By: Amber Leventry
Shane Woods is a fictional 12-year-old boy who is the star pitcher on his baseball team. His parents are divorced, his best friend, Josh, means the world to him, and he has recently developed a crush on Madeline. His world is full of the usual tween angst; but when a vindictive classmate takes the time to track down Shane’s past, people will soon learn more about him than he wanted to reveal, and his happiness is at risk. Shane is living his life as a stealth transgender boy in Los Angeles, under the radar of his classmates, but held up high by his amazing mother.
Shane is the work of author M.G. Hennessey’s imagination, but Shane could be any transgender kid. He could be any kid. He’s a good soul who just wants to fit in. But visibility comes at a price. In M.G. Hennessey’s first young adult novel, The Other Boy, she tackles the meaning of friendship, what it means to be true to yourself, and harnesses a transgender youth’s desire to belong.
No matter their age, transgender men and women know the feeling of uncertainty and fear, even if they are loved and supported by family members and close friends. Many transgender people navigate their day by maintaining stealth status, keeping their assigned gender private information and presenting themselves to the world as their preferred gender. Each person weighs the good with the bad when choosing what is best for them, but when the transgender person is a child, the stakes feel higher.
Like Shane, so many of our transgender youth struggle to find a balance between staying true to themselves while needing to know what is best for their mental health and safety.
Author Hennessey says there is not a right or wrong answer: “I think one of the interesting things about living stealth, at least for kids like Shane, is that it’s a way to be seen for who they really are and to be treated accordingly. Shane worries that if people knew about his assigned gender, they would treat him differently; and when he’s outed, he finds out that can be true (although not with all of his friends). A lot of the book discusses the difference between keeping something “secret” versus keeping it “private.” An unspoken question in the book is whether or not Shane would have been bullied from the start if he hadn’t decided to go stealth at his new school.”
Unlike other books that focus on the self-discovery journey of being transgender, Hennessey chose to create a character who had already transitioned. Shane was able to pause female puberty with hormone blockers when he was nine years old and is about to start testosterone so his body can develop like his male classmates. Shane, while wishing his muscles were bigger, doesn’t hate his body, though; this is a very clear message and reminder of how important it is to allow children the ability to access hormone blockers. For those unfamiliar with blockers, they pause puberty, but are reversible, allowing the child and family to suspend time a bit to be sure what the right path is for the next phase in the transition; more importantly, they can also serve to avoid much or all of the body dysmorphia that transgender people can experience.
Self-care and safety are huge issues for Shane and all transgender youth, especially now. Depending on the hour of the day or the articles I choose to read, my hope for LGBTQ rights wavers. I would love to promise myself, my queer community, and the queer and transgender youth of our nation that we will keep making progress, that rights will not be taken away, and that laws will continue to be passed to keep all of us safe, but I can’t.
“I firmly believe that the best way to protect all LGBTQ kids is to educate ALL kids at an early age. It’s harder to hate someone when you know them, and by offering a window into the lives of trans kids like Shane, other kids will hopefully be able to identify with him,” Hennessey reminds me.
She’s absolutely right. I may not have control over Trump and the people he is appointing to his cabinet, but I can still be an advocate for myself and those I love. I will continue to speak on panels that encourage healthy gender development in our young children. I will continue to be a visible gay parent in my community, and I will continue to encourage my local library and schools to include books with LGBTQ characters and themes. I can make sure beautifully written and thoughtful books like The Other Boy are available to all middle schoolers so they can better understand what transgender really means.
When given the chance to learn without fear or hate, kids are able to find more in common than the differences between them. I encourage you to give Shane and kids like him a chance. Because for him and so many other transgender kids, all they want is to feel loved, they want to be visible without being afraid of how people may see them.
Shane Woods: “But that’s what life is like for all of us, right? Facing the strange and unfamiliar, standing strong when it’s tough and scary. We just have to stick together and help each other get there. And try to have a little fun along the way.”
If you want to do more to support our transgender youth, please check out the following websites: