It took Kimberly Shappley some time to come to terms with her daughter Kai’s transition. But once she did, she became an advocate for transgender rights. She also shared Kai’s story with the world, a tale that quickly went viral. And more than a year after that, Shappley gave the world an update on her and her daughter’s lives post-transition.
In December 2010 Shappley gave birth to a baby boy, but she knew right away her sixth child wasn’t like the rest of her brood. For one thing, the baby, whose middle name was Kai, preferred playing with dolls and dress-up costumes than with cars like Shappley’s other sons.
Then Kai began stretching T-shirts to make dresses from them, making out he had lengthy locks and declaring that boys were “gross,” according to The Sun. Shappley, who worked as a nurse, recalled family members inquiring if Kai had been gay.
Eventually, though, someone introduced another idea to Shappley – Kai could be transgender. “A friend who’s a child psychologist pointed out that he had very feminine behavior, gently trying to tell me that he could be transgender,” Shappley recalled.
However, the Texas-based mom said she “wasn’t ready to hear it” at that time and “brushed it away, saying he’d grow out of it.” Soon, though, Kai would begin hinting at this too. Shappley remembered that, for the first time, Kai said, “I’m a girl,” in December of 2013.
All of this “totally overwhelmed” Shappley, mostly because of her upbringing and beliefs. “I come from a conservative religious background and although I’d heard about people being transgender, it wasn’t something I necessarily agreed with,” she said.
So Shappley admitted that she “encouraged [Kai] to be more boyish” with a short hairdo and a wardrobe full of superhero tees and camo-print shorts. “Every time he said, ‘I’m a girl,’ or ‘I’m a princess,’ I would get down to his level and say, ‘No, you’re a boy,’” she recalled.
From there, though, Shappley saw drastic changes in Kai’s behavior, including tantrums, bedwetting and withdrawal. But the mom-of-six’s attitude changed in November of 2014, when she tucked Kai into bed. Then she noticed that he was wearing a pair of pink underwear so tiny it stopped the blood circulating in the three-and-a-half-year-old’s legs.
At that moment, Shappley realized that Kai “was desperately trying to tell me who he was and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.” So she began reaching out to other mothers who had been through the same. In this way, she learned a lot about the pain that could come with denying a transgender child. Some of the children even ended up committing suicide.
So Shappley began supporting Kai’s transition from male to female by buying her girls’ panties, followed by tees and legwear. Shappley’s older children “weren’t fazed at all,” she said. And, she added, the family “started… using ‘she’ and ‘her’ instead of ‘him’ or ‘his.’”
Of course, not everyone in Shappley’s community was on board with her decision. “Some accused me of being a bad parent, but Kai was so much happier, I knew I was doing the right thing,” she said. Surprisingly, the group of dissenters would grow to include Kai’s school’s superintendent.
After Kai’s public transition – and subsequent viral fame for both her and her accepting mother – the superintendent “compared bathroom use by transgender students to pedophilia and polygamy. That’s when the momma bear in me came out and an active political role became a necessity,” Shappley told Good Housekeeping.
Shappley began speaking at school board meetings for a simple reason. “As a Christian mom to a transgender kid, I couldn’t stand by and let this far right, ultra conservative, Christian man by the mouthpiece for my faith,” she said.
On top of that, Kai’s school continued to call the then-kindergartener by her birth name, and she wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. For that reason, Shappley said “[her] daughter, who loves school…, would come home crying.”
Eventually, the Shappleys had enough with Kai’s treatment – they picked up and moved to Austin, Texas. On the first day of school, the protective mom saw a sign she had made the right choice. She recalled, “I noticed… a rainbow poster stating, ‘We’re an LGBT affirming school district.”
With that, Kai settled into her new school and started coming home with “normal childhood issues.” And that was likely a huge relief to her family. But Shappley’s fight wasn’t over, as she realized that people like her, “people of faith,” were not as willing to listen to or understand LGBT issues.
So Shappley continued to speak at events as big as 2017’s Houston Pride. The mom-of-six also shared her story at suicide-prevention events, universities and family-centric conferences. She was also open to consulting with therapists, mental health specialists and others who would benefit from it.
“Everything that resulted from our story being told made one thing very clear – we needed to keep telling it. We had to keep fighting for acceptance and equality,” Shappley said. But that mission wasn’t always an easy one. In fact, Shappley described it as both “exhausting” and “demoralizing.”
Nevertheless, that wouldn’t stop Shappley. “This is my daughter’s future. So, even though I keep telling myself, ‘After this fight is won I’ll go back to nursing, I’ll go back to my ‘normal life,’ I can’t. Because this fight is in jeopardy,” the LGBT advocate said.
And Shappley could only thank her daughter for her newfound sense of purpose. “I always say that Kai turned me into an accidental advocate, and that’s a title I’m proud to bear. Because through all of my activism, I’m trying to prepare my kids for the world. But with the uniqueness of being Kai’s mom, what I’m really trying to do is prepare the world for her,” she said.