Lessons From A Boy In a Skirt

photo from MC Quinn @

Several years back, on the first day of the semester, a student walked into my classroom. A boy, clearly, a male — wearing a long pink skirt, his hair tied in a low pony-tail. When I read the roster and got to his name, he corrected me and told me that his name was Sophia.

I quickly noted the change.

When I met Sophia, she wanted gender reassignment surgery. She wished for it, but knew it would be a long road. As gender reassignment is an irreversible procedure, two letters of therapy clearance would be required. She explained one therapist (psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, sexologist) would be required to have a doctoral degree, and one of the two therapists would have to know her for an extended period of time. When I met Sophia, she was simply trying to change the name on her birth certificate and running into all kinds of roadblocks. A ward of the State from age 15, if memory serves, Sophia was an emancipated minor living with distant relatives. She had no car, took the bus to campus, and had no expendable money for one therapist, let alone two with the kind of credentials that she would need to put her on the path towards gender reassignment.

That semester, Sophia was distracted. It was hard for her to get to class on-time. Hard for her to make deadlines. Hard for her to deal with the stares and (I imagine) comments in the hallways. A talented writer, Sophia was exhausted at age 19. And I wanted to help her. Eventually, Sophia stopped coming to class. I had lost her.

In June 2009, I read that the person once known as Chastity Bono, the precious little blond-haired daughter of Sonny and Cher who often made appearances at the end of their shows, would henceforth be referred to as Chaz Bono. At age 40, Chaz Bono went public that he was undergoing gender reassignment surgery, and I read the surgery had been completed in May 2010. Of course, I thought of Sophia.

I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a person stuck in the wrong-gender body.

I am English teacher. I am supposed to teach my students how to improve their writing skills; how to properly use their commas; how to understand and compose for different audiences and recognize the varying modes of discourse. But writing teachers also get to read their students’ words. And I got to read hers.

So while I don’t know where Sophia landed, I still hope she is okay. That she feels good about herself. That she saw the article about Chaz Bono and feels hopeful about her future. And I hope she doesn’t have to wait until her 40th birthday to get the surgery she wants.

tweet me @rasjacobson

9 thoughts on “Lessons From A Boy In a Skirt

  1. In inner city violence prone and dope ridden schools, you learn to handle just about anything thrown your way. Those of us that survived did. The others lasted several weeks. The kid that wore a tan bandage mask to cover is face because his whole body was scarred in a fire. Then the girl just out of juvenile detention because she smashed her teacher over the head with a 40 pound fire extinguisher. The kid that shot a cow in the head because the “mooing” kept him awake all night. Then there was that delightful girl in a wheel chair. Waited for her before starting as the two football players carried her up the stairs as there was no elevator. The one that lit matches all day. Half the girls had a single edge razor concealed in their purse. I called them the “unbelievable, why me? kids.” Now a boy in a dress? I shoudda went career army like the rest of my frat bros. Was this my classroom or a circus of the bizarre? Why can’t I have normal kids? Then after 34 years I learned NONE were normal. It took some pretty solid elementary school teachers to handle me I have to admit. You accept them all. Do the best you can. I pretended I saw nothing unique about any child and that established a bond because few teachers could do the same.

  2. I have seen Sophia, or, Sophia’s like her. There are programs to support gay, lesbian & transgender kids. The Gay Alliance has youth & young adult programs & an activity center in the Auditorium Theater. They have support groups for parents as well to help them understand their child as well as provide support. The Gay Alliance is an asset to our community & should be praised more often for the work they do.

    1. Well newsflash! I FOUND Sophia on Facebook, so we are going to have lunch. There may just be a Part II to this series. I will see what she’s up to these days and, if it comes up, I’ll let her know about the services you mentioned. Something tells me she knows about everything out there… but maybe not. 😉

  3. Wow. It’s so impossible, for any teacher in any subject, to just “teach” the student and not get to know him on some other, more personal level. I’m so glad you found Sophia, and I hope things are going well for her.

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