Growing Up Coy

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Growing Up Coy Movie Poster Image
Parents fight for trans child's rights in informative docu.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 83 minutes

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Positive Messages

Fight for what you believe in even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis are devoted parents who want to protect their children's rights. They are smart and articulate and brave enough to take on the state of Colorado and challenge a school that refuses to obey the state law that allows transgender children to use school bathrooms that match their gender identity. Critics attack the Mathis family for seeking media attention when, in fact, they were reluctant to go public until it was clear they needed to publicize the way the school was breaking Colorado law. As soon as they won their issue, they stopped speaking to the media. Coy may wish that she hadn't received so much media attention, but she'll always know that her parents fought as hard as they could to protect her rights and support her.


It's suggested that if a trans girl were to use the boys' bathroom at school, as per the state's laws, boys might beat her up. Critics post tasteless content against transgender people and Coy's parents on social media.


"Penis" and "testicles" are mentioned in the context of what genitals children are born with as compared with the gender some children identify themselves with. Detractors incorrectly suggest that the parents of a 6-year-old trans girl "turned" the child trans by dressing her in girls' clothes, supposedly before she was old enough to express gender preference. Some go so far as to call the parents' action child abuse. A small transgender girl asks her parents when they can go to the doctor so her penis can be cut off and she can be a girl.


"S--t," "crap," "penis," "testicles," and "d--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Growing Up Coy follows two parents as they fight for the right of their 6-year-old transgender daughter, Coy, to use the girls' bathroom at her Colorado public school. The parents are intelligent, articulate caretakers of five children whose lives become a media circus when they insist their kids' school adhere to Colorado law, which prohibits discrimination against trans children. Some brief glimpses of hate mail targeted against the parents and trans people are quoted and shown. Language includes "s--t" and "d--k." "Penis" and "testicles" are mentioned in the context of what genitals children are born with as compared with the gender some children identify themselves with. Some critics suggest that the trans child was "created" by the parents' irresponsibility and abnormal interest in the sexualization of children. However, under this documentary's scrutiny, the parents appear to be exceptionally kind, patient, and caring.   

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What's the story?

GROWING UP COY is a revealing documentary showcasing two parents courageous enough to stand up for the rights of their transgender daughter, who was discriminated against by her school. At first the school allowed the child to use the girls' bathroom, as per requirements of Colorado law. But the school reversed its position, seemingly because other parents objected to the possibility that their little girls might see Coy's penis. The parents' effort to help protect the rights of one of their children consumes their time and emotional energy, already strained by caring for their four other kids, one of them severely disabled by cerebral palsy. Kathryn becomes critical of Jeremy for being away and taking less responsibility for dealing with the media. Jeremy moves out temporarily as they try to sort out their differences and save the marriage. Their 6-year-old son feels neglected because of the attention Coy's case receives. Even after they turn to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which files a successful civil rights complaint, the Mathises observe that Coy faces other, perhaps bigger problems ahead associated with her gender identity. The parents seem ready to continue to steadfastly support her as she matures.

Is it any good?

This documentary serves as an informative and sensitive introduction to the difficulties parents of trans kids face as they seek to protect those kids from intolerance and discrimination. Director Eric Juhola skillfully maps out Kathryn and Jeremy's struggles to sense and respond to Coy's gender differences and support her in her early childhood insistence that she was a girl and not the boy whose genitals she was born with. As Growing Up Coy was completed in 2016, at least 16 states were introducing anti-transgender rights legislation, so although the Colorado ruling supported trans rights, many other parents and trans children still face such challenges across the country. The work of both director Juhola and the Mathises serves to raise awareness about those challenges. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be different. What is the right thing to do when we encounter people who seem different from ourselves? Is "different" the same thing as "bad"? How did Growing Up Coy affect your opinion?

  • Coy's parents say that she demonstrated to them as early as age 18 months that she preferred girls' clothes and playing with girls' things. What do you think it means to be a "boy" or a "girl"? Do you think there's more to how humans identify their gender than their genitals or the way they look?

  • Do you think society should be required to accommodate differences so that people can be treated fairly? Or do you think that society has no obligations to look out for people who don't conform to established "norms"? Why?

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