In April of 2007, Riley Grant, along with her family, appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters to talk about her childhood. At the age of two, Riley (born Richard) refused to swim without a top, wanted to wear dresses, and played with his twin sister’s toys. Under the recommendation of their pediatrician, her parents repeatedly tried to convert her to masculine habits and hobbies, but they understood the severity of the “confusion” when she held a pair of nail clippers next to her penis. Her mother, Stephanie, purchased a few feminine clothing items and allowed Riley to wear them when her father was not home. After years of hiding her identity from her community and the school, Stephanie broke down in the principal’s office. He contradicted the pediatrician’s advice and referred the family to a gender specialist. At this time, Richard was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. At seven, Richard changed his name to Riley, and she started wearing feminine clothing with the support of her family and her principal. Unfortunately, her classmates were not so welcoming. As Riley approaches adolescence, she has elected to take hormonal suppressants until she is old enough to begin her cross-hormonal treatment in order to acquire feminine secondary sex characteristics. For her parents, the future is full of questions of gender reassignment surgery and the possibility of side-effects from the medical intervention. The Grants decided to make their private pain public in order to support other families with gender variant children and to help outsiders comprehend what Riley is going through. Stephanie maintains, “We have to support her, but we don’t walk in her shoes. And people who look at her and know her will, I hope, realize what it takes for her to be her every single day.”
For me, this story had a variety of elements that I found hopeful and frightening. Riley persevered to be herself despite the initial discouragement of her family and classmates; thus, she becomes a role model for other transgender children as a symbol of strength, determination, and bravery. Her family’s acceptance of her demonstrates a supportive environment for families with gender variant children, and the principal is the ideal authority figure for allowing Riley to present herself in the gender in which she identifies.
Nonetheless, the unfortunate responses are presented as well. Riley’s pediatrician recommended that her parents adamantly push masculine behaviors onto Riley. As a medical professional, the pediatrician should be fully aware of the variety of gender representations, and he/she should not have overlooked them. Secondly, the medicalization of Riley’s case frames her identity as a disorder or condition that must be treated. At school, Riley faced more challenges. The school only permitted her to use the restroom in the nurse’s office, and she confronted constant bullying from her classmates. The article did not comment on the actions of the school to prevent or to punish bullying, but I would hope that the community and the school are working together to educate the children about diversity and to address any harassment that she meets.