EXCLUSIVE: 'I remember the moment I saw my six-year-old son become my daughter, bouncing around in the new blue girl's one-piece suit he'd fallen in love with.' Ziya was born a male, identifies as a boy, but has the preferences of a girl

  • Ziya Yewdall's mother Faith describes her son as gender-fluid, an overlap of masculine and feminine gender traits
  • He is slight and delicate, with a soft and lilting voice
  • Traumatic bullying in his first weeks of kindergarten in Atlanta caused the child to shut down
  • Boys surrounded him and pulled his pants down to prove he was a boy and wouldn't let him use the boy's restroom
  • He might be playing with dolls one day and Transformers and LEGO toys the next, explains Faith 
  • Ziya identifies as a boy. 'He insists that I tell people he's my son when he is presumed to be a girl, though he is usually shy and reserved about it'

Faith Yewdall had to take a deep breath. Her six-year-old son Ziya had decided at the last minute to change from a Spiderman shirt to his favorite 'rock star' dress before heading out to a friend's birthday party.

'Part of me said, "Yes, finally!" Another part of me said, "Oh no, I haven't had time to prepare for this." But I was excited because he was so excited,' Faith explained.

She describes Ziya as gender-fluid, an internal overlap of masculine and feminine gender traits and expression. He doesn't fit the traditional boxes of boy or girl.

It's been eight months since Ziya showed excitement about much of anything. Traumatic bullying in his first two weeks of kindergarten caused her sensitive and creative child to shut down a large part of his personality. 'A part of him died in those two weeks. I watched the light go out of my child's eyes,' she said.

Six-year-old Ziya Yewdall is gender-fluid, says his mother Faith, an internal overlap of masculine and feminine gender traits and expression. He doesn't fit the traditional boxes of boy or girl
Six-year-old Ziya Yewdall is gender-fluid, says his mother Faith, an internal overlap of masculine and feminine gender traits and expression. He doesn't fit the traditional boxes of boy or girl

Gender fluid: Six-year-old Ziya Yewdall is gender-fluid, says his mother Faith, an internal overlap of masculine and feminine gender traits and expression. He doesn't fit the traditional boxes of boy or girl

Ziya might be playing with dolls one day and Transformers and LEGO toys the next. Says Faith: 'Ziya identifies as a boy. He insists that I tell people he's my son when he is presumed to be a girl, though he is usually shy and reserved about it.'

Ziya might be playing with dolls one day and Transformers and LEGO toys the next. Says Faith: 'Ziya identifies as a boy. He insists that I tell people he's my son when he is presumed to be a girl, though he is usually shy and reserved about it.'

Ziya loves pink, My Little Pony toys and clothes, Barbie dolls, sparkly head bands and dresses just like untold thousands of six-year-old girls across the country. Except that Ziya was assigned male at birth

Ziya loves pink, My Little Pony toys and clothes, Barbie dolls, sparkly head bands and dresses just like untold thousands of six-year-old girls across the country. Except that Ziya was assigned male at birth

For his first day of kindergarten, Faith took Ziya for a haircut and bought a red polo shirt, khaki pants and boys' shoes so that everything was appropriate for class.  Ziya also chose a new My Little Pony backpack for school. 'Ziya's teacher adored him. Everything seemed to be going well -- at first,' Faith said. But it turned ugly outside the classroom by the second day

For his first day of kindergarten, Faith took Ziya for a haircut and bought a red polo shirt, khaki pants and boys' shoes so that everything was appropriate for class.  Ziya also chose a new My Little Pony backpack for school. 'Ziya's teacher adored him. Everything seemed to be going well -- at first,' Faith said. But it turned ugly outside the classroom by the second day

'But when he put on that dress and started bouncing around, the joy that I feared had disappeared was back,' she said. 'The light was on again.'

Gender identity is distinctly different from one's biological sex as male or female.

The issue of gender identity was recently brought to the fore by Bruce Jenner, who at 65  is transitioning from a man to a woman and revealed in an interview with Diane Sawyer that as child he would often secretly dress up as a woman. 

