When your child comes out as transgender, the process can make you feel as though you’ve suddenly been thrown off a ship in the deep sea, unsure if you’re even able to swim.
Your life vest is there somewhere but every time you get close to grabbing it, a wave takes you further away. The waters feel like they’ll always be rough when you first descend into that water.
It’s disorientating, confusing, and exhausting. It feels an awful lot like drowning in a sea of unknowns.
And it can feel awfully scary and lonely.
We know there has to be more of us out there swimming but holy shit, this ocean is vast.
It’s hard to find the safe harbors.
We essentially come out with our kids in many ways. We have our own process to reconcile.
We don’t talk about this often, because we shouldn’t. We should never center ourselves, especially public visibility wise, in what is our child’s process.
That doesn’t mean that what we go through as parents is invalid, unimportant, or secretive. It just means we have to be cautious of centering our child, not ourselves.
And. Our story is important.
We can empower other parents walking this path, helping them to continue to affirm trans youth, who obviously become trans adults. And we all want to raise healthy adults.
So we can start by letting our children be who they are.
We are in a position of empowerment to amplify the conversation as frontline allies. We need to tell our stories, too, for ourselves, for other parents, and for our kids’ health.
If it wasn’t for the visibility of other parents of trans kids, I am quite certain that my child would still be suffering, pretending to be the girl that he isn’t, soaked in shame, and self-harming, possibly even a scary statistic. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
A few short years ago, I didn’t know what being transgender truly meant.
Chaz Bono was my frame of reference, in all honesty. I knew that trans people existed, but by no means did I understand what it meant beyond the adage that trans people essentially were “born in the wrong body”. I now know that’s not exactly the case, and to say that can even be damaging, but that’s what 6-year-ago me believed. That was the extent of my knowledge.
I was a liberal-minded individual then, I considered myself aware of many social issues, I considered myself an ally to The LGBTQ+ community.
But in reality, I was naive, unaware, and so very ignorant. You could even say I turned a blind eye in many ways because ignorance is truly blissful.
I didn’t give much thought to the trans community, because I didn’t have to.
It pains me to say that now. This community needs allies beyond the selfishness of “needing to” understand. But that’s, again, my truth, my story.
At the age of 2 or 3, when my son began showing a fierce rejection of all things female, I soon realized I was on somewhat of a unique parenting path, but it still didn’t seem to enter my mind that my child could be trans. Since Chaz Bono was my only benchmark, I suppose I thought that only adults could acknowledge they’re trans, never occurring to me that trans adults were indeed once trans kids.
Simple, obvious thought, but when my son was a toddler, the subject of coming out as trans at a young age was still a foreign concept to me.
So, I did what every parent tends to do when embarking on this journey with a young child. I thought:
He’s just a tomboy.
He’s going through a phase.
He’s just not conforming to gender norms.
He’s just experimenting with what he likes.
And for some kids, those things might be true. So I give myself some grace here.
But as he headed into elementary school age, as his vernacular expanded, as he tried to teach me about his feelings, my thoughts expanded to:
Maybe he will be a lesbian.
Perhaps he will be one of those who’s a tomboy throughout childhood but then a girly-girl after puberty.
But perhaps the most dangerous mindset I was in back then was that I thought I would just wait and see how this would all play out for my child. Because maybe, just maybe…he’s confused. I even began blaming myself for confusing him by allowing such freedom of expression.
I cringe as I type all of this. I truly do.
I would soon learn that I was the confused one.
I thought I was being supportive by nurturing this exploration and welcoming these blurred gender lines, I even considered it progressive (which, in fairness, this was progressive for the small town I live in).
So I wrote about it. And even did a shitty piece of British media about raising my child without labels.
This is when my education began. Thanks to the almighty powers that be that live in the internet.
I received a message from a mom of a trans daughter. A visible parent who would change my world by being public about their story.
She took it upon herself to reach out to me after reading my piece which outlined our journey at that point, one where I talked about the possibility that my child is trans, one where I boldly said I was “firmly planted in the ‘wait until after puberty to see what happens camp'”, in terms of my child transitioning, because I didn’t even understand social and medical transitioning at that point.
She said something along the lines of, “please be careful with waiting to allow your child to transition. That can be dangerous”, and proceeded to tell me why.
I’ll admit, I still wasn’t ready to hear this. I wish I could say otherwise but I just wasn’t ready.
Because I was scared.
I was paralyzed by all of the stories of trials and tribulations of being trans, the violence, the attempted erasure, the vitriol being spewed all over the media, especially with Caitlyn Jenner coming out around this time. “Transgender” became a buzz word largely because of Caitlyn, but all her visibility did for me was reinforce that adults come out as trans, not children.
Because, what if this is just a phase?
I couldn’t justify a social transition of a name and pronoun change, only to have my child eventually just live as his assigned gender. That idea seemed to add to what I thought was my child’s confusion. That couldn’t be the right thing to do…could it? None of it made sense to me.
