Texas Families Talk Back On Trans Discrimination: Kai and Kimberly Shappley

"God makes no mistakes, and my child is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as the Scripture tells us."

"God makes no mistakes, and my child is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as the Scripture tells us."

August 2016 cover story, kai, swingset, trans kids, trans discrimination
Kai, 5, with mom Kimberly Shappley at a park in Pearland.  Michael Stravato

Kai Shappley, 5
Kimberly Shappley, nursing school student, office worker
Pearland ISD, Pearland


Kimberly Shappley: From my earliest memories of my child, my child’s been very feminine. It’s just always been that way. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m a strong, spirit-filled, Bible-believing, born-again Christian. I’m a Republican. This was just not going to happen. At home I had three other boys. I had a very masculine home. Nothing feminine in the home, and Kai started telling us at age 3, “I’m a girl.”

I held this religious mindset that this was something that I could change if I prayed enough and fasted enough. But Kai started having behavior issues. If another little girl brought a toy for show and tell on Friday, my child would do everything in their power to steal that toy and lie about stealing it. And it just continued to escalate.

I read everything that pointed to the fact that Kai was transgender and that what Kai needed was for me to support this, but as a Christian, I wasn’t going to accept that at all.

At some point in all this, there was a little boy in Oregon who was 4 years old; his mom had beaten him to death because he had acted gay. It really kind of struck me hard. So I really started reaching out to psychiatrists and my pediatrician and they all pretty consistently said the same thing: “This is a real thing.”

At some point Kai started crying and asking the Lord to let Joseph go home and live with Jesus. Joseph is Kai’s male birth name. Kai was actually just begging the Lord to just let her die. Who wants to hear their toddler pray that? And then it starts clicking: 41 percent suicide rate. A 41 percent suicide rate. Why? The suicide rate is high because they don’t have the family support. They don’t have the community support and their self-esteem and their self-worth.

And you start putting these pieces together and you realize as a mom that you have to do something.

I thought perhaps I’d just buy my child panties and he could just wear them under his clothes, and it took me three or four trips to Wal-Mart. But it was literally something I thought may save my child’s life.

When I put the panties in Kai’s drawer and Kai saw the princess panties that day, that child just fell on the floor hugging these panties and sobbing, saying, “Thank you, Mommy, thank you.” I used to listen to other mothers of transgender children say, “I just want my child to be happy,” and in my self-righteous mind I would think, “It’s not about your kid being happy. You need to train your child in the ways of the Lord and be a better mom.”

But the thing is, what I saw in my child, when Kai got those panties, was this joy and this peace I had never seen in this child, and I realize it’s not about “I’m going to give you these to make you happy,” it’s about my child had never truly been happy before.

We’ve lost a lot of very important people out of our lives and there are some thoroughly burned bridges. My sister has disowned me. I watch cousins and aunts post horrible things about transgender people, trying to rally the troops against the militant gay agenda, that Satan was using these little kids. I will say we’ve lost the majority of our family. I feel like sometimes we’re on a little island, but through this transition, my kid, within a few short weeks, we weren’t having lying anymore. We weren’t having bed-wetting any- more. We have had no nightmares in the past year. No stealing at all. That all was just erased within a few weeks of this. I have a happy, healthy, outgoing, loving, beautiful, sweet little girl who loves Jesus and loves her brothers.

August 2016 cover story, kai, park, trans kids
Michael Stravato
Kai, 5, with mom Kimberly Shappley at a park in Pearland.
August 2016 cover story, kai, park, trans kids
Michael Stravato
Kai, 5, with mom Kimberly Shappley at a park in Pearland.

What do lawmakers and media get wrong about trans people and trans families that you’d like to correct?

KS: Up until recently, I’ve been the ultra, ultra far-right tea partier. I am a Christian. I am a Bible- believing Christian. I love the Lord. But God makes no mistakes, and my child is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as the Scripture tells us. Being transgender doesn’t make her less fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also know that if my child is not supported by the school, by her peers, by the community, it increases her risk of suicide greatly. This is not a game. This is not “I just want my kid to feel good about themselves.” This is “I don’t want my kid to kill themselves because you’re so freaking mean.” I want the lawmakers who are professing Christians to love us.

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

KS: They could stop fueling the hate. They are making a dangerous and hostile environment for my child, for me, for our family with their hate. The bathroom deal — how did that become an issue? Transgender human beings have been using the gender-appropriate bathroom forever. Forever. And it didn’t become an issue until it was made an issue. The argument about “We can’t let this happen because it will let perverts into the bathroom” — well, hey, make a law that says perverts can’t go into the bathroom. Oh, wait, we already have that law.

If we were to send my daughter into the men’s bathroom like lawmakers want, there we have a risk. Either she’s gonna get beaten up by people who’ve had their hatred fueled because there’s this beautiful woman in the bathroom with them, where lawmakers want her to go, or she’s gonna get raped because she’s a beautiful little woman. Let her go into the women’s bathroom. The only danger my daughter is gonna do in the women’s restroom that might be a little offensive is try to tell a woman how to fix her hair or makeup better.

[Photography by Michael Stravato]


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

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Nyssa Kruse is a student at Indiana University and an intern at the Observer.

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