There was something I dreaded when my kids were younger. Well mainly when my daughter was younger. When she saved up enough money and wanted to go to the mall, I cringed. I knew exactly what that meant. Beanie Babies. She was obsessed with them and I currently have about 4 big containers full of them in my basement to prove it. Heaven forbid we get rid of them…you know…now that she is 22 years old.
She would gather up all of her money into her little hands and off we would go to the mall. We went straight for the Beanie Baby kiosk. The problem with this is that my daughter loved ALL OF THEM. She would look up at the displays of animals, scrutinizing each one, to pick out the perfect companion to take home with her. They were all perfect in her eyes of course, but because she only had enough money each time to buy one it was a painstaking process. We would go round and round that kiosk until I was dizzy. “McKensie you need to pick one,” I would tell her. “I can’t decide,” she would protest. She would eventually narrow it down to two. Sigh. The customary ritual was she would then tell me to put one in each hand and then put them behind my back. After much deliberation, she would pick a hand. Now you would think that would end it. Right? Nope. “I’m just not sure that’s the one I want,” she would lament. It always got to the point were I had to tell her she had 30 seconds left to decide and she would pick one at the last second. Memories…
This behavior is pretty typical for kids. Indecisiveness…wanting one thing one second…and then something else the next. I think that’s one of the reasons why parents of trans kids get such a bad wrap. People look at their own experiences with their kids and try to compare the two. It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges. My daughter for instance did not like to wear dresses. Every time I would put her in one when she was a toddler she would pull at it and say, “I don’t likey it!” She also preferred to play with dinosaurs rather than dolls. And Lego’s with her brother, but not the pink “girly” kind. She was what society would call a tomboy. But not once, did she ever say that she didn’t feel like a girl. Not once did she ask when she would be a boy. Because…her brain and her body match…and she is a girl.
This next and last mom that is going to share has a different experience. Again, I ask that if you comment you be respectful. She is an amazing mom who is helping others who have children that are on the same path as her child. I respect her so much, as I do the other moms that have shared, and I am honored to have her as a friend.
And now the voice of a mom part IV:
I am sharing our story with my friend Lesa at her request and with my son’s approval.
In 1998, I was single and very much wanted to have a family. Fast-forward 3 years and I was entering a conference room in China to see the most beautiful baby girl. She was thirteen months old, had humongous black eyes, a full head of black silky hair, an adorable rosebud mouth, and dressed in a boy’s outfit. I was in love and so thrilled to be her mother! Upon request of the orphanage, I changed her clothes later that afternoon and of course put her in the most beautiful dress I had brought with me. 🙂
She was a quiet child, often preferring to observe the activities around her rather than directly participating, always holding back. She had a few very close friends, but none in her grade or even in her school. At school she preferred the interactions with the boys in her class, yet was never really one of them. We tried several activities, including girl scouts, but still she remained on the outside, unable or unwilling to join in. She couldn’t connect or understand the relationships with the girls and had no interest in the activities of a typical girl. Instead she lost herself in her books – reading was a passion for many, many years.
Around the age of 5-6 years, the dresses fell by the wayside, preferring plain bottoms/tops, begrudgingly allowing me to throw a pattern in here or there. By the middle of elementary school, the clothes evolved into her “uniform” of jeans or plain shorts and a plain t-shirt or a unisex t-shirt with a saying or cartoon picture. Shoes were only sneakers. Bathing suits were as plain as possible, usually a black one-piece, as nondescript as possible. This intensified as elementary school came to a close.
Meanwhile, her friendships became fewer, sticking mainly to wonderful family friends who loved and supported her despite her “ungirly” differences. She became more withdrawn and sad…always an underlying state of sadness. She told me once – “I’m always sad Mom.”
As middle school came, so did puberty. The body changes were not welcome. She hated them, dressing more and more to conceal the changes, slouching, head down, and becoming quieter. She had no desire to engage in anything remotely associated with being a girl, tending more toward the activities of a boy – archery, video games, and always the books – fantasy, dragons, etc.
