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Eleanor Bolding’s ‘Pretty Normal’ Family Will Honor Her Extraordinary Inclusiveness

Eleanor Bolding's death left her family determined to encourage others to adopt her habit of "calling people in, not calling people out." This weekend, a film festival at the Texas Theatre supports that mission.
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Courtesy the Bolding Family

Nobody would argue that the Bolding children weren’t loved enough. 

Every morning, as Eleanor, Spencer, and Carson headed to school, their dad Brent would see them off with what became a family motto.

“It’s OK to be extraordinary!” he’d yell. Over time, the family shortened it to OK2BX, but suffice to say, the Bolding kids left the house every day feeling like their parents believed in them.

I know this because I know the Boldings. They were at my wedding. Somewhere, I have a picture of my hero-worshiping toddler gazing adoringly at Spencer as they played at a company picnic. The whole family celebrated my son’s first birthday with us. 

And I, like many of the Boldings’ friends, have watched as the family grieved unimaginable loss last year, and then worked to make it mean something. 

But to start this story, we have to go back to New Year’s Eve a year ago.

Seventeen-year-old Eleanor Bolding sat in the backseat of the family car on the way back home to Oak Cliff after watching New Years fireworks downtown. COVID had put the kibosh on big gatherings, so the five opted to watch the display from a parking lot. 

As they crossed the bridge into Oak Cliff, Eleanor told her family she had something to say.

“I need to tell you something for the New Year,” her mother Chris recalled her telling the family. “I am trans.”

That was January 1, 2021. By the end of May, Eleanor was dead by suicide.

Eleanor’s parents said they feel it is important to note that Eleanor had a loving and inclusive family. Her sister Carson was the first to respond that night. She asked immediately and matter-of-factly which pronouns Eleanor would prefer. The family was ready to support the youngest Bolding.

Chris said that even the more conservative extended family members accepted Eleanor’s announcement; they all loved her.

“The kid didn’t change,” she said. “Eleanor is still the same great kid everyone loves. She had the same loves, the same hobbies, the same grades in school. The only thing that changed is that she wants to be known by different pronouns and change her name to Eleanor. The kid was the kid, and everybody loved that kid.”

All three of their children were very different, Brent said. One ended up at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Another attended the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview. Eleanor went to downtown’s CityLab High School, where her parents said she thrived thanks to a diverse student body that “invigorated” her.

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Courtesy the Bolding Family

“The other two kids were really big personalities and were sort of carving their own niche, and we really didn’t see Eleanor get that until she hit high school,” he said. 

The teen loved talking to anyone about their beliefs and was nearly fearless in doing so. Her family said she had a habit of “calling people in, instead of calling people out.” Eleanor was interested in talking with people she didn’t necessarily agree with.

“What we continually heard in cards that people wrote to us, and from people at the funeral, was that ‘Eleanor was the type of person that whenever she walked into the room, I got more comfortable, because I felt like she would include me, and she always spoke up for me when other people didn’t,’” Chris said.

And despite all the love and support, the Boldings said they couldn’t prevent tragedy.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that we look the way we look, and that people know us as a pretty normal family,” Brent said. “We tried to be as affirming and supportive as we could be in Eleanor’s journey.

“We were kind of convinced we were doing all right, that we weren’t going to be part of that 40 percent that lose their kids. But we did anyway.”

In the days and weeks that followed Eleanor’s announcement, her parents began researching how they could best support her.

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“If she had told me she was gay, that probably wouldn’t have even merited a continued conversation — nothing really would change for us,” Brent said. “But when she came out as trans, we wanted to make sure we understood it. So we began to read and make sure we could get her the supports she needed.”

As luck would have it, a relative working with kids at UT Southwestern was able to talk the family through some options—including the GENECIS clinic, which helped coordinate gender-affirming care for pediatric patients.

At first, Eleanor wasn’t in a hurry to do anything. She was happy to have let her family know how she felt. She planned to take the rest more slowly. But her parents explained that she was nearing the 18-year-old cutoff to become a patient at the clinic, so she agreed to go ahead and get involved. She was placed on the waitlist. In the meantime, the clinic provided the Boldings with the name of a counselor that Eleanor could see until a spot opened up.

Her first appointment with GENECIS was scheduled for the first week of June —  the week after she died.

In Eleanor’s eulogy, Chris said:

“The only way I know to get through this is to remember her beauty. She was an easy child, and an easy teenager. She never groused or complained about chores. She always asked how we were doing. She loved animals – our dog Sophie, her frog Duplo, and most importantly our cat Luna who slept with her virtually every night. She loved movies, travel, and gaming with her friends.”  

Almost a year after Eleanor’s death, the Boldings have watched political events unfold through new eyes, ones colored by their love of a daughter whose journey was cut short. They express frustration and fear for children who remain on that journey.

