Pleading with lawmakers, dad describes the moment he understood his transgender child

As legislation attempting to dictate what transgender people can and can't do crosses the desks of lawmakers across the country, people are sharing their perspectives. While some of those perspectives are rooted in ignorance or bigotry, others are informed by scientific research and medical opinion as well as personal, first-hand experience.

In a March 3rd hearing in Missouri, the father of a transgender daughter spoke from the heart to lawmakers about how he came to understand and accept his child's gender. The Missouri House of Representatives is considering House Resolution 53, which would create a state constitutional amendment banning trans girls from competing in girls' school sports, and Brandon Boulware wanted them to hear how such a law would impact his daughter.

But what really makes Boulware's testimony so powerful is how he explains his own evolution from "not getting it" to seeing his daughter for who she is.

"I'm a lifelong Missourian. I'm a business lawyer. I'm a Christian. I'm the son of a Methodist minister," he said. "I'm a husband, and I'm the father of four kids — two boys, two girls — including a wonderful and beautiful transgender daughter."

"Today happens to be her birthday," he added. "And I chose to be here. She doesn't know that. She thinks I'm at work."


Boulware said a common sentiment whenever transgender issues are brought up is "I don't get it. I don't understand." He said he expected that many of the lawmakers present might feel that way — a perspective he can personally relate to, as he had been in the same boat.

"I didn't get it either," he said. "For years, I didn't get it. For years I would not let my daughter wear girl clothes. I did not let her play with girl toys. I forced my daughter to wear boy clothes and get short haircuts and play on boys' sports teams."

He explained that he did those things to protect his child and her siblings from being teased, and admitted that he did it to protect himself as well. "I wanted to avoid those inevitable questions as to why my child did not look and act like a boy."

Then he laid down a hard truth.

"My child was miserable," he said. "I cannot overstate that. She was absolutely miserable. Especially at school. No confidence, no friends, no laughter. I can honestly say this — I had a child who did not smile."

For years they lived this way, he said, against the advice of therapists and experts. Then one day, everything changed for him.

His daughter had put on one of her older sister's dresses and was playing outside with her brother and some neighbor kids when Boulware came home from work. He told them it was time to come in for dinner, and when she asked if she could go across the street to play, and he said no. Then she asked if she could go across the street if she put on boy clothes first.

"And it was then that it hit me," he said. "My daughter was equating being good with being someone else. I was teaching her to deny who she is."

"As a parent, the one thing we cannot do," he added, "the one thing, is silence our child's spirit. And so on that day, my wife and I stopped silencing our child's spirit."

"The moment we allowed my daughter to be who she is, to grow her hair, to wear the clothes she wanted to wear, she was a different child," he said. "And I mean it was immediate. It was a total transformation. I now have a confident, a smiling, a happy daughter. She plays on girls' volleyball teams. She has friendships. She's a kid."

"I need you to understand," he pleaded, "that this language, if it becomes law, will have real effects on real people. It will affect my daughter. It will mean she cannot play on the girls' volleyball team, or dance squad, or tennis team. I ask you, please don't take that away from my daughter or the countless others like her who are out there. Let them have their childhoods. Let them be who they are."

The question of transgender girls in sports has become a hot topic as society wrestles with transgender people becoming more visible in society. While some argue that transgender girls have a biological advantage over cisgender girls when it comes to sports, the reality is that trans women have been officially competing in various professional women's sports for many years and dominance over cisgender women has simply not been an issue. Most of us couldn't name an elite trans athlete if we tried, despite knowing who the top performers are in various women's sports.

But what about testosterone and fairness? Scientists are divided on that topic, which makes things a bit muddy. As The Swaddle points out, testosterone is not the be-all-end-all of athletic ability:

"For every credible study and statement out there that proves greater testosterone is linked to greater athletic ability in men and women, there are equally credible studies that prove testosterone is just one of the many factors that affect sporting ability — sometimes even negatively. Take the International Association for Athletics Federation's data on elite women athletes. Its initial analysis of two world championships showed that women with higher T levels performed better in only five out of 21 events."

While there may be legitimate questions about how we define men's and women's sports and how trans athletes fit into those definitions, we also have to acknowledge that physical makeup—muscle tone, hormones, height, bone structure, etc.—varies greatly between human beings already, regardless of gender. Individuals with certain builds and certain genetic makeup already have an athletic advantages over others—that's the reality of sports in general. Does a person being transgender automatically give them a clear athletic advantage any more than someone who happens to have been born tall or muscular or having long arms or a low center of gravity?

Most youth athletes, whether transgender or cisgender, simply want to play sports for fun with their friends and won't ever achieve elite status anyway. And again, we aren't seeing trans women dominating in any professional women's sports, so unless or until that happens, this doesn't seem like the legislation-worthy issue some people are making it out to be.

Thanks to Mr. Boulware for advocating for his daughter, showing the world an honest account of his own transformation, and sharing the impact legislating trans people's lives will have.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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