Many parents with transgender kids discuss the changes their children are making or are talking about with fear and concern. Fear of the unknown, fear of others, fear for their futures. And one I hear people express most often (and that rolled in my own head the most in the beginning) is “what if this is just a phase?” What if we “allow” this and we (as parents) are WRONG? What if in two, or five, or seven years my son realizes he was a girl all along and he made a mistake? WE made a mistake?
Every single parent I have talked to in a similar situation as mine, has said this at some point.
And I think the bigger question we should be worrying about as parents is… what if it’s NOT a phase.
If this turns out to be a phase later, our kids will have spent years with supportive parents. They will know that no matter what they are loved and accepted and appreciated as themselves and for their strength, courage, and their individuality. They will see that their parents love them unconditionally and without judgement. But if we don’t take our kids sincerely and allow this to play out – wherever it is going – the repercussions of NOT are potentially catastrophic.
No parent ever wants their child to feel badly. It starts as soon as they enter this world. The first cry – we jump. We instantly want to fix whatever the problem is. We spend endless days and nights awake trying to solve the messages the new being we brought into this world is sending us.
The little one that has taken over every inch of extra space we have in our hearts from the second we laid eyes on them. We spend months or years perfecting how to translate their cries, their whines, their grunts. So we can eventually understand, without words, what they need most in the moment.
As kids grow older, our love and protection towards them doesn’t change, but morphs into something more intense. More fierce. We started with worrying about bumps on the head while learning to crawl and falls from the furniture, to fights on the playground, grades, and bullies at school. Our number of worries increases with every year our kids spend on this earth and our reactions become less of an instant need to fix the problem and more of an incessant need to analyze and dissect and understand. We need to comprehend them in their complexity, but my question to you is WHY?
Why in order to love unconditionally and be the parent that jumps instantly to their aid do we necessarily need to understand? Need an explanation? Why do we need proof that this won’t change? As humans aren’t we always changing? Ever evolving?
When it comes to something like gender, some children can’t put into words the exact way they are feeling because it’s beyond their scope of understanding. They just know things aren’t what they seem. They are different, they can tell. They know this. They could express that inside they feel opposite of what their body shows and it could be that they are gender fluid, it could be that they are transgender, it could be a number of things. But why can’t we take it for what it is and just be parents without over-thinking it until we need to? The supportive parents that they need MOST in this moment.
The “why” is obviously our fear. As parents we want to protect them. Make sure that every decision we make and every decision they make will not ultimately be one that haunts us. In my research and understanding of how you react and handle a transgender kid, pushing against what they are expressing, making them take time to prove they are who they say, dissecting everything they say and do, waiting for them to slip up…. the haunting outcome is suicide. Transgender individuals that feel supported by their families have a suicide rate of about 4%. Transgender people who were not supported? That statistic spikes up to almost 50%. That’s almost than half. It’s astonishing and more so, it’s terrifying. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell do not want to take my chances with odds like that. AT. ALL.
When my son came out and expressed to me that he was a boy trapped in a girl’s body, he was 4. And yet, I didn’t question it. (I asked questions, sure, but I didn’t doubt him). I encouraged him to share with me how he felt. I expressed my concerns to everyone but him.
And I let him lead the way which ultimately led us down a road of fully socially transitioning before school started this year. (Which is NOTHING that’s not reversible. It’s his name, his pronouns, his hair, and his wardrobe. That’s it.).
He led us to where we are today, and because of that I feel comfortable that we have made the right decisions along the way. The worst case scenario would be that he realizes he deciphered this message his body was sending him in the wrong way and it was a phase. But my child would know that all along I supported him, I loved him, and I accepted him. I let him do what he needed to do to figure it out and my feelings for and about him never faltered or changed. He was always my child and I was always the same mama bear in his corner.
That’s the worst case scenario. Considering my son is pretty headstrong and consistent about his feelings of being a boy in his brain, I don’t see us winding up somewhere that took us in and out of a phase. I just don’t. And if we don’t find out it’s a phase… then we are left where started. Allowing him to take the time he needed in the way he needed to learn how to live as his true self.
To be himself the way he saw fit. And, again, along the way he knew he was accepted, loved and supported unconditionally.
I would never be able to live with myself if something happened to one of my children. Especially if that something was a terrible event that could have been prevented or drastically reduced by the way I reacted to something important, something they shared with me out of confidence that I could be trusted. I would hate to know my child left this world too young trying to convince me they were someone else. Or worse, they left hiding it from me completely. And for that reason alone, phase or not, I’m going to do what I have to do to support my son 100% while he figures it out.
