
“What do I do to become a boy?”
“When will I become a boy?”
“Why do I feel like I’m a boy?”
“Why was I born with a vagina when I’m supposed to be a boy?”
“What am I supposed to do?”
They spoke to doctors. They read. They educated themselves on the most up-to-date LGBTQ2+ information. They sought counselling. They listened to their child.
Layne’s transition from girl to boy has been slow, methodical, and under the careful guidance of an entire team of medical professionals.
He was exhibiting the clear and hard guidelines of being “insistent, persistent and consistent.”
The more they learned, they realized, this wasn’t a phase.
And so, Layne began presenting as a boy, with his parents’ love and support. He kept his feminine birth name, and carried on at school. But inside he was feeling more and more like a boy. Still, it was a hard year filled with tears.
At the summer break, the family took a holiday and helped him through a more dramatic transition. The first step was a haircut.
A picture on the wall shows just how happy Layne was to get that haircut. He looks every bit the young boy he feels, with a mile-wide grin to prove it.
“It was a huge sense of relief,” his mom says. That summer, he was able to be himself and the happiness came from something as simple as a haircut. The next step, a new name, was completely up to him.
He wanted to shed his birth name, a rite of passage for any transgender person. He wrote a list and tried them out for size. When he chose Layne, it just felt right.
“Now he can be all Layne, all the time,” his mom says.
While this storm was finally settling inside of Layne, and he was finally able to be himself, the outward changes shocked some people.
One neighbour now refuses to speak to the entire family. Some of their own family members have become distant. Layne has narrowed down his list of friends.
But his mom, dad and sister have stuck by his side.
They don’t want him to be one of the sad statistics. Plenty of LGBTQ children and teens have “go bags,” ready to bug out when they come out. Many are homeless because they aren’t supported at home, and many become depressed, even suicidal. So Layne’s parents want him to know they love him, no matter what he wants to be called, how he presents himself to the world, or who he falls in love with.
“Nobody needs a reason to change their name,” Layne’s new teacher told the class. Like his parents, she’s focused on helping Layne settle into his life as a boy. It’s an age-appropriate explanation for a change, as the SOGI 123 teaching materials suggest educators use. No more, no less.
And obviously, the inclusion of inclusive language in the classroom is coming at a time when Layne will benefit from it. His mom is hoping one day transgender children can be free to express themselves without bullying. After all, she notes, young children know more about themselves than they can express. And getting caught up in sticking to heterosexual norms can do more harm than good.
“I don’t know where he is going to fall on the gender spectrum,” she says. Maybe one day he will call himself pansexual, or non-binary, or bisexual.
“My child is little,” she says. “I love and I accept him with his clothes and his hair and his new name. And right now that’s all it is. A name change and a haircut.”
And that’s the message they repeat to him, every time he’s bullied, teased or ostracized for being himself.
“We 100 per cent believe you when you tell us you’re a boy,” his parents say to him. “All you have to know is that we love and accept you.”
When the interview process for this story began, nobody was talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in Chilliwack schools. The family was ready to have their faces published, proud of what they stand for.
But it didn’t take long for that confidence to bruise following a Chilliwack school board trustee’s statement that what they are doing to their son is child abuse. So, to prevent themselves from further harm from people in the community, the names and some details have been changed in this story.
Trustee Barry Neufeld’s written and spoken words against the LGBTQ community have led to a move to ask him to resign, a B.C. Human Rights Complaints has been filed against him by the teachers’ union, and the both the school board chair and the Minister of Education have had harsh words for his behaviour.
The SOGI 123 controversy that has been pushed by a number of right-wing Christian activists in the Fraser Valley has proved a distraction in local education conversations in recent months, and it’s not going away with a number of anti-SOGI candidates putting their names forward for the upcoming school board elections.
As for Layne and his family, it’s not how they wanted to share their story, but the showing of hate they’ve witnessed recently means they know they have to share it.
They’re trying to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I can see how people don’t support or understand or have the same experience as us, what I can’t deal with is that they won’t talk about it with us,” she says. “People are passing this off as a fad, or a trend.”
– with files from Paul Henderson