This piece is deeply personal.
My inner battle whether to make this public was a bit tormenting.
I felt as though I was treading on thin ice, whether this is telling too much of my child’s story, which is his to tell, and wanting to help other parents who happen to be in my same shoes of raising a transgender child.
Because, what if others hadn’t shared? Where would we be in this journey?
What if, in December of 2017, my son wasn’t able to scroll social media with me only to see Jacob Lemay in my feed? A trans boy exactly his age. That was a pivotal moment for my son. What if his mom didn’t share publicly? Would my son have trusted me enough to share more of his feelings, without seeing one of his peers going through the same exact journey? I don’t think so.
Ultimately, I’m hoping to help others, as others have helped me, because I know I so appreciate those who have told their story.
I want to de-stigmatize, normalize, and hope to help humanize. (And yes, my son has given me permission to write this, absolutely.)
I want kids to stop taking their lives because they feel alone. I want them to know they matter and that they’re loved.
So here it is:
3 years ago, I wrote this about my non-gender conforming child. I went pretty public with it.
When I read it now, I laugh a little at myself, cringe a little, and realize just how ignorant I was. And still am on so many levels. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t do all of the proper research, I didn’t really listen to anyone, not even my own child. I pushed it all away a bit.
I needed my denial.
Because after all, he was “so young” and I just wanted to see where this gender piece would go with “a little more maturity”. That was my thinking because apparently there’s no manuals that come with raising kids, let alone kids who gender bend.
When he was 6, he looked up at me with his big green eyes when I went to tuck him into bed one night and he said, “Mama. I feel like a boy in my heart and in my mind”, my response was, “Aww, that’s totally ok, babe. And we can talk about this when you get older!”. And every question after that when he asked about “becoming a real boy” was met with that same answer: “We will talk about that when you’re a little older”.
I thought I was being so very supportive since I was allowing him to dress how he wanted, choose his own toys, cut his hair off.
Yet, I was so dismissive.
I knew the stats. I knew the high suicide rates of trans youth. I knew the mental health struggles of non-affirmed trans youth. I also supported those parents who affirmed their young trans kids, allowing them to socially transition. But because my child was seemingly happy, well adjusted, and well liked, I didn’t think we fell into this category.
Because I thought I knew better than him. A 6 year old can’t possibly know more about himself than his mother does, right?
Oh how very wrong I was.
So much has changed since my child was 6 years old. We’ve grown so much physically, emotionally.
What I do know now, in this moment of this day, of this month, of this year, is that what was best for my child, who was assigned female at birth, was a social transition.
He has a new name and male pronouns.
And I have a happy, energetic, out-going, self-confident child. Something I didn’t have before.
The reason why I’m writing this is because after we came out on my private social media page, I received so many messages filled with questions. Many of which came from a place of personal experience, because they have a close family member, or even their own child, who is similar to mine.
And they want to know how I knew that transitioning at the age of 8 was the right thing to do.
My answer is this: it was the only thing to do. Because my child was hurting. And it was obvious.
In the fall of 2017, he started self-harming. He was biting himself to the point of giant bruises and bleeding. His answer when I asked him why he was doing this to himself was…”Because I like the pain. It feels good”.
He was withdrawn a bit from friends, especially at school, struggling to fit in, and he wouldn’t talk to me about his emotions, even denying that he was struggling with friends. He didn’t know how to articulate it all. He was full of shame. He was internalizing everything and he was hurting.
I’ve never felt more terrified in my entire life.
I assumed it was the gender component rocking him at his core because it’s been so prevalent in our lives since age 3-4, but if I’m being honest, I was hoping it wasn’t. I was hoping it was the divorce or some innocuous thing that we could tackle. Maybe even hopeful that it was a sensory issue. I was hoping for almost anything else to be behind this.
Because I was scared. I was scared of the label of “transgender”. I was scared because I don’t want his life to be any more difficult than it would as a cisgender (a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) or even as a lesbian.
So, we sought help from a professional. Someone amazing who has experience with the transgender community.
A few months into his sessions, he began to open up, telling her how he feels. And how he feels is that he knows he’s a boy in his heart and in his mind. And he just wanted the inside to match the outside.
So, we played with the new name amongst ourselves, in our home.
And a different child emerged.
One that is so full of life and light.
One that is so full of confidence.
One that will now look us in the eye.
One that has a different shine to his smile.
One that isn’t full of shame.
One that isn’t withdrawn.
One that isn’t self-harming.
He was a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. He needed his wings.
And that’s how I knew.
This is the answer. This is how we fixed his hurt. We lifted the shame and the confusion. We let him be himself.
I’m listening now. And I’m sad I wasn’t listening then. I screwed up, as we all do as parents.
But I’m here with him, I caught up to him, following his lead now, letting him explore every aspect of this new world, his new freedom.
This is how I knew. And it was the easiest decision I ever made.
And I’m not scared anymore. He is changing hearts. He is showing me what it means to be brave.
This was our experience, what led us to where we are, but this certainly isn’t everyone’s. It’s really ok to follow your child’s lead if they’re expressing, consistently and persistently, that they’re a different gender than what they’re assigned. My advice would be to let them explore it. Allow that space. Let them play with a new name and pronouns. It’s really not a big deal to allow this exploration.
You might be beautifully surprised by the discoveries that are made. They know themselves. They truly do.
Let them lead with this, you follow.
If you would like additional resources, or have any questions, please ask me.