Families want compassion for gender variant children
HOUSTON – The most important role Jim and Ann Elder, of Friendswood, wanted to play in life was that of being parents.
“I had spent 18 months picking out a name,” Ann said. "We wanted a strong, feminine name."
Their baby girl was born in 2006 and had a typical childhood until around age 5.
Then, Jim and Ann noticed there was something different about the little girl they were raising.
“Every time he would begin playing with his friends, he would start off the play date and say ‘OK, guys” -- and this would be a whole group of girls, and he would say, ‘OK, guys, I am gonna be a teenage boy named Max and I am the captain of the pirate ship. Let’s go raid the other ships.'”
It wasn’t just the male role-playing. They said their child also refused to wear girls clothing and preferred playing with swords and shields over dolls.
A visit to a child psychiatrist changed their lives.
“They did a three-hour evaluation on her and they came back and said, ‘Your child is gender variant,'” Ann said.
Doctors told them it meant their child could either be going through a phase, or, in fact, be transgender.
“He was trying so hard to fit into this mold of being a girl,” Ann said.
They went to Target and bought boys clothes and underwear. That same day, their son, Ben, emerged.
“He was just bursting with happiness and joy, and he was so fully present,” Ann said.
Kimberly Shappley, of Pearland, said she always knew something was different about the son she birthed, who now lives as a girl named Kai.
“Kai has always been flamingly, flamboyantly feminine,” Shappley said.
After stealing classmates' dolls and toys and insisting on being a girl, Kai also saw a doctor who identified her as gender variant.
Kimberly, who is a devout Christian, said she was shunned by close family.
But she's bold in her resolve and even went to bat with the Pearland Independent School District over Kai's right to use the girls' restroom.
“A lot of LGBTQ people who come out of the closet, they go through it alone. Kai won't have to have that challenge on top of everything else,” Shappley said.
Both families said they’ve endured harsh criticism for their decision to allow their children to live as transgender people.
The Family Research Council is a conservative group that believes children who identify as transgender have a condition that can be treated.
Peter Sprigg, a fellow with the Family Research Council, said, “We believe that when someone believes they are or wants to be of the opposite sex from their actual biological sex at birth, that indicates that is a problem of the psychological. The solution is to provide them with psychological care, and not to surgically alter their body to get conformed to this self-image.”
Dr. Colt Keo-Meier disagrees. He is the co-founder of Gender Infinity, a gender-affirming support service. He lived the first 22 years of his life as a woman. Now he helps families identify their children's needs earlier.
“It's really hard to imagine what my life would've been like as a child if I knew there were transgender people or people who felt like me,” Keo-Meier said.
Ben will soon begin taking hormone blockers to suppress puberty as a girl. The Elders said Ben continues to flourish and thrive as a boy.
“I've got an absolutely wonderful kid,” Ann said proudly. "And I absolutely adore who he is.”
Kai enjoys simple things such as picking flowers and making new friends.
Both families said they want compassion for their children and other families like them.
Click here for more information and resources on the Family Research Council.
Click here for more information on Gender Infinity,.