See Dick Be Jane

The country's youngest transgender child is ready for school. But is school ready for her?

At 38, Maritza met Violet, a straight woman who approached her at the gym. Nine months later, at their commitment ceremony in Key West, someone asked Maritza if she was "transitioning." The question was understandable — Maritza had discovered bodybuilding, and her once-chubby body was bulging with muscle and looked decidedly masculine, the classic appearance of a woman transitioning into a man. But Maritza didn't know that, because she had never heard of transsexuals.

"I get home and get on the Internet, and the tears went rolling down my cheeks, and the sky just like opened up," Mark says. "There are others like me. It was like a revelation."

Maritza barreled through gender transition, going from the initial consultation with a therapist to hormone therapy to a full mastectomy to a legal name and sex change in just five months. "It was the easiest thing," he says. "I don't let grass grow under my feet. I was fulfilling my destiny. This is what I was supposed to be."

Heather Wright was stunned by the changes in Nicole.
Heather Wright was stunned by the changes in Nicole.

On February 6, 2004, Cummings and Violet were legally married as woman and newly minted man. Immediately, Cummings launched a campaign to help other transsexual men and women combat the gender dysphoria that he blames for so much of his life's pain.

If they would let him, Cummings would turn the Broward County Public Schools into one of his many projects, alongside his recently completed, self-published autobiography, The Mirror Makes No Sense; his plans for a documentary; and his greatest dream — a feature film about his life story. He says that he has been contacted by a filmmaker who has the ear of none other than Stephen Spielberg and that preliminary talks about the script are set for this summer.

Speaking of Nicole, though he has never met her, brings tears to Cummings' eyes.

"I was Nicholas at one point. I was 5 years old at one point. The best thing for Nicole would be to expose the whole thing," Mark says. "I don't think it will put him in danger. I think it will be a good thing."


Even among transsexuals, not everyone thinks being raised as a girl will be good for Nicole. At one meeting of a transgender support group, Lauren encountered criticism from a female-to-male adult transsexual who thought Lauren's permissiveness was harming the child.

"He told me, 'I'm the man I am today because I suffered as a child,'" she says. "He was basically putting me down for accepting my child, saying, 'I think we all need to suffer because of this. '"

And at least one local adult who identifies as a gender variant and who requested that his name be withheld also has doubts.

"Nobody wants to be premature in definitively diagnosing anything," he says. "This isn't something that's reversible. Hormones can be started, hormones can be stopped, but they're not without their side effects. You're not going to get a whole school system to change overnight. There are no definites, not at such a young age."

Nicole will have no need for medical intervention for years — until puberty will begin to ruin her girlish figure. But eventually, she may consider taking hormone blockers to prevent masculinization and then eventually begin to take feminizing hormones. Or she could change her mind, prompting an awkward female-to-male transition. Either way, when these changes happen, she's likely to be the target of bullying.

Lauren says that rumors have already started at Nicole's school. "Some teachers were apparently milling around and talking about our family," she says. "One of them said, 'I heard she really wanted another daughter. '"

But Lauren says the potential for bullying won't change her mind. "I don't want to take that child's soul and squash it," she says. "The school doesn't have a choice. If the school says no, they're violating my child's rights. The plan B is not to switch schools or to homeschool. The plan B is to say 'no. '"

"We're the parents; we need to make a decision," Tom Anderson adds. "We see a child that's extremely happy, who loves and is loved by everybody. We're just going by our parental gut."

Logistically, the Andersons believe, having Nicole attend school as a girl shouldn't be difficult. Most of the classrooms at the school have attached single-stall bathrooms. With the cooperation of teachers, other children would never have to know.

Marilyn Volker, a Miami sexologist, says other transsexual children have successfully navigated Florida schools, often with the discreet help of teachers. "Sometimes only individual teachers know about it," she says. "Often, the teacher deals with it."

"This is a child with wonderfully supportive, loving parents who's got medical and mental health professionals on her side," lesbian rights attorney Karen Doering says. "I think as far as being able to handle bullying, I think this child will do just fine."

Although the Broward County School District would not acknowledge that it had received communications about Nicole's needs from the Andersons, it insists that it has protocols for dealing with a GID child.

"We take each child as an individual," district spokesman Andrew Feirstein says. "Any time a student enrolls in a district school and has specific needs, all appropriate information is gathered for an evaluation. District professionals meet together and work with parents to determine the student's best educational plan."

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