And so, it doesn’t matter if this is a phase. My reaction and our approach would not have changed. And if you’re a parent that loves unconditionally like me, yours won’t either.
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A first haircut is a milestone for any parent and their child. Most parents will take their kids in for a big to-do snapping endless photos, snipping tiny locks of hair and saving them in a book or a box to remember the day forever. (Even though we all know it just sits in a bin in the basement or attic collecting dust until we move, and then the box is moved to a bigger basement/attic to collect new dust.. but, hey, we care).
Even though there will be a million more to come, and eventually the “magic” of the first or second haircut dwindles and the routine becomes mundane like any other, we celebrate this event for our kids. For my son, right now…. haircuts continue to be a big deal. Maybe bigger than they were before. His “first” haircut was years ago, and it was very uneventful. A tiny trim to conserve his perfect ringlets that seemed to get fuller and more dramatic (and devastatingly beautiful) with age.
But now, we don’t count that hair cut. For him, his very first true and memorable haircut came after he revealed me that he is trans. And it’s a day that will forever be etched in my mind as a turning point for us, for the better. After my son told me how he felt on the inside and that he felt he was living a lie: a boy trapped in a girls body, he wanted badly to change his hair to a boy style. It was a drastic change that had us all very nervous, even just talking about it before the day came caused (me) panic.
I was anxiety ridden, he was scared kids would make fun of him after, and I might have been holding on a little too tight to that tremendous head of hair he had. Honestly, at first I thought he might back out. He seemed unsure once the moment was staring him in the face and I definitely didn’t want to pressure him into anything. Before the first scissor blade almost grazed his hair he turned his head and stopped everyone. He asked for us to be alone to have a chat. He explained to me that he desperately wanted this change. He was dreaming about it for months. He was ready. BUT – he was petrified. He didn’t want the kids at school to “call him names for being a boy now”. A haircut meant that his appearance would match his heart and he couldn’t hide anymore if he felt uncomfortable. He would be exposed.
School was almost out, summer break was close and my son wouldn’t be going to the same school next year. So I tried to urge him to wait a couple weeks. Once summer officially started this whole thing would be a lot less stressful, for all of us. But he didn’t want to wait another day longer. This was happening and it was happening today.
The stylist first put his long, beautiful curls in a pony tail and asked one last time before she started moving her blades through the bound locks. He nodded and… snip. It was GONE. And I anticipated the tears, the instant regret he would have once he realized that this was it. There was no going back now. But instead, my child beamed.
As the stylist continued to even out the long layers my son increasingly got more and more frustrated and my heart dropped because surely this was the remorse setting in and soon he would be crying all over the floor. Yet instead, he said, “it’s not short enough, I still look like a girl.” So my friend (his stylist) kept snipping away, looking at me for reassurance as she slowly cut more and more off until he had a Bieber-esk style cut and was grinning from ear to ear. Once he found words through his smiles and giggles he looked at me and said, “mom, I really look like a boy now, isn’t it GREAT?!?!” He was so incredibly happy and all of my fear, my panic, the tension this day had built up, melted away and all I saw was a very happy little boy who had just experienced one the best days of his life.
I walked in to that appointment scared out of my mind, questioning everything I was doing and feeling so unsure about all of my most recent decisions as a parent who’s child just expressed to them that they might be transgender. This was such a huge moment for him, and for me. Once his hair was short and he was thrilled, it all made sense. I wasn’t doing anything that I couldn’t take back (after all, hair grows back) but to my son, I was “allowing” him to make the changes he needed to feel himself, to feel loved, to feel like his body and his mind finally made sense, and to know that with me, this was all ok. And in the end, that’s all that mattered.
Since then, we have had many haircuts. And every time he wants it just a little shorter than before. And afterwards he still walks around rubbing his head and smiling in disbelief. Like he went to bed a frog and woke up a prince. As if he never thought it was possible to look in the mirror and see someone staring back that matched how he felt inside. But it was possible, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I was the one that stood by and held his hand while that transformation took place. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I will forever remember his first haircut as a defining moment for him, and for me. Maybe more so than I will remember my other kids hair cuts. Because this haircut was one of the experiences that made him who he is.
Of course I held on to those long locks of his from this very official day. Bound together by the very same ponytail and wrapped delicately in a ziplock bag…. sitting in a box… in my attic.
