KATHY: I'm speaking to you from Los Angeles, my hometown.
TOBIN: I only marginally resent you for that fact. [BOTH LAUGH]
KATHY: It's so hot, and my AC is broken. So, really, I think you're winning this one.
TOBIN: Okay, okay. But, to the point of why we're here -- we're still hard at work on season two, but in the meantime, we wanted to share with you one of our favorite queer stories from our colleagues over in the WNYC Newsroom.
KATHY: And that's why we're here with something that we love -- a story by Yasmeen Khan, a really great reporter who covers education and youth in New York
TOBIN: It's a super interesting story about how kids navigate gender, and all the complicated things that go with that. Yasmeen has been following a boy named Q. She met him two years ago, back when he was in the third grade.
Q & NOAH: Ready, set ... go!
YASMEEN: This is Q Daily --
Q & NOAH: Go!
YASMEEN: -- and his little brother, Noah, leaping from opposite sides of a sandbox to high-five in the air.
Q & NOAH: [HIGH-FIVING] We did it!
YASMEEN: They splay out in the sand, wrestle, and maneuver into headstands.
NOAH: I can do that! Q, I can do that!
YASMEEN: To Q, who was born a girl, living as a 9-year old boy is liberating. It's everything.
Q: It feels like, instead of a dead flower, a growing flower.
YASMEEN: Q's given name is Qwanaia. He decided to go by Q at the beginning of this school year, the third grade. It's his first full school year identifying as a boy, preferring to be called "he." His school and family follow his preferences, so, for this story, we do, too. Socially, the transition's gone well for Q.
Q: Everybody in first grade was my friend. Everybody in second grade was my friend, and everybody in third grade was my friend, because I'm really nice.
YASMEEN: Q's parents say he began questioning gender going back to age three and a half, four. Starting with the clothes.
Q: I didn't like the dresses or the pink shirts. Or the light blue with the guitar, or the sparkly stuff.
YASMEEN: Even jeans with a little patch of embroidery were an issue. Q's mom, Francisca, was fascinated by her kid questioning gender stereotypes. It became the topic of a lot of family conversations. She spoke to me about it while driving to work one morning.
FRANCISCA: For instance, the color thing? Like, purple and blue and dah-dah-dah, like -- colors are for everybody, yeah? Like, colors are colors!
YASMEEN: Q would say, "I want to be a brave, strong princess." Francisca would show him videos of women rock-climbing to show what girls can do. And there were no family expectations that girls should behave or play a certain way. But Q kept questioning.
FRANCISCA: "Why do I have to be uncomfortable with my clothes?" -- yeah? -- "I don't want those things for myself."
YASMEEN: So Francisca borrowed some boy clothes from a friend. And, at the end of first grade, Q's dad, Avery, cut his hair short.
AVERY: It was a new person. A whole light came out.
[Q AND NOAH PLAYING]
YASMEEN: Q transitioned from identifying as a girl to a boy during his second grade year. It happened gradually, or more off-and-on.
Q: I changed, and then ... I changed back. And changed back ...
YASMEEN: Some days, he wore skirts and identified as a girl. Other days, experimenting as a boy felt good.
AVERY: We'd go out to parties, and Q would be like, "Tell them my name is Marco!" [LAUGHS]
YASMEEN: Right, yeah.
AVERY: Um. And -- and, it was believable, because Q looked like a boy.
YASMEEN: Avery's with his partner, Kaia, sitting on a park bench while Q and Noah play behind them. You can see sand flying. Avery says, for him, it wasn't easy in the beginning. This was his "little girl" -- and what were people going to say?
AVERY: I just thought that people would look at me funny, or, like -- "With Q's parents, why are they letting Q do all this," y'know? But, I saw that Q had a lot of confidence in what he wanted. So I gave up questioning and fighting and just accepted it.
YASMEEN: Acceptance same more quickly for Q's mom, Francisca. She threw herself into being supportive. She called him "he," and researched play groups for transgender children.
FRANCISCA: What is more liberating, or what is -- what makes you stronger and make you live a better life than being yourself?
YASMEEN: But even though support and encouragement came to her as a natural response, it didn't mean everything was easy.
YASMEEN: I just wanna ask -- for you as a mom, was it hard? Do you miss Q as a girl?
FRANCISCA: [BEAT] Hm. I miss his name. I ... I'm about to cry. [BEAT] 'Cause I put a lot of thought into it.
AVERY: You guys wanna take the basketball with you, or ... ?
YASMEEN: Q and Noah get home from school. They attend the same elementary school in Brooklyn.
NOAH: -- He needs to pee! --
YASMEEN: They're making a pit stop at home with Avery before heading out for ice cream and some time at the park.
Q: Where's the comb?
YASMEEN: Q uses his shadow against the wall as a guide to comb his hair. He's just cut it again. It's short, only a couple of inches. He drags the comb through his curls, until his hair is perfectly even. He says he wants it to look like Noah's.