With the start of high school, the depression became overwhelming. She became almost totally withdrawn, sluggish, uncaring, and very angry. Something was clearly wrong. We started counseling. She wouldn’t open up, but got angrier. I felt that she could explode at any time. Something was working at her and needed to come out. I suspected that she was potentially dealing with sexuality issues and maybe gender issues. We were constantly watching her; worried she would harm herself, and anguished that we couldn’t help her. Finally, after two months, a week and a half before Christmas, she broke. She left an index card in my laptop and went to school. I found it later that morning while getting my younger daughter ready for school. “Anatomy lies.” That’s all it said. I stared and thought, “Okay, now we know what we are dealing with.” Of course, that opened up whole new questions of what exactly does this mean? How in the world can I help? What does this mean for the future? Will she be bullied? Harmed? Allowed to be who she needs to be? And who does she need to be?
Thank goodness my mom and sister live so close to us. Without their love and support, finding our way through this would have been so much more difficult. I was focused on my child’s mental health and supporting her. Meanwhile, my sister dug right in and researched local resources and support groups and found one of my saviors, Catherine Hyde of Howard County PFLAG. Catherine is mom to a transgender daughter, has walked in my shoes, and started and grew a strong and broad transparent support group. She was, and continues to be, a wealth of information, support, love and calmness.
After repeated talks with my child, it became clear to me that she had never been a girl. She had always been a boy, but living in a body she didn’t understand, couldn’t identify with, and began to hate. And “she” was drowning and would not survive, let alone thrive. I, my mom, and my sister immediately stressed that we loved him, supported him, and accepted him. He asked that we change pronouns and refer to him as “he” and “him”. Eventually he chose to change his name, even though I had given him a unisex name. But that name was associated with his life as a girl and didn’t fit him anymore. I have to say that for me, the name change was so much more difficult and sad than the gender “change” (in quotes because only the presentation/outward perception of his gender actually changed).
He is now living life as his authentic self. He lives and presents as the boy he truly is inside and he is finding peace in that ability. He still has his ups and downs, the depression and anxiety, prevalent in so many of the transgender kids, is still present and a constant battle.
So now to answer Lesa’s questions.
1. How do you know it’s not a phase?
When Lesa first approached me about this project, this particular question really hit me really hard. It is one that I have received a lot. It generates real frustration in me. This is a pain that these kids have lived with for a long time – most of them since they are very, very young. In trying to process my response, the following sort of just spilled out.
The depth of the depression that often accompanies a child’s recognition of being trapped in a body he cannot identify with, actually hates, possibly wants to harm, or possibly would prefer to die rather continue to live in cannot be faked and can’t be argued with. That is not a phase.
My child is not gender fluid. He does not feel like a girl some days and others like a boy. He is a boy. He knows he is a boy and he knows that the body he lives in does not reflect who he is. Upon sharing the news with me that he was transgender at the age of 14, and finding the love, acceptance, and support from his family, my child became happier, his depression lessened and his outlook on life improved. He smiled and laughed more, and began socializing more with friends. He began to blossom. That is not a phase.
This state persisted and did not abate. That is not a phase.
The desire to live in a body that more closely reflects his true self strengthened until it became an overwhelming need. This was not an overnight decision or a whim. This is not a desire that cisgender (a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) kids have. That is not a phase.
He wanted desperately to begin his transition, to find a physical body that he was more comfortable living in. The puberty blockers were the first step to stop development of the wrong body. That granted some relief. That is not a phase.
This was followed closely by the desire for testosterone. Again, no cisgender kid is going to ask for hormones of the opposite sex; however, many transgender kids beg for them. Most transgender individuals find some relief of anxiety and become a bit more comfortable in their own skin by the introduction of the cross-gender hormones. They begin to see body differences that start to bring their bodies in line with their identity and they feel some relief. That is not a phase.
No matter what the age, when a child is so very consistently, insistently and persistently adamant that they are not the gender they were assigned, that is not a phase.
So let me turn the question around. “When did you know you were a boy/girl?” The answer is typically “I don’t know, I just knew.” And a transgender individual will give the same response. They just know. And it is not a phase.
