The journey of a transgender child isn’t a smooth one, even if that child is lucky enough to have an accepting family and community. There is a lot of anxiety. A LOT. And when you think about it, it makes sense. As a toddler and a young child, your parents are everything. They are the ultimate authority on how the world works. And when they call you a boy, well, they must be right. Right?
Add in every other authority figure in your life — siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, doctors, librarians (hey, they’ve always been a big authority figure in my life!) — saying the same thing, and it can be so disorienting to feel that you are a girl when they’re all saying that you are a boy.
We never argued with our daughter about her gender. We never told her she was wrong when she did come to us and say that she was a girl. But it took years for her to get to the point where she could say that to us. Because in those years of doubt and questioning, there were thousands of casual conversations informing her that we believed that she was a boy.
“Hi! How are you? Yes, this is my daughter, and this is my son. Aren’t they amazing?”
“Good morning, I’d like to sign my son up for preschool.”
“Yes, I have one girl, one boy. No, we’re not planning on having any more. No, not because we have one of each. Just because our family is complete.”
“Can we try on the Stride Rite sneakers, boy size 2 please?”
With no ill intent whatsoever, we told her over and over again that she was wrong about what she was feeling. So yeah…a lot of anxiety preceded her coming out to us.
That anxious journey was ours, as well. She was 15 months old the first time she went into her sister’s closet and insisted on wearing a dress. She was two when she decided that she absolutely HAD to wear a blue velvet Snow White ballgown. Every day. Everywhere. For four months. She was two-and-a-half when she first asked me when she could cut off her penis. I held it together until my husband got home from work, then cried for three days at the thought that my perfect, beautiful baby boy wanted to hurt himself. That was the first time I really considered that she might be transgender, and it scared the living daylights out of me. Knowing what might lie ahead — surgery, risk of suicide, people hating her just for being transgender — I couldn’t handle the idea. I started to hope that she would be fabulously gay when she grew up. She was four when she asked to get her ears pierced like her big sister, and she created a Wii Mii that was a little girl.
And I lived with anxiety, right along with her. How would other kids play with a “princess boy”? Should I let her wear that dress out of the house? Will other parents ever invite her over to play with their kids? Will she be safe there? When would we find out for certain if she was gay, if she was transgender? How would we know? What medical decisions would we have to make? How would I know if it’s a phase or if it’s real? Could I be a good enough parent to do this with her? Will I have the right words at the right time for her?
The media talks a lot about transitioning as if it’s a moment in time when a person decides that they are not the gender their body indicates they are. Or as if it is a week of surgery and recovery, like a vacation — you leave as one gender, come back into the public eye as another. Short. Quick. Decisive. Transitioning is anything but, and it’s a journey we take together. It’s questioning reality, learning new truths, reframing your life and your role as a parent. From loving supporter to fierce advocate, from fearful and frozen to willing to learn, from doubting to believing. It’s a transition that lasts years, likely an entire childhood and beyond. That moment where she says, “I’m a girl” is just that — a moment. The transition was already taking place.
The anxiety doesn’t really go away. I wish I could say it did. But the sharp edges do dull. Significantly. The panic recedes and you realize as you see your child blossom and become happy in a way she never has been before, not since she was a baby, that everything WILL work out okay. Because you do have time. And that’s a blessing.