The issue of gender identity was recenty brought to the fore by Bruce Jenner

The issue of gender identity was recenty brought to the fore by Bruce Jenner

'Many people fall in the grey area of the gender spectrum,' notes Melissa Dickinson, an Atlanta area gender therapist. 'Those who fit neatly into the mythical gender binary of masculine and feminine, whose gender identity and birth-assigned sex are neatly aligned, are actually in the minority.'

For thousands of individuals in the U.S. who simply cannot fit society's traditional expectations of gender expression, there is a strong psychological dissonance between a person's birth sex and their core identity, according to Anna Lisa Derenthal, another Atlanta therapist who specializes in gender identity issues in youth and adults.

'In individuals who identify as transgender - those who transcend gender roles and artificial boundaries - that internal dissonance often creates an unwavering need to transition totally to live in their more appropriate gender by hormone therapy, and often times gender-affirming surgery. But not in every case,' she said.

Gender-fluid is a blending of the common view of people as either boys or girls, the therapists said. They describe gender as a continuum, similar to color. 'It's much broader than just him or her, one or the other. There are a lot of people who live between genders,' Faith said.

A Mother's Story by Faith Yewdall

I remember clearly the moment when I saw my six-year-old son Ziya become my daughter, at least to my eyes. I was in the dressing room with him. My world shifted as I watched him bounce around in the new blue one-piece girl's suit he'd fallen in love with.

That's when it hit me, 'I'm taking my daughter shopping,' I thought to myself. I'll never forget that moment. There was clarity, fear, and absolute confusion - all in the same heartbeat. As Ziya moved onto a My Little Pony outfit and stared at himself in the mirror, I took a deep breath and asked Ziya how he felt. He looked at me in the mirror for a moment, waiting. I smiled. He smiled. 'I look perfect,' he said.

After that, it was ridiculously easy to head into the shoe department and giggle while he tried on the four-inch wedge flip-flops and sparkly silver tennis shoes. My child is gender-fluid. He was assigned male at birth and still identifies as a boy, but he has a personality, traits, mannerisms and preferences that are more aligned with little girls than boys. He is slight and delicate, with a soft and lilting voice. He's not trying to act like a little girl. Ziya is just being Ziya.

Almost everyone Ziya meets just assumes he is my daughter. Ziya usually tugs at me and whispers, 'Tell them I'm a boy.' Taking a deep breath has become my new coping mechanism as I watch my child walk his path and try to be there as his safety net. When he came home from Kindergarten at the end of the first week and started acting out, I took a deep breath.

When he finally told me, sobbing, that the boys surrounded him and pulled his pants down to prove he was a boy, I took a deep breath. When he told me the kids wouldn't let him use the boy's restroom I took a deep breath. When he explained that other kids where touching him and calling him 'cutie,' I took a deep breath.

Ziya was a different child after his brief time in Kindergarten. He became anxious and quiet. He stopped smiling. His favorite color was no longer pink and only wore boy clothes. Even now, Ziya wont use a public restroom by himself.

Eight months after pulling Ziya from school, he decided to wear a pink My Little Pony outfitto our home school co-op. He bounced out of the bedroom, threw on his pink flip-flops and was ready to go. I wasn't ready. I thought, 'How would our friends respond? What about the larger community? How could I protect him and would I even need to protect him?'

I wasn't ready for this level of openly breaking society's rules, but Ziya was.

So I took a deep breath and loaded my kids in the car. We arrived at co-op and I tagged a few friends to help me keep an eye on things. The only thing that happened that day was the questioning. 'Are you a boy?' 'I thought you were a boy,' 'You look like a girl' and 'How can you be a boy?' comments peppered the day.

My heart broke a little. This happens everywhere, in the grocery store, at the park, even with families I thought were safe. I've had to become Ziya's advocate and gatekeeper, as well as his parent.

 Ziya has always been Ziya. He's as likely to play with Barbie dolls as trains. He likes to wear a Sponge Bob skirt with a skateboard t-shirt. He loves his Darth Vader costume paired a scarf and matching shoes. This has always been my child. When Ziya was younger it was cute, but what happens now that he's older? What happens when mom and dad aren't there to save the day?

