Texas Families Talk Back On Trans Discrimination: Kat, Christina and Ryan Smith

"We want her to be just like every other kid."

august 2016 feature cover story trans transgender kids students
Jen Reel
Christina Smith helps her daughter Katherine, an aspiring chef, peel potatoes. Katherine receives a $50 allowance to buy groceries and prepare meals for the family.

Katherine “Kat” Smith, 10
Christina, a registered nurse, and Ryan Smith, product marketing manager
Lovejoy ISD, Allen

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Christina Smith: The story started when [Katherine] was 3. She was standing there looking between her legs, and she said, “What is this, Mom?” I said, “That’s what makes you look like Daddy. It makes you have hair on your chest.” And she said, “What happens if someone cuts it off?” I didn’t say anything for a second because I was kind of shocked. I said, “It would hurt really bad if someone did that.” That was a huge red flag for me as a parent.

Ryan Smith: This is not a light switch. People think one day the child wakes up and says, “I’m a girl,” and we’re like, “Yay!” No, this was starting at 3 years old and going for six years of watching our child interact with the world in a feminine way, and me pushing and pushing: “Let’s play sports. Let’s go do something that’s fun and masculine.” She drifted farther and farther away because that wasn’t who she was, but I was forcing her down this male gender path. I don’t think any parent takes it lightly when their child is transgender. It frustrates me whenever I hear people suggest that we just up and decided this was it.

This is after lots of soul-searching and prayer.

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

CS: We try really hard not to talk about it with her. Because it’s such a big issue out there, we don’t want it to be a big issue in here. We don’t want her to be hyperfocused. We want her to be just like every other kid.

RS: We’ve taken to shielding her from a lot of these things, especially as they’ve hit closer to home. We were talking about [Senator] Ted Cruz, for instance, one time, and you know how Ted Cruz’s rhetoric has been very anti-trans, and Katherine was taking a lot of that very personally.

KS: It feels really strange how everyone’s making a huge deal out of the lives of normal people. Why do you make such a big deal about normal people’s lives that just happen to be different because that’s how they were born? … I think what they’re doing is wrong. I know there’s probably very, very little I can do about it. I just feel that if you identify with one gender, you kind of want to be that gender, you want to express yourself as that gender in every way.

August 2016 cover story trans kids Kat
Jen Reel
Katherine "Kat" Smith with her mother, Christina, and younger sister, Olivia. Raised as a boy, Kat began questioning her gender identity at age 3.
August 2016 cover story trans kids Kat smith
Jen Reel
Katherine "Kat" Smith, center, with her parents Christina and Ryan, and siblings Michael and Olivia.

Has your school accommodated your child’s needs?

RS: There is an impending conversation that will define what the bathroom policy will be for fifth and sixth grade for Katherine. This is a fairly high-stakes thing for us. We aren’t sure right now what the [Lovejoy ISD] superintendent will come to us with. By the time this actually gets to the Supreme Court and a decision gets made, Katherine’s going to be a freshman in high school. …

I think he’s going to stick to his guns and take a risk that somehow the lawsuit that the state of Texas has filed against the Obama administration is going to get some legs. I think the reality is, he’s influenced by the community, and I think the concern of parents coming out of the woodwork to complain and him having to stand by his decision is something that makes weaker men shrivel. We know what our legal options are. I’m well aware of how the Department of Education is set up to handle a complaint.

What could lawmakers or public officials do that would help your family and address your needs?

RS: Do your research, learn, and then come back and let’s have an adult discussion. But if you’re coming from “There’s only two types of chromosomes. There’s only two types of anatomy,” then you don’t understand the basics, and that’s why I’ve had so much concern about [Lieutenant Governor] Dan Patrick. Dan Patrick has shown, and Ted Cruz has shown, that they have not done the required research to be able to speak intelligently about this; or two, they have, and they are knowingly and intentionally providing this information about this subject in an attempt to influence people negatively.

[Photography by Jen Reel]

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

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 10:36 am CST
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