Q says it took Noah almost a year to say "he" instead of "she." Now, Noah sees Q as his brother. They walk side-by-side, wearing matching plaid shorts and fedoras.
AVERY: Alright, we got the light, guys!
Q: Oh, yay!
YASMEEN: Avery's caught on to Q and Noah's sense of style because today they're dressed like dad.
AVERY: I didn't see that before, but now I'm like, "Okay," y'know? I'm so accepting. I have two boys, y'know, and they wanna be like me. So I have no choice but to be loving to them.
YASMEEN: Q says it feels like 55 years ago that he was a girl. I asked what goes through his head now when he hears the name Qwanaia.
Q: I think of crying, because that tells me that -- that they don't believe that I'm a boy.
YASMEEN: He believes he's a boy, who will become a man. There are very limited numbers tracking transgender children, but some researchers estimate about 1/3 of transgender kids grow up to be transgender adults.
FRANCISCA: He definitely identifies as a boy now. Who -- who knows what is he gonna identify as, like, later?
YASMEEN: Q's parents are supportive of however this plays out. And they're bracing themselves for a different conversation ahead, with adolescence just around the bend.
Q: Yay!! We're getting ice cream!!
YASMEEN: For now, they're grateful for childhood, and that, at age 9, Q has a little bit of time before his body begins to change. But not much. For WNYC, I'm Yasmeen Khan.
[MUSIC COMES UP, THEN GOES OUT]
TOBIN: Yasmeen Khan, welcome to Nancy!
YASMEEN: Thank you!
TOBIN: We loved this story so much.
KATHY: Yes, we do.
YASMEEN: Oh, I'm so glad! Thanks for having me.
TOBIN: Yeah! I'm curious, what was your first impression of Q?
YASMEEN: He's just this happy-go-lucky kid. He's super positive, really well-adjusted, like, uniquely aware -- I think, self-aware -- and, um ... confident in himself, and he likes himself! In a way that's very unassuming, y'know? In a way that invites people in.
TOBIN: Yeah. He sounds confident in a way that I never was at that age. [YASMEEN LAUGHS]
KATHY: Oh, I know!
YASMEEN: I know! I know. And I told him, I said, "You know that this is rare, right? Like, people are not this sure of themselves -- or this, I guess I should say, comfortable with themselves." It's not like he has an ego or anything. He's just really comfortable in his own skin. And I feel like that is just a very rare gift.
KATHY: Yeah. And you were with him at school. What was -- what were Q's classmates like? What did they -- how did they respond to his transition?
YASMEEN: Y'know, visiting the classroom then -- third grade -- that's still young. Y'know, they're ... Q is 9 years old, this is, like, the late spring. And it's a time where they're still -- they play. There are questions about it, maybe, but it doesn't matter so much yet. And I think, y'know, with each school year it'll matter more. And as adolescence fully sets in, it will matter more. It was certainly a new situation to have a transgender child in the class, but, um ... the kids were open. And they would have these slip-ups and say "He -- I mean, she ..." but there wasn't necessarily a judgment attached. It just -- y'know, it was what it was.
TOBIN: So that was third grade. But now Q is in the fifth grade and adolescence and puberty are looming. You visited with him again this year, and we'll have that story after the break.
TOBIN: So, it's been two years. Q Daily is 11 now, and that means puberty is going to happen very soon. Here's part two of Yasmeen's reporting about how Q and his family are preparing for that.
[SOUND OF KIDS PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND]
YASMEEN: I would say that Q Daily is savoring childhood. I hadn't seen him for two years, when I met up with Q and his mom, Francisca Montaña, at a playground. Francisca points him out.
FRANCISCA: The orange hat and yellow shirt.
YASMEEN: Oh! Up in the tree?
FRANCISCA: Yeah, it's cute. He's taller than the tree.
YASMEEN: I'm gonna go say hello!
YASMEEN: Q -- adept climber of trees, lover of Michael Jackson -- doesn't want to grow up. In fact, he thinks adults are pretty boring. Especially at parties.
Q: All that I think they do is sit around, talk, and drink wine.
YASMEEN: But, like all kids his age, Q has to face the fact that he's getting older -- and deal with the universal awkwardness of puberty. Of course, for a transgender child, that's even more complex.
FRANCISCA: The age of cuteness has passed. He's at a different stage, where people start having different standards for, like, what it means to be transgender.
YASMEEN: Meaning, people ask her, "What Q's plan?" or they feel at liberty to ask about his body and hormones. Q began questioning his gender when he was 3 years old. By the end of second grade, he had transitioned socially from girl to boy. And he's only grown more confident in himself.
Q: I'm sure that I'm a boy.
YASMEEN: But sometimes people ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?"
Q: -- but like --
YASMEEN: Or, they don't understand why he's transgender.