When Ziya picked a pink and purple My Little Pony backpack for Kindergarten, we talked about the responses he might get. I tried to prepare him by practicing conversations. I took Ziya to cut his long blonde hair to make him appear more 'boyish' and more acceptable. It didn't work. My child is different. Ziya is unique and he just can't be shoved into the 'boy' box. It's just too small.

I know some parents blame me for not making him male enough. I can't quite figure out what that means. Where do I draw the lines? Do I make Ziya shop from the boys department and keep him from painting his nails? Do I punish him every time he crosses his legs and talks with his hands? Do I only praise him when he plays Legos and war games? Do I teach him shame and guilt and become his biggest bully? How does forcing my child to lose part of which he is help create a healthy, happy, whole human being? As parents, isn't that what we all hope for?

For now, my son is back to the smiling, happy and creative child from before. For a recent family vacation to Florida, I allowed my child to choose a few new clothing items from the girls' section of the store – including the one-piece swimsuit. He wouldn't wear anything but his girl's clothing the entire trip. The joy in my child's eyes because we affirmed who he is was heartwarming.

Ziya said, 'I'm afraid I'll like being a girl so much that I'll forget how to be a boy.' That's pretty introspective for a six-year-old.

There may come a time when Ziya's core gender identity emerges as undeniably female. Ziya may decide to transition to living his – or her – true gender. But it will be Ziya who decides when or if that happens, and we will love, support and affirm our child regardless.

Ziya was drawn toward dresses, Barbie dolls, sparkly headbands and My Little Pony books and toys for as long as Faith and husband Eli can remember. 'He might be playing with dolls one day and Transformers and LEGO toys the next,' she said. 'Ziya identifies as a boy. He insists that I tell people he's my son when he is presumed to be a girl, though he is usually shy and reserved about it.'

'It was never a concern for us,' Faith explained. 'Ziya was being his innocent self. He likes things that are made more for girls and likes to have his hair long. Ziya likes what he likes and we support that. Some people like broccoli, some people like pizza. Ziya is his own person.'

That day's birthday party was the first time her son with the undeniable feminine countenance wanted to venture out of the house in a dress, one of several that he typically wears only at home.

Faith and Ziya's dad Eli support and affirm's their child's gender identity and expression, which might be more boyish one day and more feminine the next. "Ziya is a mix of both genders, falling somewhere in the middle," Faith explains.

Faith and Ziya's dad Eli support and affirm's their child's gender identity and expression, which might be more boyish one day and more feminine the next. "Ziya is a mix of both genders, falling somewhere in the middle," Faith explains.

Ziya considers himself to be a boy, but maybe a girl, too

Ziya considers himself to be a boy, but maybe a girl, too

Faith called several friends whose children were also attending the party. She told them of Ziya's choice of outfits and asked for their backup. Her friends were familiar with her son's gender-blended ways. 'I need more sets of eyes,' she explained.

'We've got your back, no problem,' her friends assured her.

Still, Faith was a bit anxious as she and Ziya arrived at the party. His delicate hands with the purple nail varnish clutched tightly to hers. 'He didn't want to let go once we entered the house,' she said. 'He was quiet and just watched the other children play for a while. I think he wasn't sure if he would be teased or accepted.'

As it turned out, their worries were unfounded. The other children quickly pulled Ziya into the activities with screaming, laughing, jumping and dancing as typical young children do at birthday parties. He even had his face painted like a heavy-metal rock star to match the party's theme. 'Ziya's dress wasn't an issue. Ziya was just Ziya,' Faith continued.

'I think things changed today,' Faith said, relieved that her soft-spoken child was so well received and accepted. The smile on Ziya's face as he twirled in his dress in front of the other children was all the proof she needed that there was nothing to fear that day.

It was a different scene last September when Ziya started elementary school near their Grant Park home.

'He was really excited to be going to kindergarten,' Faith explained. 'It was a new adventure. He really wanted to be with other children.'

