Editor’s note: The writer of this essay has asked to remain anonymous to protect her child’s identity.
My daughter lived as a boy for a year. She came out as trans the summer after her sixth-grade year and only de-transitioned recently, almost at the end of her seventh-grade year. I wanted to offer other parents some perspective and advice, so here are the top 10 things I learned the year my daughter was my son.
Keep your skepticism to yourself.
My child didn’t show any signs that she would identify as transgender. She was a crazy, flamboyant, lipstick-wearing maniac. I was skeptical. But at that moment, that raw moment when your child is standing in front of you and admitting something scary about how they feel about themselves, keep your thoughts to yourself. There is no place for anything but acceptance and love. If you need to call a best friend, talk to a partner or cry to your mom, do it later when your child isn’t around. If you think you feel bad or skeptical, imagine how it must feel for your child.
Get support – immediately.
One of the best things we did for our whole family was to immediately find a good genderqueer counselor. We were damn lucky there was one nearby AND that she had availability. My child saw her. I saw her. My husband and I saw her. She helped us by answering our thousand questions about trans kids and what it meant and she helped our child by guiding her through the process of knowing herself. When we had rough times, she held our hands. If you don’t know where to turn for help and resources, start here.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about transgender identity or expression. I grew up in the 1980s when you didn’t hear much about trans people. Let’s face it, homophobia was rampant then, so I’m guessing trans folk were pretty deep underground. Or I was ignorant. Probably both. So, getting an education in exactly what transgender is, what it means and how it can manifest was super important.
Beware the internet.
In the midst of getting an “education,” I also learned how anti-trans propaganda gets spread. It can make a confusing time even more so when you or your child is told that how you are feeling isn’t “real” and that you just need to get off social media. On the other side of the spectrum are the people who tell you that if you don’t immediately get your kid on puberty blockers or hormones or let them have surgery, that they will die. If your kid is expressing suicidal thoughts or having issues with self-harm, please seek professional help for them immediately.
Don’t compare your journey to others.
A mistake I made early on was to try and get in touch with as many parents of trans kids as I could. I thought this would offer comfort, but it didn’t. I’m not saying don’t build community, just don’t do what I did, which was to try to find someone who could reassure me or who had a similar journey. Each kid will have their own journey. For some, the journey ends with de-transitioning to their original gender. For others, the journey may end with good counseling and a pronoun change, and for others, it will include hormones and possibly surgery. Everyone walks their own road and though community is a beautiful thing, please do not compare you and your child to anyone else.
Don’t freak out about hormones and surgery.
I probably just freaked you out with number five by even mentioning hormones and surgery, but really, there is no need to freak out. I know that kids have a way of wanting what they want right now, but this doesn’t mean that hormones and surgery are imminent. Both of those can wait until you have figured out as a family what your path looks like. Which brings me to number 7.
Your family, your choice.
You are the parent. It is okay to ask your child to wait to make big changes, such as hormones and surgery. It is always a good idea to have a therapist on hand to help with the mental and emotional aspect of these changes, but unless your child is practicing self-harm or expressing suicidal thoughts or intentions, there is no rush.
Affirming is not forcing.
At every stage of our child’s transgender journey, we were affirming. Non-binary? Cool. They/them pronouns? Oof, hard to do, but we can manage that. Oh, no, it’s he/him pronouns? Okay. You want boy clothes? Great, let’s go get some (p.s. the thrift store is a great place to start for changing gender clothing). New name? Let’s sit down and figure one out together. We called doctors and dentists and let them know about new pronouns and the new name. We called the school and got the new “nickname” added to the system. At six months in, our child asked for puberty blockers. We didn’t say no, we said “Yes, but not yet. Let’s do some more counseling and check back in a month.” Our child asked for hormones. The answer was “Yes, but not yet.” In the end, we made affirming choices that made our child feel empowered, while at the same time allowing us to take the time we needed to adjust and/or investigate more.
Let your child transition socially.
Seriously, it’s not as hard as it seems. It is extra phone calls and note-writing to the doctor and the school to get them on board. Some new clothes and maybe a new hairdo. It’s a re-introduction to family members and friends using new pronouns and then gently reminding everyone (and each other) to use the preferred pronouns.
They are still your child.
For my child, their journey to being a boy came when they were 12. I can’t remember a more agonizing time in my life than when I was 12. My body wasn’t how I wanted it to be. I struggled with school. I wanted to fit in and stand out all at the same time. I can’t imagine piling gender dysphoria on top of that! When I got scared, I reminded myself that this was still the same child who loves to snuggle, who loves spinach and hates spaghetti. I remembered how challenging being 12 is, and any time I could, I paved the way to make it easier.
In the end, my child chose to return to their original gender. We are embracing all things girl again … for now. And, if she chooses to walk the path of changing her gender again, we will all be much more comfortable with that path and the steps it entails. At the end of the day, she, he or they will always be my baby.
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