As most kids, when my sister and I were little we would get very excited when we would hear the ice cream truck music close by. We would quickly run in the house jumping up and down begging for some money so we could get back outside to flag the truck down. We would run down to the curb and wave our arms frantically to get the drivers attention. It was a sad day when you didn’t make it out there in time to catch his attention. One of these occasions caused my sister great angst. We perused the side of the truck and carefully picked out what we wanted to order. We stood in line and waited our turn trying to be patient. When it was my sister’s turn, the man behind the counter loudly proclaimed, “And what can I get for you young man?” My sister immediately burst into tears and quickly ran up the steps to our house without any ice cream.
It was an honest mistake. She was about 6 years old at the time with short hair, a simple t-shirt and shorts. But this mistake totally devastated her. Being on this journey, I think of that story often. Even though I don’t have a transgender child, I am friends with some transgender people and I know many moms of transgender children. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them to deal with this on a daily basis…people seeing them as a different gender then how they see themselves.
As promised, I have a guest today who is going to share a very personal part of her family’s journey. She has the youngest child out of the three moms that will be sharing with us. She is an amazing mom with a beautiful little girl and I am proud to know her and glad that she considers me a friend. I ask that you be respectful if you decide to comment. (to learn some scientific information about what transgender means – here is an article that you might find helpful).
And now the voice of a mom part II:
My dear friend Lesa asked me to share some of my experiences as a parent to a transgender
child, since she has been getting some questions and would like to share as much
information as possible. She provided specific questions that she’s been getting. These
questions are all valid and are honestly questions that I’ve asked myself and professionals. I
also want to thank you for reading this. It means that you must be open enough to want to
learn about a topic that is hard to understand if you aren’t living it firsthand, and I appreciate
that. First, it probably makes the most sense to begin by giving a brief synopsis of my family’s
I am a mom to a six (and a half – she would want me to add) year old transgender girl, which
means born anatomically male, identifies as female in gender. I’m also married to a
wonderful husband, have three step-children who I adore, have a Master’s degree and work
full time in a helping profession. When my daughter was born, she was assigned male at
birth. I was ecstatic to have a little boy. He was perfect, healthy and loving – what I often
referred to as an “easy baby.” I loved everything about being a mom. At age three (some
examples were as early as two), when he was able to begin expressing himself verbally more
clearly, he would often express a desire for more feminine things. He wanted to wear female
clothes, went straight to the girls side of the Stride Rite shoe store and the ‘girls’ toy aisle,
insisted on dressing as a female character for Halloween, and played with dolls. At the time, I
wrote this off as being a phase, knowing that gender is often explored pretty broadly during
this age. In hindsight I knew something was different about my child even then. I remember
having a sinking feeling every time he told me he wanted to wear a dress or nail polish, and I
felt guilty when I firmly told him he could not dress as a girl for Halloween, but I was trying to
(naively) guide him in the “right” direction.
By age four these expressions had become more common. Because of the constant
requests to paint his nails, wear dresses and perfume, play with dolls, etc, on occasion we
allowed this in the house. He would say he wished I would let him be the girl that he was. My
sweet little boy started to become more introverted and seemed more sad. At preschool he
preferred to play house and only played with other little girls. Even though I made him dress
as a boy, he always insisted upon wearing one or two subtle feminine items like a scarf or
toenail polish. I would occasionally receive comments from others about how feminine by
child was. At this point I deduced that my child would likely be gay, and started preparing
Almost to the day of his fifth birthday, the mild requests about his gender identity became
insistent, persistent and consistent statements that he was, in fact, a girl. He started acting
out in preschool. He would cry for over an hour and beg not to go out of the house unless he
could go as the girl that he was. One evening he told me that I should have named him
“sadness” because he was sad “all the time.” We started looking for counselors. One night
soon after, at five years old, my child – who has generally lived a pretty charmed life – told me
that if I didn’t allow him to be the girl that he was, he wanted to kill himself. To this day I don’t
know how my sweet little five year old even knew those words, or how she could know herself
so well or express herself so clearly, but I knew this wasn’t going away. I didn’t know what to
do except hug *her* and say okay, I’m listening, and we will figure this out together.
Once she made that statement my world turned upside down. I could no longer continue to
live in denial about what was happening. I had a lot to learn and a lot of people to talk to, and
fast. The next morning I met with the owner of the preschool, who said they had suspected
she was transgender for some time now. I took her that night and bought her her first dress.
I have never seen her happier. Words can’t express the happiness she expressed over this.
The more parents of transgender/gender fluid children I talked with, the more I heard the
same story we were living. After gaining a wealth of information we started using female
pronouns and it was glaringly obvious that this was the right thing to do. Over the following
months we established a relationship with a therapist who has supported our path, and I
made it my other full time job to learn everything I could about this topic. I attended support
groups in three counties as well as gender conferences. I talked to so many people with
either personal or professional experience on the issue. I read everything I could get my
hands on. I cried…wept at times. I lost countless hours of sleep, and 30 pounds since I could
hardly eat. But every single problem we encountered with my daughter immediately
dissipated once we allowed her to socially transition – to live as the girl that she is, or as the
gender she identifies with.
She now lives as the female that she is. She is excelling at school. She laughs when I
remind her that she once asked to be called “sadness”, and often remarks how happy she is
and how much she loves her life. I could go on and on about ways this difficult decision has
ended up bettering her life, but there isn’t nearly enough time.