'Ziya has always been Ziya,' says Faith. 'He's as likely to play with Barbie dolls as trains. He likes to wear a Sponge Bob skirt with a skateboard t-shirt

'Ziya has always been Ziya,' says Faith. 'He's as likely to play with Barbie dolls as trains. He likes to wear a Sponge Bob skirt with a skateboard t-shirt

He loves his Darth Vader costume paired a scarf and matching shoes

He loves his Darth Vader costume paired a scarf and matching shoes

When Ziya picked a pink and purple My Little Pony backpack for Kindergarten, his parents spoke to him about the reaction he might get. 

When Ziya picked a pink and purple My Little Pony backpack for Kindergarten, his parents spoke to him about the reaction he might get. 

Faith took Ziya for a haircut and bought a red polo shirt, khaki pants and boys' shoes so that everything was appropriate for class. Ziya also chose a new My Little Pony backpack for school.

The staff assured Faith that her son's free-spirited, gender non-conformity wouldn't be an issue. 'The teachers and administrators were gracious and understanding. Ziya's teacher adored him. Everything seemed to be going well -- at first,' she said.

But it turned ugly outside the classroom by the second day.

'There were young kids who tried pulling Ziya's pants down to see if he was really a boy. Even though we cut Ziya's hair short and he was wearing a boy's uniform, they must have sensed he wasn't like other boys,' Faith recalled.

'There were young students who wouldn't let him use the boy's restroom. They taunted him, ordering him to use the girl's room instead. They patted Ziya on his bottom and called him 'cutie' while standing in the lunchroom. They mocked his My Little Pony lunch box before another student made off with it,' she said.

Ziya began acting out at home with behavior that was completely out of character, Faith recalled. On the fifth day, Ziya broke down in his bedroom and sobbed for hours to his mother. He finally admitted what happened in the school.

'He didn't want to tell us what happened because he was afraid he would be in trouble for pushing another boy away from him,' she said. Faith and Eli investigated. 'The teachers weren't at fault. They were probably overwhelmed with all the students and couldn't be everywhere,' Faith insisted.

His parents quickly withdrew Ziya from the school, opting to homeschool their child instead. But the psychological wounds had already been inflicted.

'Ziya had been a happy, inquisitive and joy-filled child. I watched him become withdrawn and sad. He stopped liking pink. He didn't smile as much. It was heartbreaking.'

It took months for Ziya to rebound from the trauma. 'That's why I was so relieved that he wanted to wear the dress,' she said.

Ziya's parents hope to enroll him in Pride School Atlanta, a private learning environment for students and faculty who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender fluid, intersex or who just support others who do

Ziya's parents hope to enroll him in Pride School Atlanta, a private learning environment for students and faculty who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender fluid, intersex or who just support others who do

'I can't imagine Ziya being less of who he is because of pressure from other people.I want to see him healthy and happy to be who he is. It doesn't matter who Ziya is in five years, or ten or twenty. Maybe he'll decide he is more girl than boy and transition to living as a girl, maybe not. But it will be his decision,' Faith insisted.

Eli is equally supportive. 'Each person is an individual. They are who they are but society seems to want everyone to fit a box so they can just read the label and think they know who the person is. They don't try to get to know the specifics about the person. It's a subconscious short-cut,' he explained.

For now, all is going well with home schooling. Faith would love to see Ziya have more friends and opportunities to socialize with other children.

They also hope to enroll Ziya in Pride School Atlanta, a private learning environment for students and faculty who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender fluid, intersex or who just support others who do. The school, under the direction of Christian Zsilavetz, a transgender man and teacher hopes to open in the fall with at least 15-20 students.

'We want to meet other families so we can share what works and what doesn't with our kids,' Faith said. 'These children need a safe place to be themselves while they learn, without fear of judgment.

'There's no real road map when you have a child who is gender non-conforming. You need to follow your instincts as a parent. You love and support them and affirm who they are. There have been so many young people who struggled with gender identity and who've taken their own lives because they faced constant rejection from family and peers. I guess that's my biggest fear. I don't know how we'll afford the school but we'll find a way. Our child's life may depend on it.'


 

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