As a transgender high school student in Gloucester County, Virginia, Gavin Grimm sued the Gloucester Country School 4 Board in 2015 for the right to use the boys' bathrooms at his M school. Representing Grimm, the ACLU argued that the school policy M forcing him to use the girls' bathrooms was a Title IX violation, as well as a violation of the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. The following has been adapted from Grimm's keynote speech at the American Humanist Association's 2018 annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, delivered on May 20, 2018. Two days later, on May 22, the US District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in Grimm's favor, allowing the lawsuit to go forward. Now a freshman in college, Grimm's story was included in the recently published collection, Nevertheless, We Persisted.
When my twin brother and I were born, we were two bouncing baby boys, him with a clubbed foot, and me with an erroneous birth certificate, mistakenly designating me as a girl--a designation that would hang insidiously over me for the foreseeable future, dictating what I could and could not do, how I should dress, and who I could be. I think he got the better deal.
As I grew up in my Southern Baptist household with parents who unwittingly held just about every prejudice imaginable, I realized quickly that there were several aspects of the life that I was born into that I did not actually subscribe to.
For example, at the tender age of eight my parents told me I could no longer walk about four hundred feet to my friend's house because he was a boy, but my brother could. I was hurt because this neighbor boy was my friend, and I was also struck by the unfairness of it. Alongside that feeling, there was something else. Something I didn't know how to vocalize any other way than "I'm no different from my brother."
They thought I was a budding feminist, demanding equal rights on the playground. (Which itself was a concept most people in my life thought fit to ridicule rather than celebrate.) My voice was drowned out by the noise of a culture not built to recognize a transgender child. To me, that term--transgender--meant something deeper than what my parents heard. It was my liberation, if only I could translate it into a language that would get them to understand.
But I couldn't. And this happened again when I wanted to play football. Again when I didn't want to play girls' softball. Again when I had to wear a dress to my sister's wedding. Again when I held a girl's hand for the first time and couldn't enjoy it because I felt like I was going to be sick due to the butterflies in my stomach and the anxiety of doing something that I had been taught was wrong.
These were things I couldn't, or wasn't, allowed to do. Not because I was a girl, but because people didn't understand that I was a boy. And in a restrictive, religious environment, it would be many long, traumatic years before I gained the language that would complete me.
I remember so distinctly growing up in the church and asking questions that weren't meant to be asked. I was left with angry Sunday school directors, an unsatisfied thirst for knowledge, and worse, a deep, pervasive terror of the creator. My Sunday school teachers would tell me that my questioning was sinful. Could God see the doubt in my heart? Surely he could, he was God. Could he then also see how I played as boys in my Pokemon games or when I played pretend in the woods? Could he also feel my fluttering heartbeat whenever I saw the female friend I had a crush on? The latter of these thoughts I dared not even fully form into questions. The fear was there, but my mind was not my own. It was not safe from the prying eyes of an all-knowing and all-of-me rejecting deity.
Eventually I stopped asking. Eventually I stopped thinking. I accepted what my teachers and family and religious friends were saying and looked no further. And not wanting to be further rejected, not wanting to be more of an outsider than I was, I jumped in feet first.
Youth retreats, Christian concerts. Mission trips. Proselytizing. I became what I hated. I even got rid of my Pokemon toys.
But regardless of my commitment, regardless of how many times I "felt God," it was like a club I could never quite get into. At the time I thought the bouncer was Satan. Now I know it was my drive for knowledge.
By this time, I would go right to the boys' section of the clothing store while...