So, onto the questions Lesa outlined:
1. How do you know it’s not a phase?
Even though I tried to give some general examples above, it’s very difficult to put into
words all of the ways it is abundantly clear that my daughter’s gender is innate, versus a
phase or a result of “nurture versus nature.” I would like to pose the question to you as the
reader: When did you know you were a male or female? For me, I always knew. It takes no
thought, I just know. I am not overly “girly”, like my daughter. I don’t wear dresses often or
much makeup, but I know innately that I’m female. My daughter would tell you that she’s
known she is female since birth. This never changes. Even the most subtle of details are
consistent. She naturally gravitates toward other girls for play. She always chooses the
female avatar when playing games. She is happy and thriving being able to live as her true
self, and she’s not hurting anyone by doing so. I’ve talked to families who tried to force their
child to live in denial of their gender. These children usually faced issues like depression,
anxiety, self-injurious behavior, addiction and suicide. Even though allowing people who are
transgender to embrace who they are challenges us to be accepting of things we don’t
understand, there is so much evidence that in doing so, these people thrive and become
productive members of society. I have attached a link
to a recent research study, in which my
daughter is a participant, that shows the benefits of allowing these children to live as their
identified gender versus natal sex. Also, I have learned that it is very common for
transgender people to begin expressing their gender identity as early as they can start talking,
so this is not uncommon. The overwhelming majority of people, including myself, were taught
very young that gender and natal sex are one and the same. Many people would swear this
to be as true as the earth is round. I now know that this is not true. Gender and natal sex are
two different things. Usually they match, but in relatively rare instances they don’t.
2. Aren’t you hurting your child by giving them hormones? Shouldn’t you wait until they’re
I am going to defer to my other friends with older children for this question. I am
learning to take things one step at a time with this process, so we still have multiple years
until we address this. I can say that we plan to see a renowned endocrinologist when my
daughter turns seven. Not to start any type of medication, but because we want to establish
a relationship with this doctor, and be as open and transparent as possible as we plan for the
possibility of hormone blockers and hormones in the future. This way the endocrinologist can
get to know my daughter, give us any feedback she has, and make recommendations as
appropriate. I can also tell you that I know that the pain of living in a body you don’t feel
matches your identity is tremendously more painful than anything else. My daughter already
asks when she will be able to have a baby, when she can “not have a penis anymore”, and
generally expresses anxiety about having to develop in any way masculine. She says these
things and it still shocks me. These aren’t thoughts I ever would have had as a child, yet
what she says is textbook for transgender people.
3. What’s the big deal about the bathroom?
So, if you would again take a second to think about this for yourself: If you’re a parent,
and someone told you that your daughter had to use the boy’s bathroom, how would you
feel? For my daughter, the thought is so distressing that at times she would cry or refuse to
go to the bathroom at all versus having to go with males. Transgender people have been
painted in the media as men that dress up as women to get into the women’s bathroom. This
is just untrue. I could go on and on with statistics about this issue, but I won’t bore you. I will
simply say that children are in more risk at school, church, and with family than they are
sharing a bathroom with a transgender person. This is a huge issue, and one that keeps me
up at night. My daughter looks, acts, and carries herself as the female that she is. You
wouldn’t even notice if you were in the girls bathroom with her. If she had to go into a male
bathroom, she would be mortified, likely mistreated, and cause more trouble than being
allowed to simply use the bathroom that coincides with her gender. Side note: you likely
have known transgender people in your life without actually realizing it. They are so scared of
being judged they often work very hard to fly under the radar, especially in the bathroom.
4. Aren’t you saying that God made a mistake?
This is the most difficult question for me to answer. Short answer after a long,
frustrated sigh: no. Long answer: I don’t believe there are mistakes in life. As a person
who is agnostic, I am very open to all possibilities, religious views, and am deeply
spiritual. What I am not open to is any person or doctrine who ascribes to judgment or
mean, exclusionary behavior in the name of God. I don’t think God makes mistakes,
and I believe in life there are only lessons. Would you ask a person who had an autistic
child if they were a mistake from God? What about someone with birth defects or
hermaphrodites? Or cancer? Are these mistakes from God? There are certainly
endless examples of things in this universe that we don’t fully understand, but denying
their existence when you haven’t taken the time to learn, or because they aren’t like
you, or because something is rare is unacceptable. It saddens me that the people who
scare me the most in this world, in regards to my transgender daughter, are those who
are the most religious. Isn’t that sad? God is love, and I would hope to find shelter in
people who follow God, but it’s often where I find the most heartache and judgment.
Sometimes, when I need to make myself feel better about the turn our life has taken, I
tell myself that my child is even closer to the likeness of God than most of us. I’ve read
that some cultures (like certain Native American cultures) celebrate and honor people
who are gender variant. I know our culture will likely not celebrate this anytime soon,
but I wish it was more accepting of our differences. I don’t doubt that God is divinely
accepting. My six year old recently asked me why God put her in “the wrong body.”
I’m still figuring out the answer to that, still learning the lesson. For now, I just
reassured her that she is healthy, happy and that down the road there are ways we
can correct the parts of her body that feel “wrong” right now. She was content with that
response and skipped away.
Lesa here…thank you for taking the time to read this special post. I have the utmost respect for this mom and all the moms I know that have LGBTQ children. The road we travel is a hard one. I love them all and I feel like their kids are my kids. I would do anything for any one of them…and I love them all dearly.
Because love matters…