2. Aren’t you harming your child by giving them hormones so young? Shouldn’t you wait until their older?
I struggled with this question myself. My son was ready to start hormones and look at top surgery the night he came out to me. I laughed and told him he had to slow down and let me catch up. Through reading (lots and lots of reading!), talking with other parents of trankids and medical professionals, I came to the realization that the longer we waited the more changes would be happening and the more feminine his body would become. I couldn’t, in any good conscience, sentence him to any more feminine changes that he would have to live with the rest of his life when there was something that we could do to stop it progressing and that wouldn’t be harmful to him. We started with puberty blockers to stop his development where it was. During this time I studied the pros/cons of starting cross-sex hormones, for him, this would be the addition of testosterone. After much research, I realized that the most permanent and extreme side effects are the ones that he wanted the most – voice change, Adams apple, facial and body hair, body weight redistribution. And there are no side effects that would be harmful to his future health beyond that of what a person with natural testosterone would face. At that point, the pros so far outweighed the cons, that there really wasn’t any other possible decision but to move forward with the hormone therapy.
3. What’s the big deal about the bathroom?
Ah, the hot button topic. I really don’t know how to explain this to someone who doesn’t understand that transgender people are not “pretending” to live as the other gender. My son isn’t “dressing up” as a boy, or just presenting as a boy – but is actually a boy living inside the wrong type of body. He is not trying to pull a fast one. He does not identify with being a girl in any way so going into the girls bathroom is as wrong and uncomfortable for him as it is for me to go into the men’s room. He doesn’t belong in the women’s room any more than I belong in the men’s room. Moreover, the transgender individual is not the only person uncomfortable when in the wrong bathroom – the cisgender individuals who are not expecting the “wrong” gender to be there are also be uncomfortable. He was pushed out of the girls room several times during his transition because he “didn’t belong there – go use the boys bathroom”.
On a broader note, transgender people have been using the bathroom they identify with for as long as there have been public bathrooms – and this went virtually unnoticed. You know why? Because they keep a low profile. They don’t want to be noticed – especially where they feel the most vulnerable in public – in the restroom. They want to go in, do what they need to do, and leave. Just like the rest of us. By making them use the “other” restroom, you are putting them in a situation that they don’t belong in, putting the others in that restroom in a situation that they don’t belong in. And for what reason? Because it is not understood, it is different, and our society doesn’t handle “different” all that well. The argument that by allowing transfemales to use the women’s room (and let’s face it, no one is arguing about the transmales using the men’s room), we are making it easier for “perverts” to enter and get to the wives and daughters, is actually backwards. Because forcing a transmale back into the woman’s restroom, assuming that they will actually do so, means that they will be entering that restroom as their authentic self. They are not going to change their appearance just to pee. So they will be entering as a male. Now a woman who sees a man in the woman’s restroom will not automatically be able to state that they don’t belong there – their internal warning radar that something is not right will be called into question, which will actually put them, as well as the transgender individual, in more danger. And no one is more vulnerable or at risk in a restroom than a transgender person.
4. What do I want people to know the most?
Artwork by Jennifer White
What I really want people to understand is that this is real. Transgender people aren’t pretending and they aren’t confused. This isn’t a choice (and seriously, this one ticks me off the most – really, who would choose this!?). These are real people, who have real feelings, wants, dreams, and goals. They are loving and kind and want to be free to live their lives. They don’t want special privileges, but rather the same rights and dignities that are afforded to the majority of the population – the rights and dignities expressed in our Constitution. And the same love and acceptance expressed by the Golden Rule – due unto others as you would have them do unto you. I know this is hard to understand – you can’t really understand until you walk in these shoes or love someone who does, but I implore everyone, please try.
Lesa here…well this wraps up my first ever series on my blog! I’m so thankful for the moms who have shared a piece of their journey and heart with us. As you can see, there are many similarities to their stories. I have found that to be true of the parents of gay kids that I have met as well. I think there is something to be said about that, but I will leave that for another day (smile).
When you are out and about and hear someone say something negative about someone transgender, remember these stories. Remember these kids…and stand up for them. They need our love…
Because love matters…