If you haven’t read my previous post… find it here: In The Spirit of Transparenting – Let’s Get This Party Started
This is a two-parter and you have landed on the back end, so rewind, and come back. See you soon. 😉
So, where did we leave off? Ahhh, yes. My 4 year daughter has expressed in some pretty profound ways that she identifies as a boy. Now what? As a parent, I instantly went into panic mode and started learning all I could to help, support, nurture (but not push) my child. People are constantly questioning if we moved too fast, if I may have decoded this message from my child in error. Maybe they just need attention? Maybe they are around too many boys? Aren’t they too young to make such drastic changes to their lives?!?
I’m a person with a Master’s level education who loves research, so my initial reaction was to get on the internet and figure this out. Whilst burying my face in google, and joining every mom group related to this I could find, I ascertained that many kids who present with gender confusion start to “figure this stuff out” around this very age. Whether or not they voice it or know how to articulate it in a way that an adult can decipher, is a different story.
So maybe my situation wasn’t as far fetched as I had first considered. I also discovered how family, especially their immediate family, reacts to and treats the child regarding their requests to start identifying as their true self makes a HUGE impact on their mental health and well-being for years to come. And by HUGE, I mean, it’s a matter of life and death. According to Trans Student Educational Resources, more than half of transgender youth with families that do not support them and accept them attempt suicide at some point in their lives. The statistics on this are astounding.
That was when I made the decision to follow my child’s lead, wherever that may take us, and not look back.
People keep asking me if I’m sure. If she might be too young. If we “allow” this then what if?? What if we are WRONG….
And to those questions I have to say, I’m not sure. At this age I don’t think anyone could or would be 100% certain about anything when it comes to their child. BUT, if we don’t accept this, if we don’t “allow” it and follow their lead to wherever it takes us on this path, the consequences of that are astonishingly terrifying. Scary enough that I’m going to do whatever it takes to show my child that if he is different, if he is not who we thought, if he is trans… it doesn’t matter, not to me. Because no matter who or what my child is, he’s mine, accepted and loved. Every single way I felt about my child before this event, hadn’t changed.
If anything, I had only grown to have far more appreciation for my child. My heart swelled with pride. I was so proud of his bravery, his strength, his courage, and….. quite frankly I gave myself a nice big pat on the bat for raising a child who had such awareness for himself and felt comfortable in coming to me, his mom. I know I sure as hell wouldn’t have had the guts to do that when I was a kid. My mom scared the crap out of me. She still does. But, I digress, that’s a story for another time.
Nothing I’m “allowing” my child to do isn’t reversible. But I feel like it’s important to mention that I am not “allowing” anything! I am simply listening to my child. I feel like I’m chasing a moving train that left the station LONG before I got there and I’m just trying to catch up, catch my breath, and enjoy the ride to our destination. Even if it’s not something I ever thought would happen in my wildest dreams.
As shitty as this might sound, no one WANTS this for their child. Nobody wants to know that the life they are leading is one that will inherently cause more stress, more opportunities to be bullied or disliked or treated differently or unfairly. Nobody asks for their child to be part of a population that is known in history to be misunderstood and discriminated against. Even the most progressive parent is not going to kickoff this process jumping for joy when their child says, “hey mom, I know you guys thought I was a girl… but guess what? I’m really I’m a boy”. Progressive parents don’t spring to attention and say “HELL YES! I am so HAPPY for you! You get to be part of the group of people that the majority of the population is completely confused about! YAYYY!” No. As parents, our first reaction (from almost all parents I’ve talked with in this same situation) is fear. But, when the reality of it is, this is who they are… you just don’t have a choice. It just IS.
I would like to say our process in these short 6 months has been a slow one, and maybe for my child who has been having these thoughts and feelings, it has felt like forever, but from my perspective…. it’s been really fast. Shortly after my child told me his true feelings we got a hair cut, he started refusing any and all of his “girl” clothes and needed an entire new wardrobe. Soon after that my child asked me to start using male pronouns to refer to HIM (him/he/his/son), because, he’s a boy. He walked into school and shortened his name to his first initial. And unlike the “average” little “girl”, when we are out in public and someone recognizes him as a boy, he is elated. It just makes his damn day, and I love every minute of it.
I have no idea what the future holds for this kid. In my research frenzy it sure seems that when a child at this age is this in tune to their gender, chances are they aren’t going back to the gender they were assigned at birth. And for my son, it sure seems like living his true self as a boy has made him a happier, bubblier, less angry, and more social kid overall. He sure seems to me like he’s finally found his place in this world, and for that I am eternally grateful. I’m just so thankful that my child had the insight to do it and the confidence and bravery to come to me before it was too late.
I’ll be sure to update along the way, but until then…. be the mom you want to be. Even if it means you have to advocate for your kid. Even if it means that you might be the villain to others, but to your child, you’re a hero.