Through third and fourth grade, other kids refer to Wyatt using male pronouns, but in their minds, he is a “boy-girl.” He finds a growing sense of self-esteem, due to Kelly’s allowing him to wear more “girlish” clothes at home and in public.
The fact that Wyatt’s confidence grows as he is able to wear more feminine clothing affirms the idea that the only transformation Wyatt requires is on the outside—he has a very firm sense of himself on the inside.
In the fourth grade, Wyatt draws a self-portrait for the school’s open house depicting a girl with long curly hair, purple eye shadow, and jewelry. Wyatt’s teacher isn’t sure about hanging the photo for all to see, and so she brings the drawing to the school’s counselor, Lisa Erhardt. Erhardt had a background in psychology but was also interested in education and working with children.
Wyatt’s self-portrait foreshadows his eventual transition, which will enable him to look like what he believes himself to be. Even though the teacher might think this is a little too much for an open house, it is notable that Wyatt has the confidence to display this identity.
About a month after moving to Maine, Kelly stopped by Erhardt’s office to explain Wyatt’s situation and to ask Erhardt to keep an eye on him. When Kelly told her that Wyatt has Gender Identity Disorder, Erhardt pulled out the DSM and read the description in order to learn more. The description indicated a “persistent discomfort about one’s assigned sex” and a “persistent cross-gender identification,” both of which sounded like Wyatt to Kelly.
Like Kelly, Erhardt’s instincts are to look up as much information as she can, knowing that she is somewhat ignorant of what Wyatt is going through. This allows her to better understand Wyatt and help him deal with these struggles throughout his time in elementary school.
Erhardt decided to learn more. She contacted the LGBT center at the University of Maine. When she arrived there, the students jumped into help her, giving her resources from their bookshelves and fielding her questions. She left 45 minutes later with information, suggestions, contact numbers, and an immense gratitude for their generosity.
Erhardt tries to expand her knowledge even further at the LGBT center at the University of Maine. The existence of this center also demonstrates how much change society has allowed for already in terms of the openness of LGBT people, and how their advocacy for themselves helps others in their community.
Erhardt and Kelly had spoken many times in the three years since their first meeting, and so Erhardt calls her when the issue comes up about Wyatt’s self-portrait. Kelly recommends that the teacher make Wyatt redo the assignment to reflect the person he sees when he looks in the mirror. She wonders, though, if he really sees a woman with makeup and jewelry when he looks at himself. Later in the year, Wyatt starts asking everyone to use female pronouns for him—which makes sense to Kelly, as the only thing still “boyish” about him is his name. Kelly’s ability to accept Wyatt had given him a kind of confidence to share that identity with others.
Even though Kelly recognizes the importance of creating boundaries for Wyatt, it is really for his protection and her worries about others bullying him. Most of her actions reflect how proud she is of Wyatt’s ability to be himself, and she is able to advocate for him both in school and at home with Wayne. This, in turn, gives Wyatt the confidence to advocate what he wants for himself.
Kelly knows, however, how far society still has to go. Only a few states have laws preventing gender identity discrimination, and only in certain areas like employment and housing. At the beginning of 2006, 27-year-old Eric Buffong endures months of mocking and harassment as a cook at an upscale restaurant in New York when a co-worker discovered his high school yearbook, which listed him as Erica. Buffong was born female but had lived as a man for the past decade. After he was “outed,” his work schedule was reduced and four months later he was fired.
Nutt continues to demonstrate the struggles of being transgender, and how often these challenges stem less from trying to understand one’s own identity and more from the cruelty and misunderstanding of others. In Buffong’s case, it is not he who had to change—he had already been living as a man for a decade. It is the perceptions of others, and their bias when learning that he was transgender, that has to change.
Buffong then filed a $3 million lawsuit claiming his dismissal was discrimination. At the time, New York had no protections against discrimination based on gender identity, but a judge in the county argued that “transgendered persons” were protected from workplace discrimination by the sex discrimination provision in the law. The decision was not universally praised. A law blogger wrote, “How different is the alleged harassment in this case from that one would encounter if one chose to wear a clown suit at all times?”
Buffong was able to advocate for himself and other transgender people in helping to set a precedent in New York. But the criticisms of the decision also reveal the fundamental misunderstanding that many have about transgender people. This hurtful statement equating being transgender with something as trivial and temporary as wearing a clown suit is willful ignorance and refuses to acknowledge the humanity of transgender people.
In the mid-2000s, the debate on transgender rights is very quiet. The U.S. Department of State requests proof of sex reassignment surgery for passports issued to transgender people with new sex markers, and 47 states have the same requirement for new birth certificates. Additionally, no one truly knows how many transgender people there are. Research is much more widespread on lesbian, gay, and bisexual people than on transgender people.
Nutt highlights some of the difficulties in trying to change the laws. Being out for transgender people can be dangerous or invite harassment and ridicule, and so it is difficult not only to get an accurate number of how widespread this phenomenon is, but also for them to advocate for one another in order to gain more rights.
Seeing Wyatt’s teachers and classmates accept his feminine identity is slowly changing Wayne’s perception of Wyatt. He starts to understand that Wyatt’s “transition” needs to be nurtured. This is best symbolized when, at a Christmas concert given by the school, Wyatt stands directly between the boys (in pants, shirts, and ties) and girls (in skirts and blouses). He had been given permission to wear blouse and culottes (baggy pants that looked more like a skirt). He beams with “pride and joy” the whole time.
The more that Wyatt is able to express himself the way he wants to, the happier and prouder he is of himself. And in seeing his son’s happiness, and the fact that he is accepted and loved by so many people around him, Wayne’s idea of Wyatt starts to transform as well.