When my son socially transitioned so many things changed. His appearance, his pronouns, his past. After a playdate where he was exposed in a raw, unexpected way, he didn’t want friends to come over and see pictures of him “dressed like a girl” again.
So he asked me to take down all of our old photos. Years of memories, family events, holidays, birthdays and school concerts. Any proof of our past that included him were essentially erased from our home. At his request. And as much as it pained me, I’ve said from the beginning I wanted nothing more than to be supportive, accepting, and to show him that even if I make mistakes along the way I will always LOVE and respect him no matter what.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss having the memories hung on the wall. The cute photos I had of him as a toddler (albeit in a dress). But, I also understand that for him those photos can be hurtful.
They can be reminders of a life lived as someone else.
Someone who didn’t make him feel as his true self. And because of that, I had to stuff the old photos away in a box and not look back.
When I first started sharing our story I was contacted by a photographer. One who graciously offers to take new photos of families when their children have transitioned to give them a replacement to all of their old family memories hanging on the wall. She does this as a way to show support to the trans community, support to the individuals, and support to the families.
One thing I wouldn’t have thought of in the beginning was to schedule sessions with photographers to replace all of our framed possessions, but I didn’t have to think about this one. Someone is out there doing that part for us, and she’s amazing.
We made the day special. I let him bring any extra outfits of his choice, and he chose a mustache. (Of course he did!) She took care to make sure to get some extra special shots of him, and him alone. As well as countless family and sibling photos to replace the precious memories I had hanging on the walls of our home.
She knew this day was important to us and spent time to make sure the final product was just perfect. A worthy replacement. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Being a single mom, I don’t often spring for family photos. Any pictures of my family happen to be spin-off of a larger family event. Weddings, parties, something (honestly) not on my dime, because I simply can’t afford luxuries like professional photography.
Many of my “family portraits” were taken with a timer while I was desperately trying to scurry my way into the frame before it was too late. And even then, it takes far too long (and too many) to get one good shot that I can consider even shareable, better yet frame worthy.
I met an entire community of people when my son came out as trans to me. One that welcomed me with open arms and showed me support when I needed it most. They became and extention of my family and I share some of our biggest hurdles, and biggest wins with them. Our first “family photo” included.
If you have a child that transitioned, I HIGHLY recommend taking the time, spending the money, putting forth the effort to replace the old photos you can no longer gush over.
It’s well worth it and I couldn’t be more appreciative to have been able to do this for my incredible son. They turned out perfect and so did he, in every way.
Find Our Astounding Photographer On Facebook Here: Painted Leaf Photography
(I was not paid for this endorsement, this is not a sponsored post. I think what this photographer is doing is amazing and abundantly supportive of the trans community and I wanted to share our experience as a family, but in no way was asked to)
If you’re looking for more trans youth related stories of mine please check these out:
You probably know someone who is trans, and you may not even know it. Trans people don’t walk around with a sign on their foreheads, they don’t announce it to the world every chance they can get. Hell… some of them do not WANT you to know.
Some live their lives open, willing to answer questions and to educate others because they want people to understand that they ARE. JUST. PEOPLE. Others live stealth, as in, secret. So they aren’t under fire, aren’t questioned, don’t have to explain themselves and can live “safely” (as safe as they can get in a world like ours). Under their clothes they may be someone else, but how would you know? You wouldn’t. Because it’s simply none of your damn business.
You probably know someone who is trans. Maybe she does your hair or nails, maybe she served your dinner at your favorite restaurant last week, maybe he was your barista when you grabbed this morning’s coffee and threw an extra dollar in the tip jar because he was so friendly. Maybe he’s your child’s teacher, or your brother’s boss. Maybe she’s the one who let you slide into the front of the line at the grocery store because you only had one item. A breath of fresh, trans, air.
You probably know someone who is trans, but they haven’t told you yet, or maybe haven’t told anyone because this world we live in is a scary one. And they aren’t sure they are ready to face it, to put themselves out there. To be seen and have to explain because their genitalia has never been a subject of conversation. If someone is living as the gender assigned to them at birth, it would be considered highly inappropriate. But if they were to come out, be open, suddenly that taboo genitalia conversation would be open for discussion. Suddenly, that tasteless and unacceptable topic is no longer inappropriate but almost expected. Apparently, it’s fair game to talk about someone’s penis (or lack their of) if they have expressed they don’t appreciate it. Don’t identify with it.
