An Omaha couple is allowing their 8-year-old son to openly live life as a girl. It?s a decision that means the child is no longer able to attend Catholic school.
Therapists and the child?s parents say the second grade student is transgender, a medical condition where a person?s inner sense of identity doesn?t match their biological gender. Some gender experts say as many as one in 500 people may be transgender or carry significant traits of the opposite sex.
"It?s kind of like you?re trapped somewhere and you can?t get out," said the boy, whose name and face are not being made public to protect the family from potential harm.
"She?s been a girl since the beginning, everything about her, the way she dances and skips around and the things she?s attracted to. It?s more than toys and clothes," said the child?s mother.
The mother said the child has consistently asked to be called a girl since she was 4 years old.
"One night, she said, 'Every night when I go to bed, I pray my inside will match my outside. But it never happens,'" the mother said, recalling the words of her middle child.
The child?s artwork is filled with crayon-colored images of princesses and mermaids. Her family has allowed the child to wear dresses and female clothing in their west Omaha home, but until recently, she had to change into boy clothes for her brother?s baseball games, church or any outing outside the house.
"Now I can wear nail polish, get rid of all my boy clothes and not worry about that name," the child said.
The child?s case recently came to light when her parents met with a leader of the Omaha Catholic Archdiocese to talk about transitioning the student into third grade at her school, St. Wenceslaus.
The family wanted the child to use a new female name, be able to wear a girl?s uniform and be included in girls' activities.
The mother, a life-long Catholic, thought making the transition in their parish would be the best place for their child to continue friendships, with a support system that included other parents and children.
"The child is welcomed to come, but it would not be acceptable to change the child?s gender and present as a girl," said Omaha Archdiocese's Chancellor, the Rev. Joseph Taphorn.
Taphorn said having the child attend the school for three years as a boy, and then presenting as a girl would not be a good learning environment for the child or other students. He said school has to be a peaceful, positive environment for everyone.
The child will attend a public school in the fall, using her chosen name and wearing a ponytail in her hair.
"It was not a decision that was made rashly at all. It was a decision to protect her psyche and her self-esteem," the mother said.
Therapists agree that forcing a person to live in a social role outside their perceived gender is damaging.
Omaha mental health therapist Ellie Hites said she?s worked with more than 200 transgendered clients in Omaha over the past 35 years.
Hites said she does psychological evaluations on all of her clients.
"One hundred percent of the time, I?ve never had anybody show up anything other than healthiest in the chosen gender role, as opposed to biological," Hites said.
She said her adult transgender clients have lived through nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts and deep depression because they could never truly be themselves. She has four transgendered clients right now.
"The story that I get is that 'I've known since I was real little, but everybody laughed or nobody paid any attention,'" Hites said.
The therapist said transgendered children insist they are the opposite sex, consistently.
"It?s like they arrive here with one biology but the mental set is counter to that," Hites said.
The 8-year-old?s favorite color is aqua. Her favorite toy: American Girl Dolls. And right now she?s reading a Junie B. Jones book that made her giggle when she talked about the plot.
Pink and aqua barrettes held her shoulder-length layered hair out of her face, while she drew chalk pictures of clouds on the pavement.
When her mother announced that the child would be allowed to pierce her ears next week, the girl screeched and had a huge smile on her face.
"You?ve waited long enough to live as a girl," the mother said.
The mother is on a mission to educate the community and encourage churches to open a dialog about diversity and acceptance of all people.
She recently waged an e-mail campaign to urge her church members to place an empty envelope in the collection basket on Mother?s Day weekend. She said she wanted to send a message to the church that church members can have a voice and that they shouldn?t just blindly follow the flock.
"Just take the time to listen. It is different. It?s something most people have never heard of, but it doesn?t make it scary or pathological," she said.