Max Brennan, 16, sits with his parents, Larry and Lyn. Max is transgender and his family filed a lawsuit when he was prohibited from using the boys locker room at his school. Brennan is an honor student and member of the marching band.
BYANN E. MARIMOW WASHINGTON POST
Transgender Boy Max Brennan
Lynn and Larry Brennan’s oldest child could have remained anonymous, just three initials in federal court papers accusing the local school system of discrimination. But their son was done with secrets, and the pretending that sickened him in those dark days after puberty hit.
Instead, the Brennan’s 16-year-old — honor-roll student, marching-band member and rule follower — is out front trying to rewrite the rules at his high school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Sophomore MAB — Max Alexander Brennan — is pressing to open doors to the boys’ locker room in the latest drive for transgender rights. “It makes me sound more rebellious than I am,” Brennan said at home in St. Michaels, his chocolate Labrador in his lap.
“I’m just a teenager in this small town, in this small state. … If I put my name out there, it makes it more personal,” he said.
Brennan’s case is moving ahead after a federal judge in Baltimore ruled in March that transgender students are protected by federal law from discrimination and found for the first time that Maryland’s constit country about the treatment of transgender and non-transgender students in the already awkward realm of high school locker rooms.
A federal appeals court in Pennsylvania takes up the case next month of a non transgender student who says his privacy rights were violated when officials allowed a transgender boy to change in the boys’ facilities.
On the flip side, a pending Florida case involves a transgender boy banished from the boys’ restroom after the school received an anonymous complaint. Withindaysoftheruling in Baltimore in Brennan’s case, the schools superintendent in Talbot County, Maryland, said Brennan could use the boys’ locker room. The two paragraph letter said the school board was granting access voluntarily, not settling the legal case or making the formal policy change that Brennan was seeking.
Brennan wants a guarantee that locker room access will not be revoked for him or others and that if the board changes its mind, there will be consequences. The decision in the Gavin Grimm case enabled Brennan to use a boys’ restroom at school, but he still had to use a unisex restroom as his private locker room. Going there to change for soccer practice meant missing out on the camaraderie of jokes and chatter among his junior varsity teammates.
Going there to change for gym class meant having to explain to substitute teachers why he was late. “It was forcing me to out myself to people I didn’t know and to make them see me or treat me differently,” Brennan said.
In court papers, school officials have said they must look out for all students, who have a right to “bodily privacy” and should not be forced to undress in front of the opposite biological sex. A video made by the district in the St. Michael’ s Middle High School locker room and submitted in court showed the were no privacy partitions.
Schools Superintendent Kelly Griffith declined to be interviewed about Brennan’s case because the lawsuit continues. But in an email, she said, the board “recognizes that gender identity issues involve serious and important considerations for individual students and their families. We recognize that no two students are alike.”
As for locker rooms, she added, “We will be making decisions on a case by case basis.” [As it should be!]
Brennan, the oldest of three, was raised as a girl [biologically was. Some angel texting or something and fucked things up]. An easygoing kid, he fought wearing dresses and was more interested in his two brothers’ trucks and trains than Barbie dolls, his parents said. The family moved seven years ago from New Jersey to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, attracted to the schools and quaint waterfront town that draws Washington, D.C.-area transplants and vacationers.
By sixth grade, Brennan knew he was a boy. The lie of living life as a girl made him physically ill, he said in court papers, and increasingly, he kept to himself, sliding into deep despair.
A therapist diagnosed Brennan’s feelings as gender dysphoria. His parents learned about it after Larry Brennan found a draft of a letter Brennan had crafted to tell his parents in essence: “I am a boy.”
His mother, an occupational therapist, mourned the daughter she thought she had and was nervous about Brennan’s safety. His father, who works in real estate, initially thought his child was just confused. [Quit clouding the issue with facts, mom!] The family quickly rallied behind Brennan, whose mood slowly improved. He legally changed his name and birth certificate. His younger brothers, now 14 and 11, helped choose the name Max. He began weekly testosterone shots and last year had a double mastectomy. [Oh that hurts me to hear that!]
“I had this secret the whole time, and I could finally let it go,” said the once withdrawn Brennan, who had a leading role in the spring performance of “James and the Giant Peach” and dreams of studying theater or psychology in college in New York.
At the start of seventh grade, the family talked with school officials, who were compassionate and supportive of Brennan. The principal organized a presentation for teachers. With the principal, the family made plans for Brennan to go public on his 13th birthday and to begin using a unisex bathroom in the nurse’s office.
Students began calling their classmate by his new name. A pronoun occasionally got mixed up unintentionally, [used to that, but you are no longer on my good side.] but it was understandable in a class of about 60, most of whom had known Brennan for years as a girl.
As eighth grade approached, Brennan said he was ready to use the facilities designated for boys. The day before the school year started, though, his mother had to deliver a setback. The school board insisted that Brennan continue to use the private, unisex bathroom or the girls’ restrooms and locker room, court papers show, and later explained its “obligation to consider the rights of all of its students.”
Brennan’s parents consulted lawyers for the first time, and at school, Brennan mostly avoided the restroom. It was humiliating, he said in court filings, recalling “weird looks” from other students when he ducked into gender-neutral facilities no other students used.
He never stepped into the girls’ locker room. The girls would have complained, Brennan said, his cheeks flushing even now at that scenario. [Had the anatomy, but it obviously was not a girl.]
That spring of 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which hears cases from Virginia and Maryland, sided with Gavin Grimm, and the Talbot County superintendent announced in a letter to parents that the board had to follow the court’s directive.
Brennan could use the boys’ restroom. The change prompted some public complaints, including a call for the superintendent to resign, a letter of protest and testimony from three people at a board meeting, including a local pastor concerned about the safety and privacy of non-transgender students.
But the locker room was still off limits, and Brennan went to court with the help of FreeState Justice, a step he and his parents never imagined taking. “We’ve been following his lead the whole time, while trying to guide him as parents,” Lynn Brennan said.
One friend and teammate, Jeremy Foy, told the court, “all the students that I know of are cool with the fact that MAB is a boy.” Brennan’s case is moving ahead after a federal judge in Baltimore ruled in March that transgender students are protected by federal law from discrimination and found for the first time that Maryland’s constitution includes protections for transgender people.