You probably know someone who is trans. You might love them dearly. They might be your child, your grandson, your sibling, your niece or nephew. They might be the neighbor kid down the street who has played with your children for years and always been a bit “quirky”. You might know them, but they don’t know yet, or they haven’t figured out what these weird feelings and thoughts they are experiencing mean. Not yet. But they will. And when that happens, what then? Will they then no longer be a “person” in your eyes?
Or… maybe it’s you. Maybe you are the one experiencing the dysphoria, the pain, the misunderstanding of why your body and your mind don’t seem to match up. And you don’t know how or where to start, maybe you won’t ever. Or maybe you’re scared.
You probably know someone who is trans but instead of embracing it, opening your mind and allowing your neighbor, friend, niece, or child to live as their TRUE self, you’ve decided to demonize this. Make it ugly, scary, and obscene. Because if it becomes something so disturbing, then maybe you can disassociate this person you love from this “problem” they are having. And maybe the “problem” will go away. But it won’t.
You probably know someone who is trans that you don’t know is in pain. Is suffering every day to be accepted. Whether it be at home, with family, at school, at work, or just on the street. Someone who is struggling to get through the day because their dysphoria is so strong it’s debilitating and it’s causing them so much distress that they have considered ending it all, giving up. Because the idea of going on this way is just too much.
You probably know someone who is trans that is hoping that when you do find out, you’ll look at them as a person as you always did. One who was considerate, loving, respectful, caring, and REAL. Someone who brought you a smile, who made you laugh, you showed you affection and empathy, gave you hope.
You probably know someone who is trans but what you don’t know is that person is the bravest, strongest, most fearless person you’ll probably ever meet. That person has more self-awareness and more compassion BECAUSE of who they are and not despite it. That person would fight just as hard for you or I in our struggles because they know what it is like to be misunderstood, unaccepted, and discriminated against, and yet…. they persisted.
The someone you know who is trans is hoping that when the day comes you will step up, show your support, express your love, and be understanding. Be accepting. Show them that despite who they are, it’s just a part of them and doesn’t define them. They are still a human being. A person who deserves respect, love, and rights just like you and I.
You probably know someone who is trans. What are you going to do about it?
When I brought children into this world, I promised myself, as a parent that I would be their biggest champion in life.
I vowed to be the shoulder to cry, the hand to feed, the kisser of boo-boos, the teller of stories, and the one they could rely on. Always. No matter what.
When my son was only 4 he revealed to me that he is trans. He confided in me that he was living life as a girl, because that’s what he was told he was, but inside…. inside he was someone else. He felt different, he felt wrong. Like his brain and his body didn’t match up but he couldn’t put his finger on it, exactly. At least not until he started communicating all of this to me and we sought help, found professionals and had more and more conversations. It became abundantly clear to me rather fast that my (then) daughter was, in actuality, my trans son.
And he needed my acceptance and support more than anything else.
Learning this “secret” of his didn’t change my role as a parent or an advocate, if anything it magnified it exponentially because now I was the one holding his hand while he navigated where to go from here. Helping him decide on big decisions like hair cuts, a name, pronouns, and who and how to tell his secret to.
Being young, he was off and running once he expressed his true self to me and understood that my love for him didn’t change. He was telling people, confident, and open.
I, on the other hand, was scared.
I was worried about other’s reactions, how I was going to explain this and how I would defend him, because I knew it was inevitable that I would be doing more defending than anything.
I was worried about what kind of parent I was going to look like, despite knowing that the kind of parent I was is exactly who I wanted to be all along.
As things progressed in their natural way for him, I found it harder and harder to find support for myself. I turned to complete strangers to share openly with and they welcomed me with open arms. They became my solace, a group of like-minded parents with similar kids who all just wanted the same thing, to love, support, accept their kids and shield them as much as humanly possible from the terrors of the world.
It was great to have this network to turn to, but it was also very lonely and isolating that the only way I found “my people” was in a cyber world. A world of supporters that didn’t exist in real life.
In real life, things were much different.
I can count on one hand how many close family and friends I can turn to and OPENLY discuss my son. Using the correct language and pronouns, using his chosen name, and talking as if life is absolutely normal, as it should be.
