Regardless of what his anatomy, pink bedroom and society told him, Grayson knew for years he really wasn't a girl. He wore his hair closely cropped since the age of 11, while his heart and his former name did not match up.
"He was thrilled when people mistook him for a boy, because he was a boy inside," said his mother, Neca. This fall the 17-year-old returned to classes at Northern Utah Academy of Mathematics, Engineering and Science (NUAMES) as a boy, legally renamed Grayson, Neca told an audience Saturday at the third annual TransAction Gender Conference.
Neca spoke on a panel with four other Utah moms who described how they stood up to medical and educational officials, religious orthodoxy and family intransigence, and struggled themselves with their children's inability to inhabit the gender identities society had prescribed for them.
The Utah Pride Center hosts the conference, attended this year by as many as 200 people, to heighten public awareness of a community that has struggled to gain broad acceptance. Many think of gender in black and white terms, but there is a great deal of unacknowledged diversity, said Dayne Law, the Pride Center's transgender program director. The conference supports those who don't fit in strict male and female categories, as well as their loved ones and the professionals who help them.
Neca's panel featured two mothers with school-age children, two with adult daughters who were born male, while a fifth has a young son who was born with ambiguous genitalia. This last mother described how she pushed back against the insistence of doctors and her own families members to surgically "correct" the boy's condition in which the urethra terminates at the scrotum.
One Salt Lake City mother, Danielle, had a son in kindergarten last year named Samuel, who preferred dresses and wore rhinestone shoes and a barrette in his long hair. This fall, the child returned to the school as a first-grade girl named Sammi, and her mom produced "spiffy pamphlets" to share with school officials about the change.
"She's safe and has made lots of friends," Danielle told a packed classroom in Westminster College's Gore School of Business. "She's happier, plays more and is more outgoing. She dances a lot now."
Both Sammi and Grayson attend charter schools, which tend to be far more accommodating of transgender students than Utah's public schools, according to panel moderator Jude McNeil, the Pride Center's research and training director.
"A lot move to charter high schools, which is a lot better than dropping out, which is what a lot of them do," she said.
There are no sports teams at NUAMES, an early-college charter school Grayson attends in Layton, and students take PE in their street clothes, so he doesn't have to worry about locker-room issues. But he is a member of the school choir and was obliged to wear a sparkling gown in a recent performance, he said.
After he came out as a boy this year, the first order of business was taking up the pink carpets in his room and repainting the pink walls, said Grayson, who happened to be wearing a pink T-shirt over the black clothes he wore to the conference. Well before classes resumed this fall, his mother informed school administrators that the student they formerly considered a girl was now a boy.
"I wanted to make sure they knew it," Neca said. "They have a legal obligation to educate your child and make sure they're safe."
Gender nonconformity can be extremely difficult on families, particularly when conservative religious values come into play.
A mother named Stephanie said her siblings have "written me off" for facilitating her now 24-year-old daughter's gender re-assignment surgery and won't let the young woman come near her cousins "as if this were contagious."
"The religious fanatics in my family think I should beat the crap out of [Sammi] and take her dresses away," said Danielle, the mother of the first-grade girl. "The majority of my family members have been awesome, and I'm thankful for that."
All five panelists said they were grateful for family members who tried to accept their sons' and daughters' changing gender identities.
Grayson's younger brother had no problem when Neca broke the news that his sister was now a brother.
"He jumped in enthusiastically, suggesting boy names, all terrible, like Grack and Gross," Neca said. She was concerned her conservative parents might reject her son, but they rose to the occasion, she said.
"Their love and support has made this so much easier," Neca said. "They understand this has been a challenging situation for Grayson. They know he's trying to do the right thing. They are still struggling with pronouns."
Transgender Awareness Month
P The Utah Pride Center is hosting several events this month, including Saturday's TransAction Gender Conference. Future activities include Game Night on Monday and a talent show Nov. 22. For more information, see www.utahpridecenter.org.