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?
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: