After shaking off the initial shock of the unexpected question, I answered "Yes, I do." The question itself was a sign of changing times, with Jenner a leading voice in a new era of understanding. Both are signs there is more awareness of gender identity issues.
My meeting was in March, a month before Jenner's two-hour tell-all on ABC. I assumed this young person was seeking words of wisdom, as it was an afternoon of empowerment. The snickering and giggles from other teens only empowered me even more. I had no words of expertise, but kindness came to mind.
The teens were from a male unit at juvenile hall. They sat there in county issued grey sweats and socks and sandals. I looked around and could only say "aren't we all just trying to survive?" I asked "aren't you all just trying to get out of here and get home?" The room quieted. I saw eyes look down.
According to the ABC story, there are 700,000 transgender Americans. The Olympic super-hero and Kardashian step-dad is the most famous to teach us about gender dysphoria. Jenner told Diane Sawyer he knew as a child he felt like a girl. I'm guessing this teen might tell a similar story.
I left the detention center but this young ward stayed with me emotionally. I imaged how rough it must be in lockdown in a male unit, let alone on the mean streets. I wondered if this teen's family was kind. I wondered if the teen knew of support groups. I wondered how many times the teen had been abused emotionally and/or physically.
Learning about this issue myself, I called my probation contact and asked if I could write about my experience. I asked how to refer to this ward in the male unit. Him or her? She or he? "She" I was told. Lets call her "Page."
I had gone to juvie hall in honor of my late brother who'd been incarcerated himself. As I looked around, I thought of my brother who went in at about the same age as the teens before me.
I'd felt an instant connection with "Page." When I entered the back of the room "Page" excitedly turned around before being reprimanded. She watched our film with interest and reacted to moments. When I approached to speak she recognized me from the news.
"Page" helped calm my fears. I'd been nervous going in. What if they didn't like what I had to say? What if I couldn't relate? What if they were too angry, bored, or unkind? What if I had no message?
When asked if there were any questions "Page's" hand shot up. "I'm transgender, do you have anything for me?" "Page" is a beautiful African American teen, tall, big eyes, an engaging smile, and warm personality.
My response that day was short. First off, I was caught off guard, and not sure what to say. Secondly, I was not sure how deep the probation department wanted to go. As "Page" looked at me the words that stumbled out of my mouth were "there IS a place for you on this planet."
At the end of the afternoon I shook hands with each teen as they exited in a line. To my surprise, two detainees threw their arms around me in a hug. "Page" was one of them.
For days I could not get "Page" out of my mind. I called my probation contact and asked if I could send over some literature with links to local support groups. I copied a link to an article on transgender actress Laverne Cox(Orange Is The New Black).
I'd also sent a recent People Magazine article. Bruce Jenner was on the cover as the media took note of his changing appearance. While sexual reconstruction surgery is not for everyone, "Page" needed to know she was not alone.
Friday, May 1st, right after a shortened version of Fox 11 News at 10pm watch 22:30 a 1/2 hour special on Gender Dysphoria.
View on www.genwell.org
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