I am the mother of an amazing son, Luke. When Luke was eight-and-a-half years old, he came out to us as transgender. Luke was assigned female at birth. We had always thought of him as a tomboy. He did not do the typical girl things; he liked to climb, play in the dirt, and be rough with the neighborhood boys. He always wanted to dress in traditionally boy costumes on Halloween, and even preferred boy’s underwear. When he was in third grade, we took him to get a haircut for school pictures. On the way to the salon, he asked if he could cut his hair any way that he wanted. He had beautiful, long hair. He had asked many times throughout his life if he could cut it short, but we loved his hair so much. After some trepidation, we caved and told him that he could cut it any way that he wanted. He opted for a mostly shaved head. Over the next few days, he started asking for other things he wanted, like boy clothes and to get rid of all the girly decor in his room. We found out from a neighbor that he had started asking his friends to call him Luke. The name change was a struggle for us, because when Luke was born we had given him a gender-neutral name that we loved. We tried to convince him to keep his name the same, but he was pretty insistent about changing it. We came to realize that his old name was tied to his old identity. He was not comfortable with it, because he associated it with being a girl. When we asked Luke about the changes he was making, he informed us that he never felt like he was in the right body; that his mind and body did not match. He didn’t feel right about being a girl. He told us that he had known since he was 3 or 4.
I decided to educate myself on what it was to be transgender. I read many books and talked to many other moms. The week after he came out, we met with a child psychologist. I felt it was important for Luke to get support and for us to get some guidance. After several visits, the psychologist confirmed what we already knew, that Luke’s brain functioned just like any boy his age. His imaginary play and the way he answered questions was just as any eight-and-a-half-year-old boy. The question I was most asked in the beginning was, “what if it’s just a phase?” to which I say, if it is just a phase, then at the end of it he will remember that we loved him no matter what. We learned that it’s not just a phase. The difference between a phase and being transgender is that kids who are transgender are consistent, persistent, and sometimes insistent. Their desire to transition doesn’t fade. Transgender people are not just trying out a fad. After about a month of many talks, teacher conferences, and cleaning out old items I started a grieving process. I grieved in private for the daughter that I felt like I lost. I grieved for the dreams and hopes that society had helped me form around gender. I was still reading all the books that I had bought to educate myself when I realized that I wasn’t grieving a person; I was grieving an idea. I was fortunate to have my child living and enjoying life. I started focusing on hopes and dreams that were not tied to gender. For example, instead of picturing Luke in a pretty, white wedding dress, I pictured my child happy and loved by another person. When I removed gender from the stereotype my grieving had come to an end. What I want for my child is to be happy, loved, and fulfilled—and none of those things require gender. I would rather my child be happy and have peace of mind rather than want to die. I would rather they be in my life forever than to resent me later in life and cut me out for their own sanity and wellbeing. Luke is now eleven years old and is a thriving, confident kid. We have learned a lot about ourselves over the years. We had his name changed legally last year to make school a little easier.
Advice I would give parents is to love unconditionally. Educate yourself. If your child tells you a term that you don’t understand then research it. Be open to the idea that you don’t know everything. Listen to them and be empathetic. Be patient with yourself. It takes effort to get use to change. Be patient with your child. They are trying to figure out who they are, and there may be times when they experiment with different things to find out. Allow yourself to grieve if you need to, but don’t get stuck there. Your child is still here and still needs you. The transgender community has the highest rate of depression and suicide, and as that person’s parent you hold the cure. The cure is love. Supportive, empathetic, unconditional love. Studies have shown that kids who feel supported and accepted have a much lower rate of depression and suicide. The younger a person transitions, the happier they are in life. You hold the key to helping your child survive.
Advice I would give transgender kids is to be patient. You have known that you were transgender for a lot longer than we have. You are excited and anxious to spread your wings. A week of finally getting what you’ve been waiting for might not seem that fast to you, but for those around you who just found out it will seem quick. Be patient. Be forgiving. Don’t get caught up on the people that can’t accept you for who you are. Respectfully correct when someone misgenders you or uses your dead name. It is ok to correct them. For some, you may be correcting them for years, but this is also how you educate them. We have seen with our extended family that although it is difficult for them, they eventually and gradually adjust. There may be times when you encounter an unsafe environment. Get out! Reach out! Seek help from friends, family, and other people you know are safe. You do not have to live, work, or play in an environment that is not safe. It is ok to ask for help. Asking for help when you need it can sometimes be difficult, but it shows great strength. Know that you have value. Those close to you may struggle at times to show you that you are loved. You ARE loved! My family loves you, and there are so many other families that love you. We See You. Do Not Give Up Hope.