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.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

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