I needed to stay in the comfort of my denial. I couldn’t connect with the reality that my child would live a jagged path, one in which he had to fight for basic human rights. No. I wasn’t ready to digest this.
I was arming myself with a partial education, just enough to be dangerous, but I remained doubtful because after all, my child wasn’t depressed, or angry, or lashing out, or sad, like some of these other stories of trans youth I had read.
My child was just a little shy, maybe a little reserved.
But surely, that had nothing to do with this gender component.
I mean, he had said he felt like a boy in his mind at the age of 5 or 6, but he also said he was “fine being a girl”, so if he’s unsure, I wasn’t going to push anything. Never mind the fact that I was the one who said we could talk about his feelings “when he got a little older”, after he asked numerous questions about Caitlyn Jenner at age 7.
Never mind the fact that I was being dismissive because a child couldn’t possibly know themselves at such a young age.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it all. I just couldn’t. It was a lot to digest.
So I waited.
And my son was hurting.
And he began self-harming at age 8.
And that’s when I dove in with both feet.
I was ready to listen.
I was ready for my own transition as a parent. It took me awhile, but I got there.
I began feverishly researching therapists who work with gender expansive youth, only to find one about 40 minutes away, who never saw someone as young as 8, but she took him in.
I remember the day that I made that first call to her, expressing a shortened, frantic, spastic version of our journey so far, restating my ignorance by saying things like, “But he says he’s fine being a girl, so maybe he’s just going through a lot because I went through a bad divorce, and my dad is in bad health, and we’ve moved a couple of times, and he switched schools”…and, and , but, but. Still a little stuck.
But, my God, I was terrified that my child was harming himself. A parent’s worst nightmare, really.
Three months into therapy, we decided collectively that it was time for a name change and to use his pronouns.
For those of you who have been following our journey, you’ve heard me say this a million times: this is where the magic happened.
It still brings me to tears to think about his happiness after this simple change. The light in his eyes, the spark in his step, the ignition of his spirit. His whole self came alive. The cloak of shame his was wearing burned to the ground. The shyness subsided, the self-harm stopped immediately.
The caterpillar became a butterfly.
And it was magical.
This was just the beginning, though. For me anyway.
My son was off and running, telling all of his friends, ten steps ahead of me.
My mind was spinning, I couldn’t sleep, I cried a lot.
What does this mean from here?
Who do we tell and when?
What will school say?
What will the kids say?
Will he be bullied?
Do I post this on Facebook, or how does this work?
Do we change his name now?
Does he need puberty blockers?
Will I get hate mail, or worse, will we be threatened with violence?
Should we move to California??
But what if this is just a phase?
Yes. This still rang in my mind. The voice was less loud but it was still audible.
What silenced this voice of doubt was not only the research I began doing, the connections with others in the community that I began to make, the science behind being trans.
It was merely watching my child quite literally come out of his shell.
It was his happiness that outweighed my fear. Finally. Because I got it. It suddenly all made sense.
So, as my child came out, I came out with him. We told people together, we told people separately. We fielded questions on so many different levels. We lost some family, we lost friends. We gained an entire community.
With every conversation, I began to exhale. I started to settle into this whole journey. I really began my own blossoming.
My skin grew thick, my spine grew strong. I was ready with my sword and my shield, jumping out in front of my happy, now well-adjusted son to rip anyone to shreds that dare to question, or worse, hurt him.
We began the battle, but we had already won the war. My child was happy.
That’s all we ever want for our children. Unbridled happiness. And that’s what I finally saw.
I wasn’t afraid anymore. I’m not afraid. I won’t be afraid. I will still worry as a mom, but I won’t live in fear. There’s a difference.
This kid, and all trans kids- all trans people- are changing the world. The education they have all given me…I can’t even describe my gratitude.
We’re a little over two years in now. My son is almost 11 and still so very happy. He is sure of himself, he’s proud, he’s unapologetic.
He’s exactly who he said he was all of those years ago.
As for me? I am a completely different person than I was all of those years ago. And that has been the greatest gift of this journey.
My son made me a better person, and continues to teach me everyday. I’m listening. I’m all ears. I will never doubt him again. I won’t undermine his internal voice or his self awareness.
Yes. Our stories about parenting trans kids matter.
If just one person reading this is nodding in solidarity while reading my story, if by sharing this I saved one trans child an ounce of pain because I dropped some education onto their parent, it’s worth it.
This journey, these rough seas we are trying to navigate, it can feel big and scary and angry. But it can also be beautiful, calm, and serene. We need to hold onto one another, lift one another up, so we can get to shore. We need to be one another’s life vests.
And we need to know that our kids are depending on us to make the world their safe harbor. They know how to swim in this sea much better than we do. They’re actually surfing these waves already while we’re over here flopping around, trying to find our way.
Jump on that surf board with your kid. They’ll get you to where you need to go.
I’m here, with my transgender son, loud and proud. My story matters because I made a lot of mistakes. And I hope someone learns from them.
This post originally appeared on Vanessa Lee Nic