A Transgender Child Faces Growing Up

Jul 8, 2017
Originally published on July 8, 2017 7:05 am

It's safe to say that Q Daily, who's 11, is savoring childhood. He is an avid climber of trees. A dancer and loves Michael Jackson. He treasures play. Adults, he laments, can be quite boring — particularly at parties.

"All that I think they do," says Q, "is sit around, talk and drink wine."

Q says he'd prefer not to grow up. But he is now on the cusp of middle school, adolescence and facing his changing body. And for a transgender child, this time of life is particularly complex.

He was born a girl, and began questioning gender around age 3. By the time he started third grade, at his public school in Brooklyn, Q had socially transitioned to identifying as a boy. He dropped his given name and went solely by his first initial. He wore boy clothes and cut his hair short. He used male pronouns.

We first met Q two years ago when he was just finishing his third grade year. Since that time, he's only grown more confident in himself.

"I'm sure that I'm a boy," he says.

And though he's received support from his family, classmates and school, he's used to people asking, still, "Are you a boy or a girl?" Or, they may question why he's transgender.

"I'm used to getting comments like that," he says. "Some people don't agree. But I can't do anything about that. I can't change their thinking."

At a time when you hear stories of transgender kids feeling isolated, or bullied, Q's comfort in his own skin, and his happy-go-lucky nature, draw people in.

"People like him because he's good with people," says Q's mother, Francisca Montaña. She calls it his superpower. "He's good to people. And he is not ashamed of asking people to be good to him, either."

But both of Q's parents say there is an effort to buffer a bit of the outside world. For instance, Montaña did not directly discuss with Q the Trump administration's decision to rescind federal guidelines protecting transgender children in schools.

She decided not to raise the issue, in part, because New York City has its own guidelines protecting transgender kids. And also, because — with Q being a half-Latino, half-black, transgender kid — she wants him to continue to feel strong, and maintain that uncanny sense of self.

"I think that when you're raising a transgender boy of color, you need to have 'the talk,' " she says. "But you want to show him that he is welcome in this world."

Q's parents are divorced but still very much raising him together. "I'm sure when he gets older, there are going to be things that he's going to have to deal with on his own," says Avery Daily, Q's dad. "We're trying to instill these values in him so that he's capable of going out on his own and defending himself and standing up for what is right."

Daily says he wants his son to be a "strong thinker," particularly now that Q is entering a new phase as a transgender child: puberty. It's an awkward and confusing time for all kids, but it comes with higher stakes for a child like Q.

"The age of cuteness has passed," says Montaña. "He's at a different stage where people start having different standards for what it means to be transgender."

Meaning, people ask: What's going on with his hormones, his body? What's Q's plan?

These are questions that Q, Montaña and Daily, have been working through for the past year. At Q's request, they are poised to allow him to begin taking puberty blockers. This is medication that basically puts puberty on hold.

"I feel that the blockers are a good, safe next step," says Montaña, adding, "it seems that it will give us more time to think about the big decisions."

Transgender adolescents might consider decisions like whether to take hormones to affirm their gender identity, such as testosterone or estrogen. Or perhaps they will consider, down the road, getting surgery, which is irreversible.

Blockers, by comparison, are not as invasive. They're listed as reversible in a guide co-authored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians.

Q knows other kids who are on blockers, because he goes to a camp for transgender kids each summer.

"Everybody in camp — that's the only people that I want to talk about the blocker thing with," says Q. When it comes to school, "I keep my mouth shut."

Q is spending two weeks at camp this summer. Even though he has lots of friends in Brooklyn, and feels accepted by his peers at school, he says it's not the same as being with other people like him.

It's just two weeks of the year, he says, that he needs to be in a group where he is the same as everyone else, no questions asked.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We first heard from a Brooklyn youngster named Q Daily a couple of years ago when he was just finishing third grade. That was his first full school year identifying as a boy. Q is transgender. At the time, he described his feeling like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

Q DAILY: It feels like instead of a dead flower, a growing flower.

SIMON: Two years later, he's 11, on the cusp of adolescence - middle school - and facing decisions about his changing body. That's all the while the United States is having a conversation about transgender children and their rights, especially in schools. WNYC's Yasmeen Khan caught up with Q to hear how it's going.

