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: