As a parent, you quickly figure out that your kids force you to face all kinds of unexpected challenges. After making it through weaning, potty training, second-grade homework battles (both my kiddos found that year hard, so in turn I did too), fifth-grade friendship dramas, and the first broken hearts, I thought I had it down. But, of course, life has a way of keeping things interesting.
My husband and I have always had the practice of picking our battles as parents. What is really important to us: being kind, standing up for what is right, not only getting good grades but being educated. We do require them to study an instrument and participate in a sport. We don’t care about hair or clothes as long as they are not offensive. We ask the kids to think about why they are making certain choices, but we don’t dictate what many of their choices should be. All in all, this works for us. We have good relationships with our children; they come to us when they have issues. We give them the resources to problem solve. People tell us our kids behave in public when out of our line of sight. We mostly like them. They are musical and physically active. They are kind, thoughtful, seemingly intelligent humans: just what we want.
One sunny afternoon last fall while Dad was out of town (of course!), my oldest came to me in the kitchen and told me he wanted to talk to me. He told me he had been thinking about something. He had done a lot of research. I happily asked what about because he was always researching things. He can talk your ear off about an issue he is passionate about or an interesting thing he finds. This time, however, he wanted to share something he had learned about himself. I soon discovered it was a big something interesting.
“Mom, I am transgender,” she tells me.
I’d like to say I immediately had the perfect response, but she was met with…silence. Absolutely not what I thought was going to hear. But I put on my best mom face. “Cool. You know your Dad and I love you no matter what.” I don’t remember exactly how our conversation went after that. I did not ask all the right questions or say all the right things then and there. I probably told her I needed to do some research.
Although my best friends will tell you I can get excited and emotional with the best of them, underneath I am pretty pragmatic. And I am a researcher, just like my kid. I did call my husband to share the “news” with him. I had toyed with waiting because he was with his parents helping them with some emotional stuff, but I decided I had to have someone to share the weight of discovery right away. Then the investigation began. I love the Internet. It has its weaknesses, but if you are smart about using it, of course you can find real, accurate, evidenced-based information. I also love me some Amazon Prime. Within two days, I had five books.
I have many friends who identify as gay, but no transgender ones of whom I was aware. Who do you get information from in that case? Where do you go for support? Online, of course. I will say the first online group I joined was filled with parents who were super negative. They blamed the Internet and thought for sure their kids were going through a phase. They did not seem to want to get information or understand what their kids were going through. I got stuck there for a couple of weeks. I felt a little alone even though my husband was there along with me. Of course, I had told my best friend. She offered all of the “cheerleading,” but none of the experience or information. I really needed to find the right source for experienced parents. After some digging, I did finally find some great online groups. Some amazing parents in a few great online support groups have offered me a lot of the support, information, and resources I have needed. Many of the parents in those groups are the ones you see, hear, and read about in the media, speaking out for their children’s need for love and support. We keep each other informed and listen to each other’s struggles.
Where is my adorable transgender child in all of this? She remains the kind, smart, amazing teen she always has been. San Antonio is actually a fabulous community in which to work through this from professionals, to support groups, to just essentially great people. We have wonderful support from friends and family. My child is loved. I feel so lucky that we were living here when she came to understand herself in this way.
No, we did not know or suspect that she was transgender. Some parents of transgender children say it was clear from 18 months old or year four. I had no idea until she walked in the kitchen at age 15.3 and told me. Not even remotely on the radar. Yes, she liked Dora when she was little, but she also liked matchbox cars and Legos. We were careful not to assign gender to toys and colors. She loved the Red Power Ranger. She mostly chose boys as friends. Yes, she chose to grow her hair out in middle school after a childhood of buzz cuts, but hair is hair. All her choices. Nothing indicated to us that deep inside she was a girl and not a boy. My hubby and I found this very confusing at first. However, we have learned this is normal. A certain percentage of young children make clear choices about their gender at a young age. Some figure it out as pre-teens and teens and even some much later, sometimes after years of anguish, depression, and not feeling right about themselves.
What do I regret, worry about, find frustrating? Funny things, like why didn’t she realize this as a young child? Not only would it have been so much easier, but I also would have had the opportunity to dress her in all those cute little girl clothes. Serious things, like the world is so unkind to transgender people, and transgender women of color are the ones most at risk of violent crime. Transgender women are also the most visibly affected by the bathroom issue, partially because often transgender men can “pass” more easily. Our daughter has picked a new name for herself. Much to our chagrin, she changed it three times and then went back to name number two. Hard enough to change name and pronoun use and much harder when your child is so indecisive about it at first.
We have a lot of good notes. We told our whole family, and they are all supportive and positive. She is totally out to her friends and at all outside-of-school activities. She is not out at school yet. That will come. She has that amazing long, beautiful hair that she had already grown out as a he. She was already being mistaken for a girl before she came to her realization. She went to Gay Prom wearing an amazing dress, looking very glamorous, and had a great time. We have a fabulous support group for LGBTQ teens here in San Antonio.
It may seem like I am glossing over things. But there is so much daily minutiae to life, as we all know. This is not an easy process, but not a terrible one either. We just want our kids to be happy. Despite the fact that this has been a perspective-changing event for our family, it has shown my husband and me we might be doing this parenting thing right. LGBTQ children of unsupportive families have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Those that are supported by their families have a rate equal to that of all children. Having a transgender kid is not the end of the world. She is as kind, smart, and amazing with all the same teen interests and concerns as when she was a he.
And life goes on.