And then… there is the rest of my “support”. My family that I love more than anything in the world, but with whom I have to tread carefully. I have to consider the words I use very carefully.
I have three children. And I can speak freely about two of them. But one of them, the one that happens to be trans, I have to be very cautious and tread carefully with my words, with my expressions, with my stories. I can’t over share or I offend. I can’t leave him out or it’s obvious. If I address the issue head on it becomes an argument. More defending. More explaining. And very little understanding. Even less acceptance.
It’s become the very large elephant in the room. And it’s an awkward room to live in.
It’s very lonely living as an ally to your trans child. Sometimes you feel like you’re speaking to a brick wall, you’re loaded with an arsenal of research and statistics, knowledge and education and you’re ready, willing, and able to share it with whoever will listen because all you want is for your child to be understood. To be accepted and to be treated and SEEN equally among your others, as the person he is, the person he presents as to everyone else in this world.
You want to be able to go to family functions and not get the side-eye or have people bombard you with their opinions on your life, your child, your decisions because as outsiders, they seem to have all of the answers to your very intimate and personal dilemmas.
Being an ally to a young trans child means being the one who has to have the tough conversations. It also means sometimes being the one who has to decide whether or not to sever relationships.
When you’re your child’s ally, his PARENT, you just want people to start coming around to your side of the fence so you can stop toeing the line and start living life to its fullest, like you’re urging your children to do every moment of every day.
Like you promised yourself you would, until it meant you might lose family if you weren’t careful. So you toe. You tread lightly. And you hope that one day they will come around so you can have your relationships back, your life back, and your family back. In a new, better, more authentic way and without censors and boundaries that went up necessarily but not permanently. At least you hope not.
As an ally, you want to be understood, but you also want people to comprehend WHY you are taking the actions and making the tough decisions you are because of the importance to YOU that your child receives a message of unconditional love. Of immense support. Of nothing other than a message from the champion you promised yourself you would be to your children before you knew what kind of champion or advocate they were going to need.
As an ally of a trans kid, and a member of a family you now feel like you’re on the outer skirts of, you get lonely and you wonder if things will ever get better, but you hear stories from your “friends” in your cyber space and you see it IS possible. They’ve done it. And you can too. You will, eventually. At least that’s what you tell yourself.
Until then, you thrive off of watching your child flourish and grow into their true self and seeing them become more and more the person they were meant to be helps the sun burst through some of the gloomiest of days.
Being an ally means being the one I always wanted to be for my child. The one they could rely on and depend on without question. The person that would be their rock and walk down any rough path right beside them.
Being an ally to my son means the world to me. I just sometimes wish others would see how much love, compassion, and understanding it takes not to deal with him…. he’s easy. But to deal (or not deal) with everyone else.
If this piece resonated with you here are a few others I’ve written about my experiences with parenting a young trans child. Good luck to you, moms and dads. You’re doing great <3
I hear a lot about my trans son that he’s too young to know about gender. Maybe if he were older, it would make sense. But at this age, he just can’t understand these things.
But isn’t that precisely the reason WHY it seems so obvious that a child would know about this if only they were experiencing it first hand?
I consider myself a pretty progressive person and even I was taken back by my son’s exclamations of being a boy on the inside. It shook me to the core. I was fearful of his future, scared I had no idea what to do in this situation and it gave me just another worry about how I could fuck my kids up unintentionally just because there is no handbook for this parenting thing.
My son was never exposed to anyone that is trans on any level he would be aware of. Gender identity is not something we openly discussed in our home until it became something he was wrestling with.
I think this contributed to my son’s confusion in the beginning because for him, he was feeling very different and couldn’t quite figure out why.
The words he used to explain how he was feeling to me included “mom, did you know in your heart that you’re a girl? Because in my heart…. I feel like a BOY”. And, “mom can God make mistakes? Because I think God made me a girl and he was WRONG.”
He used to ask me questions before expressing he is trans that applied to textbook gender stereotypes. I would be painting my nails and he would come up to me and ask, “hey mom, can boys paint their nails too?” And at the time I never really considered any of these questions could have a deeper meaning.
I always just assumed it was general curiosity about the differences between boys and girls. I would just remind him that boys can do girl things and girls can do boy things. You don’t have to act or be a certain way because you are a girl.
Looking back, these situations speak even more to the fact that his feelings are VERY real. Because if he was hearing me at all, the message was always that you don’t have to be a boy to do BOY things. Yet, he still felt the urge to change himself. To BE someone else.
