The best present "Willow" received on her ninth birthday wasn't a bike or a doll, but a court document in a manila envelope. Inside was a new birth certificate, on which the gender had been officially changed — from male to female.
"I am one of the first people to ever do this," Willow said a few days later, snuggled up between her parents on a comfortable couch at their rural home in northern Vermont. The state allows individuals to change their birth records if they've completed medical treatment for gender transition, and plenty of trans adults have done so. But because Willow is too young for either hormone therapy or surgery, the judge used different legal logic to come to a decision — after three court dates, and testimony from Willow, her psychologist and her pediatrician.
Her dad "James" explained: "The standard of the law is that you have to have completed treatment. And the argument that we then made ... was that for a child her age, there is no medical treatment, so she has completed the medical treatment ... but it was a complicated process because as far as we could tell there wasn't a precedent ... There could be other children just like her, but those records are sealed."
Although there will be more forms to change, and bureaucratic battles to fight, with this document Willow will be able to get a driver's license and a passport that will reflect her gender identity. She'll be able to travel without being hassled and apply to college as a girl.
As trans adults have moved from the margins of society into the public eye over the past few years, kids have begun to come out in increasing numbers and at younger ages. Although no agencies in Vermont are currently keeping statistics on numbers of trans youth, Dr. Rachel Inker from the Community Health Centers of Burlington's Transgender Clinic explains, "There are certainly more transmen and -women coming forward of all ages as transitioning becomes more acceptable and public."
Because schools and teachers across the state are dealing with more gender-nonconforming kids, the Vermont Agency of Education is currently collaborating with parents, staff from queer youth support and advocacy group Outright Vermont, educators and consultants to create a best practice guide relating to gender identity in school.
Two years ago Melissa Murray, the executive director of Outright Vermont, cofounded a Gender Creative kids social group for gender nonconforming children under the age of 13 and their parents. "Over the last five years or more, we've gotten calls from people asking us to work with youth younger than 13," Murray says. "We're finding more and more that youth ... are knowing their gender identity at earlier and earlier ages."