This transgender advocate has always spoken up for herself; now, she’s advocating for others
By Dawn Ennis / Photography courtesy of Alisa Gold
To see Eva Gold window-shopping in the mall with her mom, you’d never think she’s anything other than your average teen, trying to drag her mother inside the stores, hoping to try on, buy, and bring home some of the stylish goods on display: shoes, slacks, blouses, and so much more.
Not that she needs more clothes. Like any 14-year-old girl, her bedroom closet in their southern Connecticut home is busting at the seams. But the truth is, Gold is unlike most 14-year-old girls. She’s transgender.
“I think I was six,” Gold says of how old she was when she insisted on making a change and live as the girl she knew she was. “I just didn’t feel comfortable in my body,” she says. This was not a shock, recalls her mother, Alisa Gold.
“At 18 months, she would wear baby towels that have the hood attached to it, and so she would wear that on her head as her long hair,” Alisa says. The very first drawing that her child made of herself showed her with long, green hair.
She always identified with female characters, especially liking the Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute” and Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty.” She loved operas and would stand on a small cookie tin dressed in a long, red flowy dress, and sing opera. Eva always had a flair for the dramatic.
By the time of her second birthday, Eva was already correcting strangers, who dared to remark, “What a cute little boy!”
“I’m not a boy! I’m a girl!” Eva would exclaim.
“At age two, she would cut out paper dolls, and make beds for them,” says her mom. “She always wanted to wear a dress. She would wear an Ariel costume,” a hand-me-down from the neighbors, “nonstop, all the time. And at daycare she would play with all the girls all the time. I remember at 3, she was devastated, because some of the girls were doing a tea party and she wanted to go.”
“My whole life,” chimes in Eva, “I’ve just always felt like a girl. I don’t think I ever felt like a boy at all.”
Eva’s mother says it was at age 3 that they decided it was time to see a doctor, because temper tantrums that had begun at 18 months had only grown worse. “The levels of aggression and anger were so high,” Alisa says. “We were desperate to help her.” But the doctor had no experience with the condition that she now recognizes was gender dysphoria.
Nothing seemed to help, and by the tender age of 4 going on 5, Eva was displaying worrisome signs she wanted to end her life. “She was talking about not wanting to live anymore,” says her mom. She would draw herself with a giant “X” through her name and talk about how she wished she could fly away to heaven so no one would ever find her. At one point, she talked about running away, hiding in the woods and living in a tree house so no one would ever see her.
Eva’s mother, not yet recognizing this was an issue of gender identity, not sexual orientation, tried to console her child. “I said, ‘Well, you know, there’s a lot of girls who like girls and a lot of boys who like boys. And, you know, we love you no matter what.’”
“I thought of it as, ‘I have one son, and he’s clearly going to be gay. And that’s good, because as an only child, he’ll be more inclined to stay in touch with his mom more!’”
What finally opened Alisa’s eyes was Eva’s response to her mother’s comforting message, that love is love. “And she said, ‘There are lots of people like that but there’s nobody in the world like me.’”
“It was heartbreaking,” Alisa recalls. “It was tough, and the kids were not kind. She got teased literally every single day for being a boy who liked girly things.”
Eva’s parents bought her girls’ underwear to wear under her boys’ clothes, enrolled her in ballet, bought her a Barbie doll, and did not discourage her from wearing those towels with hoods that gave her the feeling of having long hair.
Alisa says that unlike many parents whose children are transgender, she had very little trouble coming to terms with their child’s authentic gender identity and did not feel a need to mourn the loss of her son.
“It’s the same person,” she says. “Yeah, there’s the name change, but I always looked at Eva as Eva. But early on, the whole family, it was me against everybody else.” Even though several members of her extended family are members of the LGBTQ community, they, too, had trouble accepting Eva at first, Alisa says. “We actually have the gayest family!” So imagine her frustration when some relatives blamed Eva’s gender dysphoria on her having a Playskool toy kitchen.
Her parents, who live about an hour away, also took a while to adjust. “I tried to explain to my dad,” she says, reminding him that when he was growing up, he shared a bedroom with four girls, and it didn’t make him a girl. Eventually, all of Eva’s relatives embraced her as a girl.
Except for Eva’s dad, Scott. Not right away.
“My husband really struggled with it,” Alisa says. “It was really tough for him, and it took a long time.” Help from support groups was instrumental. Ultimately, though, it was having to fight opposition from the school district and its leaders, she says, that turned him around.