Research shows that during development children start to become aware of gender around 18 months to 2 years. This means they recognize that boys and girls are different. Physically they look different.
According to this research supported article in The Conversation,
In infancy, children will start to show a preference for gender specific toys. “Trucks are for boys” “Dolls are for girls”.
By the age of three kids will point out gender stereotypes and verbalize them. They can also associate with their own gender.
And by 4 most kids have a sense of and are comfortable with THEIR gender.
So at the age of 5, a child should most definitely be able to comfortably identify as either a boy or a girl (according to research). But what if they don’t?
What if your child is questioning their gender?
If a child is not sure, not comfortable they may express their gender confusion in different ways. Some kids experience gender dysphoria which is flagged by distress. They feel locked in a body that doesn’t belong to them.
This happens markedly during puberty, but can happen anytime, really, kids will show serious upset about their bodies or their expression of gender. To a point where it is causing serious mental or physical anguish (or both).
But some kids aren’t greatly distressed at all. Those kids are just ready to be someone else. And considering the science behind it, why, as parents, should we wait for our kids to get to a dangerous pubescent age where the potential for them to experience gender dysphoria increases significantly?
If we can save our kids from any discomfort, hurt, or harm… isn’t that our ultimate goal as parents?
Consider the changes being made at a young age for a child. Really, it is just words. Making some adjustments to our language to make sure we appropriately refer to our child as their preferred gender and possibly a name change. But other than that, as parents of very young trans kids, that’s about all. And that’s about all for a number of years.
The hope would be, at that point, we would have given ourselves and our children time to live as their true selves, and time to be sure. To let them experience life as the person they feel like on the inside matching the outside and have an opportunity to decide if there is more they would like to do about this, later… years later.
Basically, according to the pros at the Human Rights Campaign, we are allowing my child to be who he needs in this moment and in the meantime, we are looking for signs. Signs this is forever before we make any major decisions regarding his body and mind.
He needs to be consistent, persistent, and insistent. If he waivers, if he questions, if he goes back and forth between the two…. that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s NOT trans, but it could mean he’s non-binary or gender fluid, or… he got it wrong.
My son has shown me nothing but consistency and insistence since he’s expressed his true feelings to me that he be referred to, recognized as, and treated like he was born a boy.
If he faltered, I might have concerns. But even then, I don’t think that allowing him to live the way he wants to live (as a boy rather than the girl he was born as) is DAMAGING. If anything, the message being sent is that he is loved, he is accepted, and he’s allowed to be whoever he feels he truly is on the inside. He doesn’t need permission to be HIMSELF.
So do I think 5 is too young for a child to understand their gender? The short answer is, I don’t know. At this age and with my kids with ALL.THINGS. in general, I can’t say I’m 100% certain of anything. Ever.
But, as someone who is raising a transgender child but never questioned my own gender, I say no. The professionals say, no. If someone asks me how he could possible know and understand any of this at his age, I typically respond with “at what age did you realize that you were a girl (or a boy)?” And most people don’t have an answer for that because the truth is, they have NEVER questioned their gender. It always just was.
In some ways, I think my child is far more aware of himself than I am at the age of 34. And for that, I feel proud to have raised an assertive, self-aware, and confident little dude. Wouldn’t any parent be proud of that?
If this article resonated with you here are a few others of my experiences raising a young trans child that you may want to check out:
When your child comes out and starts to socially transition changes start manifesting whether you’re trying or not, right before your very eyes. Some of these changes cause stress, tears, and heartache. Others bring joy, satisfaction, and overwhelming pride. Whether you know it or not at the time, each of the steps you take along the way become little mile markers in your trip down the road to where you are leading, wherever that may be.
Every little event culminates to the big picture that creates this new person, and leaves behind the child you knew before. Some of the steps down the path are ones that you don’t realize were BIG moments until they have already passed. And some are so monumental that the anxiety and preparation to the event almost makes you ill until it’s finally over and you can breathe a sigh of relief. Whether big or small, each of these “firsts” are just as important as the last because they are what come together to make up the person your child is desperately trying to become.
