“He has no penis.” Cynthia* is sad, angry, incensed. She is in disbelief about what has happened to her son, who just turned 19. “They wanted to ‘Save the Negro boy.’ They just wanted to heal the world and start with him, forgetting he had parents.”
Photos of her son David* show a broad-shouldered Black boy, a bursting grin, and his arms joined in camaraderie with his peers at track meets and school plays. In videos that she shares with me, I can hear his divine tenor voice singing and see his command of the stage as a lead actor. “He loved being the center of attention and was very bright. People were drawn to him.” Her son was excited to be accepted to a highly-selective, elite co-ed boarding school in Massachusetts for high school. He received a scholarship, which made it possible for him to attend, coming from a middle-class family of four in New Jersey. Cynthia works in government service, and she describes their family as close-knit. “We did everything together. My husband and I were both involved in our kids’ lives, at every performance and game, volunteering to coach or help in any way. We loved it.”
When David went to boarding school, Cynthia remained close to her son. “If we weren’t FaceTiming, we were on the phone, and I would go up to Massachusetts a lot. We had a great relationship. I didn’t see this coming.” David expressed to his mom before he went away to high school that he was gay, but that he didn’t like any boy yet. She said that she’d love him no matter what. At boarding school, he told her about dates he had at school with girls that seemed to go great. Cynthia went with the flow and continued to support her son through his experiences.
During his sophomore year, David went to his school counselor. “He was 16. He would have listened to anything they said. He told them he thought he was gay. They told him about gender dysphoria. He had never heard of it until they told him.” From that point, the counselor, a therapist, and the head of schools (at the time, a White woman), took him under their wings. They contacted Cynthia that year to tell her that David was having some trouble with math, but otherwise, his academic performance was excellent. There was some testing needed to determine why he was having trouble in math. Right before the December holiday break, the head of schools invited Cynthia to come on an all-expenses paid trip to the school so that they could discuss the results of the testing. She expressed that it was not possible to make the trip due to her job duties and that she could speak on the phone. They did not respond.
When David returned home for the holiday break, everything was wonderful, as Cynthia recalls. “We had a great time. It was nice to have the family all home and together.” Just after David returned to boarding school, Cynthia received a letter from her son. “He said that the real reason they wanted me to come up to the school wasn’t because of math. He wanted to tell me: ‘I am a girl. I was born in the wrong body. I played with dolls more than my sister. He said that he didn’t like sports so that made him a girl.’ We didn’t even have dolls in our house. That’s not even true.” This doesn’t make any sense to Cynthia. She knows her son, and this doesn’t make sense.
While searching her memory for anything that may help make sense of this, Cynthia recalls something significant that happened during David’s eighth grade year. “He was into girls up until 8th grade when this girl he liked didn’t like him back and then, he just changed. He was crazy for this girl. He would write her poems, but she didn’t like him back. She told David that she just liked him as a friend. She liked his friend, Arthur. She dated him instead. He was White. My son wasn’t the same after that.”