“When people started turning against us, when the school was really not helping Eva, he really stepped up,” she says.
Eva’s parents sought advice from medical and legal professionals about what to do next. They helped the Golds determine that Eva’s display of consistent, insistent, and persistent identification as a girl warranted a social gender transition; that means no medications, no interventional treatments. She would simply start to live as a girl, to see if her behavior remained consistent, insistent, and persistent.
Alisa says at the time, there were not networks like there are now – “no groups on Facebook or anything like that” – to offer them guidance. She adds while there were a few support groups in existence, there wasn’t much awareness about them, and it was very difficult to access the networks that were available unless you knew someone involved in them, which the Golds did not. So Alisa and Scott made their own plan. Since they had long enjoyed spending summers in France, it was decided that during a trip in the summer of 2012, between kindergarten and first grade, Eva would take her first steps toward a gender transition.
Her mom took her dress shopping and they packed both boy clothes and girl clothes, so Eva could experience life as a girl while on vacation, if she wanted to. As they tell it, the experiment was a complete success, with a stranger on the Paris Metro complimenting Eva on her natural beauty, even inquiring if she was a child model. And the boy clothes stayed in her suitcase.
Upon returning home, Eva got a whole new wardrobe, but the local administrator barred her from using the girl’s bathroom. She was also bullied every single day regarding her gender identity. Although the Golds found another school in their district that was prepared to welcome her and even allow her to use the girls’ bathroom, administrators blocked them at every turn, refusing to let Eva switch to a new school.
Constant teasing by bullies and the lack of support from the school was too much for Eva to bear. “It was right around Thanksgiving,” Alisa recalls. “She said she did not want to live anymore. She ran upstairs, slammed her door,” and locked it, with the intent to climb out the second story window and jump. Alisa dialed 9-1-1 while Scott tried to get into their daughter’s bedroom.
Fortunately, they had been pro-active following a previous incident; the Golds had installed burglar-proof – and six-year-old-proof – windows, that Eva could not open by herself. But even this attempt to end her life failed to move administrators. The school district tried to force Eva’s parents to homeschool her, refusing to allow her to return to her school after she came out of the hospital.
Eva, meanwhile, received professional help to deal with the extreme depression and suicidal thoughts that were directly related to the rejection she was experiencing.
Eva’s parents enlisted the help of Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) as well as a lawyer/educational advocate who pointed out that what school administrators were doing was against the law.
With this assistance, the Golds finally won Eva the right to attend an accepting, neighboring public school and, eventually, use the girls’ bathroom, too. The commitment runs all the way through high school, which Eva begins this fall.
At the age of 7, Eva came out to her first-grade classmates at her new school, in an end-of-year classroom exercise about what makes everyone special. “I used to be a boy,” she said. Someone asked, “How did you do that?” And her matter of fact answer was, “I let my hair grow. And I started wearing dresses and changed my name.” That was that, and the next student told their story.
Telling her own story has become Eva’s thing. Starting at age 10, Eva appeared along with her parents in a stage production in New York City called “Transformations,” in which families dealing with gender identity issues share their stories.
Lately, she’s decided to become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. In August 2019, Ted Doolittle from Connecticut’s Office of the Healthcare Advocate (OHA), invited her and other activists, along with state lawmakers, to speak at a Hartford news conference. They denounced efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate healthcare protections for the trans community. It was her first time before TV cameras, and the first time she publicly shared the struggle she had endured as a first grader.
“I felt out of place. I was made fun of daily and discriminated against, so I tried to take my life because my body did not match who I am,” Eva told reporters. “How would you feel if your loved one took their own life because they couldn’t get the emotional or medical support they needed to live their best life as their authentic self?”
Back at home, Eva’s bedroom reflects her passions: her pink-painted walls are festooned with fashion designs, drawn on the backs of cardboard trays from her stay in a hospital. A circus of stuffed animals competes for space in her queen-sized bed. She spends her free time drawing and reading, and cooking in their kitchen. She’s also active in their temple and volunteers her time with local seniors and an in-school program that helps students with intensive special needs.
Eva is now an eighth grader preparing for high school, and boys have caught her eye. She’s been on puberty blockers for some time now, and also has patches that provide hormones to give her body feminine curves in all the right places.
“Looking back, I had a lot of problems with teasing and stuff,” Eva says. “And now, even if there is a little teasing, I’m fine. That’s it. I just go through it and know that some people are going to be hateful through your whole life. So, you might as well not worry about it.”