One Equal World

Coy Mathis and Society’s Perception of Gender

Posted on: October 31, 2013

Coy Mathis GLAAD

The Mathis family at GLAAD’s 2013 Media Awards.
Image: lev radin /

The nation was captivated earlier this year when Coy Mathis, a six-year-old transgendered girl, was fighting for her right to use the girl’s bathroom at school. The case brought up an important issue that many transgender youth face repeatedly throughout life: the fact that society keeps trying to draw a neat gender line when, in fact, it just can’t be done. Gender is a complex thing, and it’s about time we started treating it as such.

To the jubilation of many, the Mathis family eventually won their case when Director Steven Chavez of the Colorado Civil Rights Division reviewed the discrimination complaint. Chavez wrote, “Telling [Coy] that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions… creates an environment that is so objectively and subjectively hostile.” And he is absolutely right. The Mathis family’s victory has fueled momentum for addressing transgender struggles.

Why are we so afraid to admit that gender is a complex issue, that some boys are born with vulvas, some girls are born with penises, and that some people don’t identify neatly as either male or female? Gender identity is a very personal thing, and should never be disregarded or assigned by anyone.

In an op-ed for the Advocate, Leela Ginelle discusses the absurdity of being uncomfortable with transgender children and youth:

“What is it you’re uncomfortable about?” we’ll ask.

The question is generally met with awkward silence.

“Is it that this transgender girl will expose herself or assault her classmates? Because if that’s it, we can Google it and see if there’s ever been a case of that happening.”

More silence.

“If it’s just that you’re uncomfortable, though, then that’s not a sufficient reason to deny a student her legal rights.”

Our society operates on the principle that there are men and women, and nothing in between. These gender identities are assigned at birth, and we’re expected to “live up to them” all our lives.

For previous generations of transgender and gender-variant individuals, this has meant a life of secrecy, pain, and closeting — a life spent policing one’s self and feeling abnormal.

boy and girl twins, gender

Our society assigns gender before babies are even born, making life even harder for trans people.
Image: Shutterstock

Transgender people are among the most misunderstood individuals in our society. Many know by the time they are young children that they are a different gender than what society is telling them, and continually being denied that identity leads to serious problems, including depression and suicide. In an article for Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely discusses how even a child as young as Coy can be gravely affected.

So, why are we afraid of these adorable children? Straight, gay, transgendered, queer, bisexual… whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation, they are still people. Just like you. Just like me. Let’s start treating them like it.


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