Texas Families Talk Back On Trans Discrimination: Ben and Ann Elder

"The Texas state government is bullying my child."

August 2016 cover story trans kids Ben
Michael Stravato
Ann Elder and her son, Ben, at their home near Houston.

Benjamin Elder, 10
Ann Elder, full-time mom
Clear Creek ISD, Friendswood

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Texas Observer: Who in your family is transgender and what has their experience been like?

Ann Elder: My only child, Benjamin, is a transgender 10-year-old boy. He was actually adopted through CPS when he was just 3 weeks old. So we are the only family he knows. At the time he had a different girl name, and as he continued to grow and especially once he could speak, he started making indications that he was not really a girl. Subtle things, like he didn’t like the clothes I was buying, and he would say “Too girly, too girly.” The thing that really got my attention that something was up was I realized that there was a pattern, and every time he played with his friends he would always gather his friends together and he would say “OK guys, we’re gonna play something or other, and my name is Max and I am a teenage boy and captain of the Viking ship.” I thought, well, I was very much a tomboy as a little girl, but I never changed genders. I described [Ben’s behavior] to the doctor. She sent me over to Texas Children’s Hospital to be evaluated by the child psychiatrist there. She told us that definitely our child was gender-variant, meaning they don’t fit in the two little binary boxes. And she said to just watch him and come back in a year and see how things go.

She said … transgender children are highly susceptible to bullying and social rejection because around puberty their body starts to change in a way that is not matching who they feel they are. So they become very depressed, and she said 41 percent of them attempt suicide. That nearly shocked my husband and I to death. We left there determined that we were gonna support our kid. We took him over to Target and bought him some boy clothes and boy underwear and stuff and when we came home, he ran into the bedroom and shut the door and came out a couple minutes later wearing a pair of camouflage boy briefs and he put his hands on his hips and said, “Look Mama, I’m a boy,” and I realized he was smiling so big and showed so much joy. He was truly happy, and I had never seen him be that happy before.

How has your family been affected by lawmakers’ rhetoric around public and school bathroom use?

AE: Texas is picking on the most vulnerable population in the United States by trying to regulate transgender people and their bathroom use. These are people who are already rejected by society and feel bad, so the Texas state government is bullying my child. And I don’t think that they really care, to be honest, because this is a fight between them and President Obama’s administration. So I think for one it’s really just an argument between the federal government and the state government; however, it’s about my kid.

I’m not giving up. This is my only kid. I’m just going to keep being persistent and knocking on the door until I get this resolved or Dan Patrick decides to drop this issue. He doesn’t realize how persistent a mother can be. I’ve lived in Texas all my life, and I’ll be darned if my state is going to bully my kid.

August 2016 cover story trans kids Ben
Michael Stravato
Ben Elder

How has your school accommodated Ben so far?

AE: The first year they said they’d be glad to accommodate him, but he’s going to have to use the nurse’s bathroom. So the first year he had to use the nurse’s bathroom and that became a problem because, one, the bathroom was not as acceptable as just the boys’ bathroom. And two, his classmates started asking him why are you going down to the nurse’s bathroom; why don’t you just use the boys’ bathroom? And he got very embarrassed and started coming up with all these ridiculous lies for why he had to go down and see the nurse. Until finally he just stopped using the bathroom altogether. He wouldn’t eat his lunch, he wouldn’t drink any water, he just refused to accommodate his body. So when he came home, the first thing he said when he got off the bus was I gotta go to the bathroom, I gotta go to the bathroom. So I finally said what is going on, and he told me, so I called the principal up and said Ben has to use the boys’ bathroom. She said well let me check with the superintendent and we’ll get back to you. They got back to me and said yeah we’ll let him use the boys’ bathroom. Now after two years we have had absolutely no incidence of problems.

If it were up to you, what would lawmakers and public officials be focusing on instead of policing your son’s bathroom use?

AE: If I had my preference, I would rather the government focus on helping [transgender] people and helping them feel more a part of our society, look more how they feel, and be helpful in helping them get jobs, get education they need, and stay off the streets. I would hope we could take some compassion and look at these people and say, they didn’t bring this on themselves let’s help them become happy, productive members of society and let’s learn from this experience.

[Photography by Michael Stravato]

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Read interviews from four other Texas parents and trans kids speaking out against discrimination here.

Gus Bova, a Kansas-Texas transplant and inveterate protest-attender, is an editorial intern at the Observer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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