Back to School with an Up-Front Junior
Anyone can go back to school. Millions do it every fall. But coming back as an up front transgender teen takes a rare breed.
Jillian Cohen—now Julian—was born in 1996, the same year that then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton released her renowned book It Takes a Village. It is an amazing story. The village Mrs. Clinton described has expanded for LGBT kids and that village is there for Julian in every way.
Setting a date to interview the Cohens wasn’t easy...there’s French horn for Julian, soccer practice for Matthew, and choir practice for both parents, plus work for the parents and homework for the kids.
But over dinner together, we had a faux book club for the village book written 16 years prior. We collectively decided that the most appropriate quotation was the one from Dr. Seuss: “You have a brain in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Her parents read that to Jillian when she was a toddler and then Julian gratefully read it back to them as he entered his junior year of high school.
“Because of my parents, that quote sums up my life.They accept me for who I am and are willing to talk about it. They have always stuck up for me and defended me in my journey.”
Julian’s principal at school met with him over the summer to map out a migration path for Julian to come out and come back to a safe environment. He’s back at school and up front about his persona. The Rabbi at his synagogue has been equally as helpful in establishing his equality.
We talk about “the progressive bubble” he lives in and he admits his therapist warned him that music camp is going to attract kids from all over and some may not be as open minded. Julian is such a “people person” with bright eyes and a smile that melts the polar ice caps, and I comment that he’ll become friends with each and every one of his camp mates.
He replies, “Probably everyone but the oboe player. They’re notoriously difficult.”
Here we’ve come all this way only to uncover “oboe-phobia.” Stereotypes, indeed, die hard.
In all candor, Joe and Carol will tell you it’s a process—and it isn’t without some fear and trepidation for your child’s well being. The T of LGBT seems to be the final frontier of societal acceptance. Julian’s parents are buoyed by the fact that even LGBT icon Cher struggled at first with Chaz’s transition plans. Carol recalls, “PFLAG was not only a source for finding professional help, but also compassionate support. I so wish I’d gotten the name of the woman at the local DC chapter who first helped me when my emotions were very raw. Later, at an Arlington support group, I met the mother of a transgendered man who is nearly 30 years old now, and it was great to find someone who walked in my shoes. Julian was thrilled to meet other teens with whom he could identify, and stays in touch now.”
These teens and their parents are out to their friends and neighbors. Perhaps the most normal suburban routine in the world is the Saturday trip to the mall. Preparing for a special service at the synagogue, Julian had intended to find his first men’s suit. His mother agreed to take him. She ran a few errands that morning and when she returned she saw a Macy’s suit bag on the back of his door.
“But I thought I was going to take you?” she quizzed.
“Dad and I did it a lot quicker than it would have taken you.”
A new generation of Father Knows Best has emerged. Gays of my generation have always relied on motherly love and understanding—so, when men can show the kind of love and acceptance that Joe Cohen does, it makes it ever so special.
Joe recounts that during their shopping expedition, they ran into some good friends who have children Julian’s age and know he is transitioning.
“How’s it going?” the friend asked.
Joe, thinking only of the task at hand replied “There’s only a limited number of suits narrow enough in the shoulders and wide enough in the hips.”
“I meant how’s his transition going—not the shopping!”
The transition, too, is going well, thanks to the Cohen family and the Village that it takes. Julian was invited to blow the shofar (the ram’s horn) at Rosh Hashanah services last month—that’s quite an honor.
Mrs. Clinton closed her book with the Greek proverb “A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”
And that’s when it hit me: I have kids in school. And my job—our job—is to make sure they can sit in the shade.
So find a SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League), GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), or PFLAG (Parents, Friends of Lesbians, Gays) chapter to support, (PFlag meets in Rehoboth on the second Sunday of each month at Epworth Church), and let’s keep “our Julians” going back to school up front about their lives.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC, but lives in Rehoboth Beach.