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Editorial: Transgender child’s story deepens understanding

The remarkable story of the transgender child in today’s Spokesman-Review is sure to spark confusion, outrage and sympathy.

If it leads to sober reflection and thoughtful debate, all the better. That would be a welcome step forward from the contretemps we’ve witnessed through the prism of the bathroom issue.

Rachel White’s request to be treated as a girl would pose a serious conundrum for any parent. What does it even mean to be transgender? Most people don’t know, though it doesn’t stop them from forming opinions.

Rachel’s parents, Betsy and Dale White, are supportive, but they say acceptance was a challenge. It probably will be for a very long time. It’s a lot to wrap one’s mind around.

Initially, Betsy was angling for compromise: She wanted Rachel to dress neutral or close to it, but her epiphany came when shopping for clothes, and Rachel insisted on dresses.

“My being uncomfortable was not a good enough reason to say no,” she said.

That’s an important point for us all.

Those who have observed Rachel up close seem to concur that she’s more comfortable being a girl. Before Rachel asked to be called a girl, her mother saw her child as flamboyantly gay – a situation that also would’ve presented challenges. Though gay marriage is now legal and many other barriers have been removed, society still would’ve sent unpleasant messages about a boy acting feminine.

The Family Policy Institute, a conservative religious group, hopes to draw enough signatures to rescind the state’s rule that allows Rachel to access the girl’s bathroom, where she is comfortable. The institute also is critical of gay rights and battled against gay marriage.

In the eyes of critics like that, Rachel was damned either way.

Rachel’s own family is conflicted. Grandparents buy masculine birthday presents; her parents buy feminine ones.

The sad statistics tell us that support can mean the difference between life and death. Transgender people who aren’t supported by family are more likely to suffer from depression or commit suicide. Some 57 percent of the transgender population experienced family rejection, according to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey. After transitioning, 78 percent of transgendered people felt more comfortable.

Betsy White puts the numbers in stark terms: “I could support my child, or I could bury my child.”

It’s one thing to question gender transitions, especially at such a young age. It’s quite another to intentionally make the transgender population uncomfortable.

A story like Rachel’s can deepen our understanding while reminding us that this isn’t merely an academic debate. There are many people taking this difficult journey, not because it’s trendy or because they’re acting on a whim. It’s because they want to be comfortable in their own skin.

You don’t have to accept that, but you don’t have to make it more difficult either.


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