YASMEEN KHAN, BYLINE: I would say that Q Daily is savoring childhood. I hadn't seen him for two years when I met up with Q and his mom, Francisca Montana, at a playground. Francisca points him out to me up in a tree.

FRANCISCA MONTANA: He's always in the tree.

KHAN: I'm going to say hello.

Q - adept climber of trees, lover of Michael Jackson, doesn't want to grow up. In fact, he thinks adults are pretty boring, especially at parties.

Q: All that I think they do is sit around, talk and drink wine.

KHAN: But like all kids this age, Q has to face the idea that he's getting older and deal with the universal awkwardness of puberty. Of course, for a transgender child, that's even more complex.

MONTANA: He's at a different stage, where people start, like, having different standards for, like, what it means to be transgender.

KHAN: Meaning people ask her, what's Q's plan? Or they feel at liberty to ask about his body and hormones. Q began questioning his gender when he was 3 years old. By the end of second grade, he had transitioned socially from girl to boy. At a time when you hear stories of transgender kids feeling isolated or bullied, Q's comfort in his own skin and happy-go-lucky nature draw people in. Francisca calls it his superpower.

MONTANA: People like him because he's good with people. He's good to people. And he is not ashamed of asking for people to be good to him, either.

KHAN: Q is learning more about his body and physical presence in the world through theater and dance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You can't start right away, then start...

KHAN: He takes three classes. His favorite is modern.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Five, six, seven, eight.

KHAN: He says he's learned that he's flexible and strong.

Q: And I have very big thighs.

KHAN: You do?

Q: Yeah.

KHAN: But you're so long and skinny.

Q: Like, they're huge. It's like skinny here and then (imitates explosion).

KHAN: Not quite, but he does have a vision for what he wants from his body in the future. Q's dad, Avery Daily, says they talk about it.

AVERY DAILY: Do you ever think you'll go back to being a girl? He's was like, no. He was like, I don't think so. He was like, I want hair on my chest.

Q: I think chest hair is so cool. It's like hairs that grow near your belly. It's like nothing's like that.

KHAN: He'll also take a beard and a mustache. If he has to grow up, he at least wants to do it his way.

Q: I mean, obviously, I'm going to get armpit hair 'cause my mom says everybody gets armpit hair. And then I'm like, OK.

KHAN: He hasn't thought too far ahead about how this will happen. Remember, more than anything, Q wants to stay a kid. But the family for the past year has been talking about what it would mean for Q to start taking puberty blockers.

Q: I call it the talk.

KHAN: This is medication that basically suppresses puberty. It's a common course of treatment. It's listed as reversible in a guide co-authored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But it's still a very new part of the medical and cultural conversation around transgender children. That guide only came out last fall. Francisca says she sees blockers as a logical next step if that's what Q wants.

MONTANA: Seems that it will give us more time to think about the big decisions, yeah?

KHAN: The big decisions transgender adolescents make, such as whether to take hormones like testosterone or down the road get surgery. Q knows all about blockers - the idea, anyway - because he goes to a camp for transgender kids each summer, and other kids are on them.

Q: Everybody in camp, that's the only people that I want to talk about the blocker thing with. Like, everybody else in school, I keep my mouth shut.

KHAN: Q is spending two weeks at camp this summer, even though he has lots of friends in Brooklyn and feels accepted by his peers at school. He says it's not the same as being with other people like him. But besides enrolling transgender kids, the camp is just like any other outdoorsy sleep-away camp with a focus on nature, cheesy songs and all.

Q: (Singing) This is the composting toilet system. Oh, yes it is a digester of organic materials only.

KHAN: Both of Q's parents say there's a desire to buffer a bit of the outside world. For instance, Francisca didn't directly discuss with Q a decision this year to rescind federal guidelines protecting transgender kids in schools, partly because New York City has its own guidelines and partly because with Q being a half-Latino, half-black transgender kid, they want him to feel strong and maintain that uncanny sense of self. So that if or when he does face discrimination, or when he has to make hard decisions about his future, he'll have the tools to deal. Right now, he's game to stay a kid and a happy one at that.

Q: Then I heard a little voice, and that voice said to me...

KHAN: For NPR News, I'm Yasmeen Khan in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.