What This Transgender Middle Schooler in Austin Thinks About the Bathroom Debate
Ella is 14 years old. She loves theater and clothes. She's smart, too. She was on the Kealing Middle School quiz bowl team, an academic quiz like "Jeopardy." She was also accepted into the Austin ISD’s best high school next year: the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.
Ella was born anatomically a male. Last summer, she told her family and friends she wanted to transition from male to female. She started going by Ella, what her parents would have called her if she was born anatomically female, and she started dressing in typical feminine clothing.
“I feel like [clothing is] a physical manifestation of gender.," Ella says. "It's very easy to see and use to present a certain way.”
Ella says friends and family were supportive and she was able to ease into society the way she wanted to quickly. Though, it’s not always perfect. At school, she sometimes gets more attention than she wants.
“Sometimes people go out of their way to talk to me and say, like, little comments," Ella says, adding that they'll often ask whether she's a boy or a girl.
"Sometimes lots of people will fake ask me out kind of as a joke," she says.
But, when she started eighth grade, her school tried to be accommodating. They turned a teacher’s bathroom into a gender-neutral bathroom and her P.E. coaches let her use the dressing rooms in the theater across the hall from the gym.
“Kealing has been very supportive and tried and all of it is in their best intentions," she says. "But, I feel like it would be better if I could just use the girls’ bathroom and locker rooms. It’s setting me apart, which is uncomfortable.”
Ella says she sometimes uses the girls’ bathroom and there’s been no reaction from other students or staff.
“I don’t think anyone has a problem, I think it’s more of a protocol," she says. "They’re not quite sure what to do and they’re trying to create as few waves as possible. I don’t see anything actively against it.”
"It’s not about the bathroom. It’s about the people."
But, if you listen to some state leaders, the dialogue is a bit different. Last month, the federal government sent a letter to school districts telling them to allow transgender students to use the bathroom they prefer. The Fort Worth school district recently set a similar policy.
“I think you’re going to see an explosion of home schools if this prevails," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in a press conference last month. "Parents not going to send their 14-year-old daughters into the bathroom, showers, with 14-year-old boys. [It's] not going to happen.”
Patrick says the policy goes against common decency, makes people uncomfortable and provides a loophole that allows sex offenders to go into the women’s room. Ella doesn’t buy that argument.
“People say that it’s about wanting to keep perverts out of bathrooms, to keep people safe, but the motivation is out of discrimination. I’ve read lots of articles that it’s the same situation as segregation in the 1950s where bathrooms were divided by race," Ella says. "It’s the same thing now. It’s not about the bathroom. It’s about the people.”
Ella says the debate hasn’t made it to her school, yet, but it’s something she thinks about.
“When I use public bathrooms, just, like, it’s such a like crux of gender and boundaries that it can be sort of difficult to feel welcome in a place like that," she says. "I think that it’s definitely been, for me, something that I thought about a lot and still do to an extent. I wouldn’t ever say I had anxiety about it, but I've definitely been very conscious of it.”
This summer, Ella plans to start hormone therapy. She requested her gender be changed on her birth certificate. She’ll go before a judge in August. If approved, she’ll be able to use the girls’ room without accommodations in the fall.