I will never know what it’s like to be transgender.
I’m cisgender. Meaning, I am connected to the gender that the doctor assigned to me at birth, simply by looking at my body.
That word, cisgender, wasn’t even in my vocabulary 4 years ago. I was able to learn about the word, and now I’m passing it onto you.
That’s how education works, after all. But so many people seem to have a hard time absorbing knowledge about the trans community.
I knew I was a girl from a young age. As early as I can remember.
How did I know?
Well, yes, sure, I enjoyed things that our society labels as female- dresses, dolls, the color pink, but more so, I never had a misalignment between body and mind. I felt comfortable in my skin, with my name, being called “she”, being treated as a “girl” growing up, in the ways we are accustomed to. It was just an inherently known fact to me, that I was a girl, from a young age.
My transgender son knew he was a boy in a similar manner. It was inherent to him from a young age, because gender is a concept that science has proven that we grasp from about age 4.
Everything I’ve learned so far about being transgender is largely based on my son’s experience, what he tells me, what he chooses to share with me, and what I’m able to learn from other trans people, and other parents of trans kids, who are gracious enough to educate me through different mediums.
People often ask me, “How did your child know that he was transgender at such a young age?!”, which usually is delivered with an undertone that I somehow influenced him, or encouraged him, to become trans. Impossible, since I didn’t even know what being trans truly meant and impossible because you cannot make someone trans.
The thing is, my son didn’t have the language for how he was feeling when he was really young. He came out at age 8…because we sought guidance from a professional that helped give him the language he needed.
It baffles me when people can’t understand this, or deny that being trans is “real”. Or when some say there’s some “trans trend”, or the “we didn’t have transgender people when I was growing up!”.
It baffles me because we’ve all had something in our lives that we went through that we needed assistance to gain the knowledge and understanding about, so we knew how to make our suffering better, or cure it altogether.
Yes, my son was suffering by age 7.
He was suffocated by the rigid rules of “you’re a girl because you have a vagina and that’s that”. He was uncomfortable in his skin. He was sad, shy, and hurting, because he was so misunderstood and unheard, even by me. Societal norms are a hell of a mute button and the more I forced gender norms on him, the quieter he was, (which seems to be why many trans folks don’t come out until later in life, just soaked in that shame, lacking the language).
My son just internalized the shame. And did as he was told. As kids tend to do.
Because I didn’t get it.
I wasn’t helping him find his solution to his pain. My ignorance was stifling him.
I don’t blame myself, necessarily, because we. just tend to trudge through parenting blindly, We mostly try to do what folks view as “normal”, or raise our kids similar to how we were raised, and we don’t take off our blinders until we have to. The path of least resistance, mostly. We just want normalcy and privilege and easiness for our kids.
So many of us as parents dismiss our children’s cries for help, call it “a phase”, or “growing pains”, mostly because their struggles look different from what our experiences were, since they are, indeed, different humans. We inadvertently cause so much pain in this way.
Haven’t we all been there, though? Can’t we empathize with this feeling on some level? Can’t we reflect to a point in our lives when we were being misunderstood, dismissed, or minimized?
For me, my unheard, misunderstood piece of my being is my good friend, anxiety.
When I was 7, I started having major panic attacks, social anxiety, and separation anxiety. Only, there wasn’t a name for any of those things in 1983, especially for kids. Literally no one discussed anxiety openly, at least not in my world. My parents had no idea what was wrong with me.
There was no solid language surrounding what I was experiencing.
I felt ashamed. I felt abnormal. I felt like I was the weird kid. I felt like an outcast, even though I had friends. I had this giant secret of the internal suffering that I was experiencing. I felt like the only one with this type of suffering. I felt like no one would understand if I tried to explain it, so I didn’t.
I just dealt with it.
It was crippling and scary at times, but I just kept going through life. I just accepted that this was the way my life had to be. It felt harder than it should be, but when I was told that I just had “stomach issues” or that I was just “a bit of a nervous kid”, I assumed this was just my life.
Much like my son thought before he came out. He was told he had to carry the label of being a girl, so he did. That was just how it had to be for him since the adults in his life told him so.
I didn’t have a name for anxiety until I was in my early 20’s, after I was honest with myself about how I was feeling. I sought some help of a professional and she gave me language:
“You are living with generalized anxiety”.
“But, headaches? Fatigue? Upset stomach? That’s not anxiety”, I remember saying.
“Yes. All anxiety. And so many people have anxiety. We will figure out how you can best manage it”, she said.
And the sense of relief I had was insurmountable. Just to have a sense of what I was feeling was…normal…and ok…and common. It all made more sense to me, all of my symptoms, what my body was reacting to.
It was a starting point of tackling how to make this better.
Much like my son when he was given the language to explain how he was feeling.
For my son, to hear the language, and to have someone, a professional, who validated him, was what he needed to make sense out of how he was feeling. For my son, a name and pronoun change was his magic. He’s happy, he’s thriving, he’s well-adjusted, living a normal kid life, much happier than he was before he came out, living his best life.
And that’s how he knew he was transgender. And that’s how I then learned what this all meant for him.
It was a process of learning, like most things that aren’t widely discussed or understood. Just like I learned about my anxiety.
When I tell people that I live with anxiety, and that sometimes I have to take medication to control it, no one tells me that it’s not real. No one tells me that there’s no such thing as anxiety.
So why do people say these things to trans people? Why are their feelings invalidated constantly?
It’s important to acknowledge here that I am not comparing being transgender to having a mental illness. The parallel only exists in the “I don’t know exactly how I’m feeling and I want to make it better”, of both scenarios.
For me, anxiety is something I live with, some bad wiring, something I manage.
For my son, being trans is a piece of who he is. In both situations, it just required a little bit of knowledge about how we deviate from the “norm”. There’s nothing wrong with us, nothing needing to be fixed. Just things about us that needed to be acknowledged so we knew what to do to be a better version of ourselves.
When we evolve enough to openly speak about topics that seem obscure or rare or different, we give others empowerment to own our feelings, to validate ourselves. When we are able to define our feelings and give language to them, we then have this tremendous gift of being able to pass on knowledge, come together in solidarity.
The more we give this gift of language to others about things we don’t understand, the more awareness we’re building. The more awareness, the more we normalize things that generally carry stigmas, the more we lift one another up.
This is how this all works.
Let’s continue to give the gift of passing on definitions and education and language for our trans community. Our entire lives are based off of education and learning and raising awareness. We can do this for our trans loved ones.
It’s up to us, allies, to share the language we’ve learned with others who are uninformed. The onus isn’t on the trans community to educate. It’s on us.
We know knowledge is power.
It was a gift to learn the language I needed to understand my transgender son.
I’m passing the gift onto you.
Pass it on.