Tyler is 9 years old, and he can’t fathom the transgender bathroom debate raging across the country.
“There are lots of other problems in the world,” the Maryland third-grader said. “Like world pollution. War. People who are hungry. I think it’s mostly stupid to care about where I go to the bathroom.”
Tyler was born a girl but started insisting he was a boy at age two. He has used the boys’ bathroom at school for years now. If he were to go to North Carolina, he’d be required to use the bathroom matching the sex on his birth certificate or he’d be breaking the law.
“But I don’t use the girl’s bathroom,” he explained.
I’ve been writing about Tyler — using his middle name to protect his identity — since he was five.
For transgender kids like Tyler and for their families, the breakneck social progress they’ve made in the past few years feels like it just hit a brick wall with this bathroom furor.
“I was kind of shocked by this,” said Tyler’s mother, Jean. “I had no idea that in some places, this would be an issue. Now I have to check the laws before we travel.”
And just when she was about to loosen the grip on her “safe file,” the folder of all her son’s paperwork, including the doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the prescription for Tyler’s issues: “Let him live like a boy.”
She carried that file everywhere they went because there was always the fear that some innocent action, such as using a bathroom, could turn into a social services case. Now the safe file won’t protect them in some states.
Still, the world has become far more accepting of Tyler in the four years since he announced his new gender to his Sunday School class. There have been hundreds of articles, news segments, magazine covers and even television shows about transgender people.
The people at the doctor’s office don’t even blink now when Jean checks Tyler in, and she explains that “he’s trans” when the insurance card says he’s a girl.
He goes to public school now. His parents have stopped worrying about what to tell families at playdates. The monthly support group for transgender children they founded has ballooned to more than 30 families.
The bathroom? It’s no biggie. Tyler has been using the boys’ bathroom and the boys’ locker room for years and simply uses a stall, like any shy kid would.
Every year, his parents sit him down for The Talk.
“Are you sure everything is okay? You’re happy? We switched once, we can switch back if you’re uncomfortable,” they say.
Tyler rolls his eyes. “What are you talking about?” he asks them. “I’m a boy.”
He doesn’t even want to talk about being transgender. Can he go play Minecraft now? he demands.
“Really, at this point, it’s become such a small part of who he is,” Jean said.
So it’s deeply disappointing that where their child pees has become an issue in the presidential election.
“I feel like all the talk about bathrooms has made some people downright hateful,” Jean said.
Those who object to transgender people using the bathroom of their choice frame it as a privacy and safety issue. But Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch sees it differently. Last week she announced that the Justice Department would sue her home state of North Carolina for stigmatizing the transgendered, who are already the frequent targets of hate crimes.
“You’ve been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm – but that just is not the case,” Lynch said. “Instead, what this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share. This law provides no benefit to society — all it does is harm innocent Americans.”
Lynch put the issue in perspective, reminding people that “state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good in hindsight.”
Tyler’s family is hoping that those are the words people remember.
“I’m sort of glad this debate is happening now, when he’s still at home, and I can protect him a little more,” Jean said. “And in some ways, it’s helped us. Intelligent people who were on the fence about this probably came over to our side because this law seems so ridiculous and hateful.”
Listen to Tyler, people. There are more important issues this election season than debating which bathroom he should use.