Right As Rain: The Inspiring Story of a Gender-Fluid Child
This story is about a gender-fluid child named Rain. While Rain is biologically female, Rain may wake up and feel more like a boy than a girl, and vice versa, any day of the week. In this article, at Rain’s request, I’ll use the pronoun “they/them” when talking about Rain. However, you’ll see that Rain’s parents still refer to them as “she.”
It's 8:05 am, and 13 year old Rain Renwick walks into their middle school classroom to start the school day the very same way as every other student. They greet their teacher, chat with friends, pull out their homework, settle into the day. Then, Rain does something different: They head to the front of the class where a question on the whiteboard reads: "What gender is Rain today?" There are two options: “male” or “female,” and Rain checks the box that represents how they’re feeling that morning.
Type “gender-fluid” into your Google search, and you’ll likely come across a few different definitions. Some will sound like medical jargon. Some will reduce it to the types of clothes you decide to put on your back. Some definitions aren’t clear at all. For Rain, being gender-fluid is best explained in metaphor:
“Imagine you had a radio with a nob. You can turn it up or turn it down. Sometimes the volume is really high, or really low. For me, sometimes I’m feeling more male than I am female. Sometimes I feel non-binary.” (Non-binary means you don’t feel particularly masculine or feminine, and you fall somewhere in-between.) If you’re not sure what you currently are, think about what feels right for you. Just try it in your head. If you’re worried about talking to your parents, then talk to your friends first. If they’re not supportive, they’re probably not your friends!”
Can 13 year olds run for office?
October 11, 2018 is the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day—a day to celebrate those in the LGBTQ+ community who have come out to self disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those who have come out as our allies. It took me 23 years to muster up the courage to tell my parents I was gay. Rain came out as gender-fluid at just 12 years old, and switched their name from Riley prior to entering junior high, thinking it would be easier to start using their new name at a new school.
“I have a really great school that’s super accepting, and a really accepting family,” says Rain. I bounced ideas off my family and classmates. I told them I wasn’t sure what gender I am, and that I wanted to try being male. They accepted that.”
Rain is precocious, cheeky and has an intimidating level of intelligence. They and their equally bright younger sister, Taylor, max out their library cards on a weekly basis, carting home as many paperbacks as their tiny arms can carry, which is about 90 books a week. Their pages are immediately devoured so that Rain and Taylor can be prepared for robust family discussions around the dinner table.
“Ron and I are both avid readers,” says Winter Renwick, Rain’s mom. “Being able to dip into a book is like stepping into another world.”
“We’re nerds raising nerds,” adds Rain’s dad, Ron, a hint of pride in his voice.
Rain’s love of reading is what eventually led them to learn about gender-fluidity—a term that helped them articulate how they’d been feeling their whole life. Their parents got them a subscription to National Geographic for Christmas, and, serendipitously, the first issue that arrived at the Renwick household happened to be the magazine’s groundbreaking “Gender Revolution” issue, which came out in January 2017.
“Everything finally made sense,” Rain tells me.
Some will argue that we’re in the middle of a gender revolution. Gender is no longer confined to simply “male” and “female,” the anatomy you were born with, or how society expects you to act. The ways in which you can identify yourself today are seemingly endless. Refinery29 partnered with GLAAD, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy group, to put out a gender glossary earlier this year that has 85 terms and counting.
It can be difficult for dominant culture—those who live a heteronormative experience and worldview—to understand why we need all these terms. Often they complain that it’s too confusing, that they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or of being offensive. I like to ask those people, “Can you remember a time when you had to establish yourself as straight, or come out as a woman or man?” I’m guessing that time hasn’t come yet.
Think about who you are: Do you see yourself represented in television commercials? In movies? Are there people like you in the pages of bestselling books? If you are someone that is gender non-conforming, non-binary, trans, gay or anything other than straight, the answer is probably no. Our culture inherently excludes those that don’t fit into digestible boxes. Those individuals become “Other.” And as a result, they’re marginalized, and made to feel like their lives are valued less than their so-called “normal” counterparts.