Q: -- um --
YASMEEN: He's not as bothered by it as he used to be.
Q: I'm used to getting comments like that, 'cause, like, some people don't agree. But I can't do anything about that. I can't change their thinking.
YASMEEN: At a time nationally when you hear stories of transgender kids feeling isolated or bullied, Q's comfort in his own skin and his happy-go-lucky nature draw people in. Francisca calls it his "superpower."
FRANCISCA: People like him because he's good with people -- he's good to people. And he is not ashamed of asking for people to be good to him, either.
[OUTDOOR AMBIENCE TRANSITIONS TO DANCE STUDIO MUSIC]
YASMEEN: Q is learning more about his body and physical presence in the world through theatre and dance.
INSTRUCTOR: 5 ... 6 ... 7 ... 8 ... and 1.
YASMEEN: He takes three classes at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange. His favorite is modern. I tagged along one day.
INSTRUCTOR: You've sort of self-selected into groups, so Ruby, Violet, and Q, you're in one group.
YASMEEN: Out of 9 students, Q's the only boy in the class. He says dance has helped him learn that he's flexible and strong.
[BACK TO OUTDOOR AMBIENCE]
Q: And I have very big thighs.
YASMEEN: You do?
YASMEEN: But you're so long and skinny!
Q: Like, they're huge. It's, like, skinny here, and then [MAKES EXPLOSION SOUND].
YASMEEN: Not exactly. But watching him scurry up a tree, I don't doubt the power of his legs. And then, he's open about what he wants from his body in the future. Q's dad, Avery Daily, says they talk about it.
AVERY: I said, "Do you ever think you'll go back to being a girl?" and he was like, "No." He was like, "I don't think so." He was like, "I want hair on my chest" ...
Q: I wanna have chest hair. It's, like, hairs that grow near your belly! It's like, nothing's like that!
YASMEEN: He'll also take a beard and a mustache.
Q: I mean, obviously I'm gonna get armpit hair, 'cause my mom says everybody gets armpit hair. And then I'm like, "Okay!"
YASMEEN: He hasn't thought too far about how this will happen, but the family, for the past year, has been talking about what it would mean for Q to start taking puberty blockers. This is medication that basically puts puberty on hold.
Q: I want blockers. I don't know why, I just want them.
YASMEEN: You don't know why?
Q: No, I don't.
YASMEEN: Well, you just said you wanna stay a kid.
Q: Well, I do, actually. And mommy says that it gives you more time to think about stuff.
YASMEEN: That's exactly how Francisca put it to me, too.
FRANCISCA: I feel that the blockers are a good, safe next step.
YASMEEN: Because they buy time to think about the big decisions transgender adolescents make, such as whether to take hormones like testosterone or estrogen or, down the road, get surgery. Blockers, by comparison, are not as invasive. They're listed as reversible and an important option in a guide coauthored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But it's still a very new part of the medical and cultural conversation around transgender children. That guide only came out last fall.
Q knows about blockers -- the idea, anyway -- because he goes to a summer camp for transgender youth, and other kids are on them.
Q: Everybody in camp, that's the only people that I wanna talk about the blocker thing with. Like, everybody else at school, I -- I keep my mouth shut.
YASMEEN: Q is spending two weeks at camp this summer, even though he has lots of friends in Brooklyn, and feels accepted by his peers at school. He says it's not the same as being with other people like him. But besides enrolling transgender kids, the camp is just like any other outdoorsy sleep-away camp with a focus on nature, cheesy songs and all.
Q: [SINGS] This is the composting toilet system. Oh, yes, it is! A digester of organic materials only! ...
YASMEEN: Both of Q's parents say they want to buffer a bit of the outside world. For instance, the Trump administration rescinded federal guidelines protecting transgender kids in schools. Francisca didn't directly discuss that with Q -- partly because New York City has its own guidelines, and partly because, with Q being a half-Latino, half-black transgender kid, they want him to feel strong, and maintain that uncanny sense of self.
FRANCISCA: I think that, when you're raising a transgender boy of color, you need to have the talk. But you wanna show them that he is welcome in this world.
YASMEEN: So that if -- or when -- he does face discrimination, or when he has to make hard decisions about his future, he'll have the tools to deal.
Q: [SINGING] Then I heard a little voice, and that voice said to me, "Did that ..."
YASMEEN: Right now, he's game to stay a kid. And a happy one at that. Yasmeen Khan, WNYC News.
Q: [SINGING] ... the digester of organic materials only.
[SINGING AND CITY SOUNDS FADE OUT]
[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: And that's it for today! We'll be bringing you season two in a couple weeks, but in the meantime you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter at "NancyPodcast."
KATHY: And go to nancypodcast.org to sign up for our newsletter!
TOBIN: Special thanks this week to WNYC News reporter Yasmeen Khan and engineer Wayne Shulmister.
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]