Jamie is your fairly typical
schoolgirl. She wears her blonde hair long, likes the color pink
and takes a keen interest in fashion. She's as comfortable on the
monkey bars as she is on a kickball field, and she's happiest doing
both in a skirt. She's energetic and outgoing, and, at 8, looks
forward to playdates with her closest friends.
Jamie is also comfortable in her own skin, an
accomplishment few people far beyond her years can
It's not easy, and it's a continuing process.
Jamie was born a boy.
"There's this area, this gray area, where you've got these
gender diverse or gender non-conforming children, meaning they were
born with a certain gender yet they're not typically that gender,"
says Jamie's mother, Jennifer. "The way she says it is, her brain
is a boy, her heart is a girl. And she really is both."
Jennifer and her husband, Robert, began to take notice
shortly after Jamie's second birthday.
Jamie began to make a nightly habit of fashioning a pair
of pajama pants into a makeshift wig. The elastic waistband became
a headband, leaving the pant legs to flow like long hair down his
After that, Jamie began asking for his mother's oversized
shirts, long enough to belt into dresses on his tiny
In the younger years, it was a steady mix of the masculine
and the feminine, with Jamie's male gender defining his perception
by the outside world, while his female expression continued to
emerge at every turn.
By kindergarten, Jamie asked that her parents refer to her
as "she." Later that year, she asked to go to school as a
Jamie's parents did something that many parents of gender
non-conforming children struggle with on a daily basis; they
embraced it."Our approach has been to make sure that people
know that Jamie is a boy whose expression is a girl, whereas a lot
of the families, they just have their kids present as girls,"
For now, Jamie is still comfortable straddling two
genders. "She knows that having boy parts is a part of her, but
doesn't define her," Jennifer says. "She can say… 'I'm a boy, and
it's not all of me.' So when we say to people that she's a boy, it
doesn't disempower her or invalidate her expression, it's just a
Jamie says this about people's reactions: "On the outside,
people assume that I'm a boy. But on the inside, in my heart, I
believe I'm a girl. They're not my body, and they can't tell me who
Boy at school, girl at home
Jamie entered kindergarten at a public school in Oak Park
as a boy. She wore her girl clothes at home after school, and
eventually outside. But it got to the point where she was tearing
off her boy clothes the moment she got home after
"I felt more comfortable in girls' clothes," Jamie says.
"I don't know why. It's just, girls are pretty, and I like their
clothes so much."
Her true identity eventually became too difficult to
"Near the end of school, I showed my class," says Jamie,
who wore girl's clothing to school the last few weeks of
"By then, most of the kids kind of knew," says the
principal at the Oak Park school where Jamie just finished second
The transition came with some bumps along the
"She would spend a lot of lunchtimes (at school) crying
last year," Jennifer says.
Older children sometimes antagonized her and called her
gay, though she didn't know what the word meant. But the school
always intervened and the incidents of bullying have drastically
"It's been a gift," Jennifer says of the school. "When I
talk with the other parents (of gender non-conforming children both
locally and across the nation) they can't believe that she's in a
But it can still be lonely at times for Jamie. In a
society of rigid gender definitions, she's continuously trying to
live both her physical gender and her gender expression.
"We worked really hard at having her be just sort of
unshakable with it, and not take it to heart. And it's hard. She
doesn't have a spot."
She wants to play kickball with the boys, but they won't
let her because she's a girl. She wants to hang out with the girls,
but sometimes Jennifer says she can be really hyper and goofy like
Jamie is vocal about the difficulties she faces, but she's
confident that she made the right decision, to express herself as a
"It was hard, when I started to be a girl, because I got
bullied, like right at that moment," Jamie says. "And at the same
moment, I wanted to be a girl."
Losing their only son
There was a mourning period for Jennifer and Robert, for
the son they'd never have. They are the parents of four, but Jamie
was their only son.
"There are some things that you have to deal with, and
give up," Robert says. "I actually looked forward to playing
baseball with my son. And that's probably not going to
For Jennifer and Robert it was an ongoing process. And
they've grown considerably since Jamie first began to express
herself as a female.
"You think it's just a phase. You think, 'oh that's funny,
she really likes dresses'," Jennifer says. "And then after six or
seven months, I realized it wasn't waning at all. In fact, it was
"I was really annoyed with my wife, for buying all this
pink stuff," Robert says. "But then she started researching, and
researching… and we started to get that there's this whole world of
He eventually came around.
"You've got to house both ways of being for a little
while. You're saying goodbye to the things you thought you were
going to experience with your son, and at the same time, welcoming
what will be," Robert says.
A few years from now, new issues will likely arise. The
question of a physical transition, for instance. It's not something
the couple discuss with Jamie yet, but there is a hormone regimen
that blocks some of the male characteristics that come with
puberty. On one hand, it simplifies what might later be a much more
complex process. But it's a life-altering decision for a
prepubescent child, because the blockers cause
Jamie's parents feel it's simply too soon to have that
conversation. "At 8 years old, how the heck do you know?" says
The couple face complex issues every day in their quest to
honor Jamie's true self, but they said that they're the ones who
have really learned from the experience.
"It's taught us both to have a whole new level of appreciation
and tolerance for other views. Not just gender expression, but
anywhere in life," Robert says.
It's one of their goals, to educate others on gender
"It's completely normal. It's completely OK. There's
nothing to fix," says Jennifer. "And there are tremendous resources
for (parents), to work through their own stuff. Because that's what
it is. There's nothing wrong with (the kids). It's our
Editor's note: The names of the child and parents in
this story have been changed to protect their
Megan Dooley is a reporter at Chicago Parent’s sister newspaper, Wednesday Journal.
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