In our first year (that hasn’t even come to a close yet) after my son came to me expressing that he is transgender, many things have happened that have all become benchmarks along the way. Everything we did and continue to do since him coming out becomes a fresh “first” of things I get to experience with my child. Some for the second (or third or hundredth) time but in a new light and a completely new development to mark as a milestone on his transgender journey. Even though each of these “firsts” brought on excitement and anticipation or dilemmas, tears, and “what if’s” they each have brought my child to a place that’s creating a safe, accepting, and supportive environment.
His First Haircut: This was our inaugural “first” we repeated. Something he had done before a few times, but never this way, and never with the outcome of a new appearance altogether. I wrote about this day specifically because it became a rite of passage for my child. A haircut meant he would look in the mirror and see the person he felt like on the inside looking back at him for the first time.
Our First “Boy” Shopping Experience: We’d been shopping many, many times before. But the first time we went shopping and I allowed him to pick out shoes and clothes in the boy’s section was a definite first to remember. It was him finally experiencing a trip to the store in the way he wanted, not me picking out a bunch of shirts with glitter and bows that he reluctantly accepted, but never truly wanted. It was excitement for a new collared shirt, not sorrow while I forced him to put a dress on and parade around the dressing room while I told him how “pretty” he was… while he longingly glanced over at the racks of clothing on the other side of the store wishing he was dressed in suits and ties.
His First Day Of School: Not the summer day when months of break were coming to an end where your child holds up a sign wearing a big smile on the way out the door, prepared to take on the new year and a new grade. This was a day in May, when summer break was actually around the corner, and he had been in school for eight months. But this day, was his first coming in with a new, shortened name, a new haircut, as a new person. Declaring to the world that he had finally told on himself and he was ready for everyone else to know his true self too. Expressing to the entire student body and staff that would listen that he was someone new now, and they should recognize him as such.
His First Birthday Party: It was actually his 5th birthday, but this was a different kind of party than he had seen before. One where he didn’t have a Disney Princess on his cake and instead picked Star Wars and had a “boy” theme. Full of friends instead of just family and light saber weapons made of pool noodles and finally opening a pile of gifts that wasn’t made up of baby dolls and barbies.
His First Real Friend: Someone who understood him as he changed before his friend’s eyes, and his friend didn’t blink an eye. Someone who knew my child before and after and didn’t seem to mind. This was someone he could be honest with, be himself without a filter. His friend gave my kid the confidence to keep sharing his true self with others he knew. He’d had many friends before, but this friend showed him that being him was ok. And that meant the world to my child. I hope to one day express to this friend of his how much his actions and thoughtfulness as a kindergartner changed someone’s life for the better.
The First Time A Stranger Recognized Him As A Boy: Most kids would take a little (or a lot) of offense to someone recognizing as the incorrect gender. Not my son, and not in his path of transitioning. For him, this was a HUGE exciting moment. When he first cut his hair and changed his clothes he wanted nothing more than for everyone to accept him. It wasn’t until we went somewhere in public and someone referred to my child as a little boy did he feel he had successfully achieved his goal of being a boy. It was instant validity. He beamed and it was obvious that at this moment he was finally presenting as the person he was meant to be. Inside and out.
The first time I introduced him as my “son”. This was a big occasion and a turning point for us both.But one that I wouldn’t have considered as such in the moment. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the importance of this small incident. I remember someone asking about the child standing next to me, holding my hand. And I wrestled with how to answer such a simple question. “Is this your son?” If he had been born my son, this would have been a no-brainer, but since he wasn’t and this was all still so new to me, I was stumped for a hot second. But then, I nodded and agreed. Of course. No explanation needed. And once I finally spoke and said “yes, he sure is” my child breathed a sigh of relief and revealed the biggest smile. The strangers recognizing him as a boy on the street validated him physically, but my words to the person who specifically asked about him to me, that did so much more. That sent a magnificent message of love, acceptance, and profound emotional approval that, had I answered differently, would have been catastrophic.
I am sure we have a number of “firsts” we haven’t even encountered yet. And when we do they will be all new and all memories that we think of fondly. A new name, legally, perhaps. Or changing a gender marker, officially. We aren’t there yet, and maybe we never will be. Or maybe we will. But regardless, each of these “firsts” we’ve experienced have brought more joy and hope and acceptance to my child about himself and each and every one of them has significantly made his life more fulfilling and helped transform him not only into the boy he desperately wants to be, but a child with confidence, with acceptance and understanding, and with pride.