Is Rain asking too much of their family and peers to be recognized as gender-fluid? Or are they simply asserting themselves the way many of us do without second thought? I would argue, it’s the latter.
When people want to own their identity, their pronoun, we need to listen. It is not asking too much. That person is not whining, or demanding to be treated differently. They are demanding to be treated and recognized as equals in this world.
Judith Barnes, now retired, taught for over 20 years, and helped start the Discovery 2 Charter School in San Jose, California, where Rain is a student.
“It was a school that started with the idea of being progressive,” she says. “We wanted children to actually be able to think about what they’re interested in learning, and have an open environment so that they feel safe.”
The open-mindedness of the teachers trickles down to the students: Rain’s classmates were the ones who came up with the idea to put the box on the whiteboard.
“Can you imagine how empowering that is?” says Winter. “[The box] isn’t negative or a joke, it’s just, ‘Here’s Rain today.’ Being 12 or 13 years old is such a challenging time anyway, and then to be going through another situation that many don’t understand… it’s helped her, and it is who she is.”
Rain was the “new kid” at school. They were outspoken, bold, imaginative, and energetic. It took the other children some adjustment to get comfortable with them, but ultimately, they became Rain’s biggest supporters and advocates.
One time, during intermission on a class field trip to the theater, everyone got up to go to the bathroom. The girls lined up outside the women’s room, and Rain waited in line alone for the gender neutral bathroom. A woman walked by and asked Rain why they weren’t waiting in line with the rest of the girls. Rain gave their reason without missing a beat, and the woman continued on. After that, the rest of the girls got in line behind Rain for the gender neutral bathroom, so they didn’t have to stand alone.
“My goal as a teacher is to make sure my kids are safe, happy, and that they’re growing. The most important thing is to make sure they’re not in the same place they were in the beginning of the year,” says Barnes. “These children experience each other, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to appreciate each other. I teach to see those moments.”
But Rain’s story is one of many, and not everyone is lucky to be part of a family, or community, that provides the same support.
Research has shown that LGBQ teens are more vulnerable to planning or committing suicide. Transgender teens were not included in that survey, but according to CNN, research shows that transgender youth may face a similarly high, if not higher, risk for suicide.
Imagine if every community was like Rain’s, and everyone experienced this kind of support and understanding.
People and places that give you a feeling of acceptance and community can be life-saving, no matter who you are or what your background is. Your biological family, your chosen family, the front porch of your neighbor’s house, your gym.
I found out about Ron and his family through The OUT Foundation/OUTWOD. Ron is really into CrossFit, as is Taylor, and when Taylor heard about an OUTWOD event prior to San Francisco Pride, she insisted that they participate, both to workout and to celebrate Pride. Taylor goes to CrossFit with Ron more than Rain does, but it’s easy to see that the sport and the CrossFit community have become very meaningful for their family.
“It’s such an open space. People see that you’re there, you’re doing the work, putting in the effort,” says Ron. “Taylor threw down at OUTWOD with people much older than her. It could have been really uncomfortable, but no one made it that way. People gave her space and, at the same time, challenged her.”
The Renwicks, the Discovery 2 Charter School, Ron’s CrossFit gym, and many others around the country are examples of what our world could potentially look like. They are pockets of hope, small bubbles of inclusivity that could potentially set the tone for our future.
“I am a straight, white male. I cannot imagine [what it would be like to come out] in my youth, Ron said, thoughtfully. “Rain [and their experience] gives me hope for how things can be.”
“Even if you’re secure, a bad day...can still affect you. That’s a motivator and a reminder for me,” says Winter. “As a parent, instead of saying, ‘They’re so young, they don’t know,’ maybe we need to remember that the platter of choices is wide open. The idea of limiting is more limiting than you can ever know.”
This story was shared by Alexandria Goodson, a two time Emmy winning producer & writer at Good Morning America. She learned about Rain and their family through Will Lanier, Executive Director of The OUT Foundation. Alex spoke with the Renwick family and Rain's teacher, Judith Barnes, extensively while putting this story together. Alex is passionate about LGBTQ issues, as well as fitness. She also loves her girlfriend Tommasina and pizza - almost equally.