Both feel that the environment created by politicians in Texas is harming kids. Eleanor didn’t necessarily lay blame at the feet of the movement to criminalize seeking gender-affirming care for children or denying trans children the ability to compete in sports, the Boldings said.

“She didn’t talk about that as much, and we didn’t necessarily see that, but it’s gotta be that,” Brent said. “She was very aware of what the politicians were doing. She was sort of incredulous that they would go down this path.”

“It was pointed out to us that she took her life in May—which is when the Greg Abbott stuff was really starting to heat up,” Chris said. 

Bills aiming to ban gender-affirming care for children and prevent transgender children from competing in sports didn’t make it through legislative sessions that summer. But Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2022 directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate some types of gender-affirming care for transgender children as possible child abuse.

It exasperates the Boldings, who had only just started on Eleanor’s journey when she died. They still know the damage the political moves will do to families in Texas.

“I just want to ask them, ‘What are you afraid of?’” Chris said. “‘Are you afraid of having to watch that change?’ Well, OK, but it’s not like you wake up one morning and there’s a different kid. It happens slowly over time. 

“‘Are you afraid they’re going to get in your way or behave inappropriately?’ No, that’s not going to happen.”

The Boldings hope that their complete and unabashed normalcy will open minds when it comes to fears about transgender children.

“I want people to look at us and say, ‘Oh, we know your kid, and we know you guys, and if you guys can do this, we can open our hearts and minds,’” Chris said.

The closure of GENECIS, Brent said, “scares me to death.” UT Southwestern shuttered the clinic after a protest at a board member’s home. Its founder will likely sue those who made the decision, arguing that it prevented the doctor from providing what is considered the accepted standard of care for pediatric patients experiencing gender dysphoria.

“There’s a lot to sort and process,” he said of learning that your child is trans. “It’s a lot to learn, and it takes some work to get all those ducks in a row for your child, and I was very relieved that we had this resource.”

He said he “can’t even imagine” how to help a trans child without a clinic like GENECIS to help coordinate the care. The clinic helped steer appointments with specialists—including those that work with hormone therapy or surgery—but also provided access to mental health professionals and support groups for both children and their parents. That sort of organization was invaluable, Brent said. Not having to hunt for each specialist on their own was important to the Boldings, and the idea of having to traverse that path alone was daunting.

“And in particular, can I even talk to this doctor without them ratting me out?” he asked, since doctors are required to report suspected child abuse.

“Parents love their kids and want to do what’s right for them,” Chris said. “We’re fortunate to have the flexibility. Brent’s retired, and I can work anywhere—so that if you told me I wasn’t going to be able to get these services in the state of Texas and that I would be considered a hazard to my child, I would probably have considered buying a house in another state.”

In the days after Eleanor’s death, the family was in a daze. Friends wanted—even needed—to do something. 

“Clearer heads than ours were helpful in giving people places to donate to or to help,” Brent said. But eventually, the family created the OK2BX Foundation.

At first, the goal was to raise money for scholarships. But as more friends and people Eleanor touched reached out, they realized this effort could do more to honor their youngest child and her spirit of inclusivity. 

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When she closed out the eulogy at Eleanor’s funeral, Chris gave fellow mourners a charge, one that also drives the foundation.

“We just ask you to remember her as you knew her,” she read. “We all carry bits and pieces that make up a beautiful whole.”

The foundation has become a way for her family and friends to heal and work through their grief.

“It’s hard,” Chris said. “People who knew her, like our friends and our family, who really knew the situation, really struggle with the concept that she’s gone because she was trans, and she didn’t feel accepted in this world because they saw all of us being affirming, and it looked like a good situation.

“And what we’re trying to acknowledge is that is all true, and we believe that Eleanor did feel affirmed by her family and friends, so we didn’t want to make the entire foundation just about supporting trans kids, because that wasn’t our whole story,” she said. “This whole idea that way she was this beautiful, inclusive person resonated with us. We want to support her trans story as well, and the foundation allowed us to do both by highlighting the inclusivity and diversity that she really fostered in her own life, and then saying, ‘Everyone should be that way.’”

This weekend, the foundation will host its first OK2BX Film Festival, an apt way to honor the child who started her school’s film club. The Boldings took pains to make the entry process as inclusive as their third child was, even including a category for films shot on a mobile phone so that more junior high and high school students could participate. 

“We felt like that was a good combination,” Brent said. “We knew that for the foundation to continue, we needed to do something outside of her death or the anniversary of her death, and we wanted something that would have been important to her and would honor her memory.”

The festival will be held Sunday, April 24, starting at 5 p.m. at the Texas Theatre, and will feature short films by high school students nationwide that honor diversity and inclusivity. Awards—dubbed The Ellies—will be given out to winners of categories that include LGBTQIA+, smartphone, diversity, and animation.

Tickets can be purchased at www.ok2bx.org/ok2bxfilm.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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