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Finding his voice: Trans teen from Denton tells his story in ABC special

 Champions from the GenderCool Project get ready to start shooting for the ABC special Our America: Who I’m Meant to Be. Denton resident Max is in the center in the back row.
Courtesy photo
The GenderCool Project
Champions from the GenderCool Project get ready to start shooting for the ABC special Our America: Who I’m Meant to Be. Denton resident Max is in the center in the back row.

For years, Denton residents Amber and Adam Briggle have been traveling the country advocating for their transgender son, Max, and other youths like him.

Earlier this month, Max joined five of his peers to start telling his own story in the latest episode of the ABC series Our America: Who I’m Meant to Be, which is now available for streaming on Hulu.

“I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about trans people,” Max said. “People spreading false information from, I don’t know, someone who has never even met a transgender person or nonbinary person or whoever, anybody part of the LGBTQ community, and I think that transgender people, we don’t get represented.

“It’s like LGB minus the ‘T’ part.”

The Briggles have spent much of their son’s 15 years working to demystify transgender children and adults. For kids like Max, who was assigned female at birth but began insisting that he was a boy as soon as he could talk, attention can range from bemused curiosity to fear and hostility.

The Briggles have just spent the recent Texas legislative session splitting their time between work — Adam is a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas and Amber runs a successful massage therapy business — and advocating for equality during a season that saw Texas lawmakers considering a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills, with transgender youth losing access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy. The Briggles were reported to Child Protective Services when Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations of parents and guardians who provided social and medical support for their transgender children.

Anchoring everything for Amber and Adam is their life with their family, including a plucky elementary school daughter, Lulu, plus a pair of pet cats.

So much of Max’s story is emphasizing how normal he is. He recently ended years worth of competitive gymnastics to try out rock climbing and bouldering (“I’m kind of obsessed with it,” he says), passing the virtual part of his driver’s ed class for a learner’s permit and booking time for the driving portion. He studies and plays the ukulele.

But when Max sat down with a panel of his peers in the GenderCool Project to talk with ABC correspondent Gio Benitez, there was another feeling. Not regret or sadness, but something more along the lines of Now, why do we have to do this, again?

“It’s also sort of, like, this is the least interesting thing about me,” Max said. “There are other things about me that are so much more interesting.”

Amber said the ABC special was a team effort between the GenderCool Project, an initiative to tell and promote positive stories about transgender and nonbinary teens, and ABC. Max, who signed on to be part of the GenderCool Project early in 2020, joined a panel of transgender teenagers for the special.

Benitez sat down with the GenderCool Champions, who act as ambassadors to tell their stories to the public. There is Max, who has his sights set on becoming a writer; Eve, who hopes to be an actress; Jonathan, who started college at 14 and is now pursuing a doctorate in chemistry; Chazzie, who first stepped into the media spotlight at 11; Amir, an aspiring barber; and Adelyn, a fellow Texan and, like Max, an older sibling.

Benitez queries the teens on their lives and experiences. For the most part, the conversation reveals just how ordinary the teens are — some aren’t morning people, some are devoted to skincare or video games, and all of them are dreaming of their futures and where they’ll go in life.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the teens are that Jonathan started college at the same time the other Champions were starting their freshman year of high school.

“Everyone wants to talk about trans kids,” Amber said. “And no one wants to talk to them. No one wants to hear from them.”

“This was a situation where they were really listened to,” Adam said.

Part of the special was spending some time talking to parents. Accompanying the teens was a group of moms and one dad, Adam.

“It just sort of happened that way, which I think is good,” Adam said. “We knew they were going to do some interviews with the parents, but I think we thought it was going to be like a snippet. But I thought it ended up being a positive thing. I’d like to see more dads step up and tell their stories more than we see them do that.”

Dads of transgender children have gotten more plentiful on TikTok, but media often highlight the “mama bears” who, like Amber, face off with lawmakers and critics.

“I think it’s something really universal about a mother’s love for her child. But there’s plenty of affirming, awesome dads like Adam, and they don’t get a microphone,” Amber said.

Max and the other teens spent some time for the special in Central Park, near the famous mosaic that says “Imagine.” The teens are close to graduation, and Max said he’s planning to go to college. He’s even eyeing college in Scotland. Until then, he said he’ll keep working on “dynos,” a rock climbing move that requires the climber to heave themselves to the next handhold with just their upper body. The most impressive dynos see a climber propelling himself or herself with one hand.

This summer, he’s splitting his downtime between the local climbing gym and water park. He likes to spend time with friends, his parents said — another normal teenage preference.

“I’m writing a book right now,” Max said. “It’s like 90 pages so far. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s kind of like I’m going back to these memories and I’m talking to the people that are trapped in them. And there’s some poetry.”

Max called the ABC special “a big leap” for him when it comes to his friends. He’s gotten some feedback, he said.

“None of my friends know about me,” he said. “They know I love rock climbing and stuff like that. But I guess people just told me that I’m very brave, which I guess would make sense for traveling to New York City and talking to people like Gio Benitez. But I don’t see why I’m brave for just living my life.”