About two years ago, while I was doing a photoshoot for a renowned hairstylist, this cute little boy walked in with his parents, and I instantly liked him. He was quiet, but he wasn’t shy at all. The hairstylist’s team had invited him to the shoot so that he could get a glimpse of how photoshoots work. He was also allowed to help them with the hairstyling creations that we were shooting for the most prestigious competition in the hair industry, the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA).

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When I asked the team why CJ wanted to be involved in the photoshoot, they quickly explained to me that CJ’s dream was to become a hair and makeup artist and that he’d been passionately learning hair and makeup styling.

I immediately liked him even more! I loved the idea that no matter what his gender was, he had a keen interest in a female-oriented field (makeup) so early on. I loved seeing how focused he was on learning as much as he could about a hair and makeup career.

Sometime later, I came across an Instagram account that was run by a mom who was raising a ‘gender creative child.’ I started looking at the photos and immediately discovered that it was CJ from the photoshoot! I spent at least an hour reading the descriptions underneath the Instagram images and getting to know their story. It was awful to learn about the bullying he had to go through in his school. My heart broke for him, and I couldn’t believe how people could be so blind and cruel. And I am just not referring to the children bullying him at school how could parents tell their kids not to be friends with CJ (even though they had liked him before) because he had come out as gay? What kind of message is that for their children and future generations?

We all want to be accepted and loved, and everyone deserves the right to be accepted and loved. His peers rejected this little boy, and rejection is one of the cruelest things you can do to another human.

When people bully or are cruel to someone they don’t understand, I always wonder what they would do if they were in the same position. How would they feel if they put themselves in his shoes for a day? The thing that is amazing is that CJ only uses these experiences to help him grow stronger and be a role model for other children like him.

According to federal law, students have the right to dress and present in a way that is consistent with their gender identity, so long as they follow rules for how to dress that apply to all students. This includes how they dress at school every day as well as for dances, graduation, and other school events.

It’s super easy. Watch. Instead of saying “Dress for students should be collared shirts and casual pants for boys, and dresses or nice pantsuits for girls. If girls choose to wear spaghetti straps or strapless dresses, they must wear a sweater at all times.” Try something like this “Dress for students should be collared shirts, casual pants, dresses or nice pantsuits. If students choose to wear spaghetti straps or strapless dresses, they must wear a sweater at all times.”

He says “I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve been bullied, badly, but I’ve always come out stronger. Bullies aren’t going to get me to stop being me. I think it’s important for people – including bullies and haters – to see me because people need to see there are kids like me out there. Gender creative kids need to see other kids like themselves. The more people see people like me, the less ‘different’ we are and the more they accept people like me. Besides, I’m not ashamed of who I am.”

Not only has CJ been brave enough to follow his own path, but he has also helped to raise awareness in his school and community. He is currently an advocate for the LGBTQ and nonbinary communities and says that “My mom says that if you are in a position to help other people, you should. So that’s what I do. I helped make my elementary school the first school in the district to adopt a dress code that wasn’t gender-specific. One year later, the dress code was used as a model for implementation at every elementary school in the district. That’s 26 schools! Through meetings and email campaigns, I got my school district to stop sex/gender segregation in elementary school PE classes and to stop having special event dress codes that were illegal because they discriminated against gender creative students. If I can see a way to make life better and easier for gender creative people, I always try to do it. Being kind, sticking up for others and not being a jerk. That’s what life is all about.”