Take it from this grandparent of a transgender teen: Kansas legislators chose ignorance

September 8, 2023 3:33 am

Kansans rally in support of transgender rights May 5, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

I am the grandfather of a transgender teenager. Check that. I am the proud grandfather of a transgender teenager.

Two years ago as we sat around our kitchen table, a brave 13 year old confided in us that he was transgender, that since age 6 he had been uncomfortable with his female birth gender, and that he planned to begin a transition to the person he truly is. There were a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling through my head after his reveal. But I now know that it was a great honor for us, as grandparents, to be the first people other than his mother to know about the journey upon which he was soon to embark.

We were not blindsided. There had been quiet conversations with his mother concerning his exploration of gender identity.

During this early exploration, he began to use terms like “nonbinary” and a host of other descriptions of gender that were foreign and undefined for me. I began to do my homework and while still confused, at least I had a grasp of what was happening with gender identity in our time. But it was a surprise when he told us he was transgender and that his birth gender was a source of discomfort, stress, and unhappiness.

There are probably fewer things more annoying than an anal retentive grandparent searching for answers. I wanted to know the “why.” I devoured medical journals, scientific studies, online forums, opinion pieces — anything to provide me with a concrete reason why this was happening to my grandchild. The motivation to discover the reason was not rooted in the hope that there would be a way to stop or alter the transition. It was simply an effort to understand so that I could support him.

Through it all, one primary force was present. I love my grandchild.

With that love as my guide, I was fortunate to discover the very best source of information was my grandson. He allowed me into his life by answering every question I had. Some of these conversations were extremely difficult for both of us. In the end, I reaffirmed what I already knew. Here was a young person who was articulate, compassionate, intelligent and wise beyond his years.

When he answered my “Do you have any doubts?” question with good eye contact and a firm “No,” all my doubts disappeared as well.

The only concern remaining was how other people would treat him.

Then the 2023 Kansas Legislative session began.

The attitude demonstrated by legislative leadership and the Legislature as a whole was astounding. Couched in false narratives about “freedom,” many legislators worked diligently to ostracize a specific minority group of their fellow Kansans and constituents. Party members spoke in public about their desire to make it so miserable for those who were different from them that they would have no choice but to flee the state.

I did what I could during the session. I called and sent appropriate emails to my elected officials. Not a single one responded in any way.

I admit I was angry with their lack of communication. Disappointed. But never hateful. I do not hate those who have a view that differs from my own.  I did begin to experience a profound sense of sorrow. Sorrow for people whose minds are closed, sorrow for people who would not even consider taking the time to visit with a transgender person, sorrow for someone who thinks they are a foot soldier for a vengeful God, and sorrow for elected officials who seek to be understood more than they seek to understand.

I hold great hope for my grandson. He is planning to secure a law degree and practice in the family law sector. It is very unlikely he will be practicing in Kansas.

His gain, Kansas’ loss.

Les Sperling is a retired CEO of behavioral health organizations and a cattle rancher. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Les Sperling
Les Sperling

Les Sperling is a retired CEO of behavioral health organizations and a cattle rancher. A lifelong Kansan, he lives and plays in rural central Kansas.