Did I Know?
My youngest child has recently come out as transgender at age 13. Last week a counselor told me that my child does not fit the standard mold of someone who is transgender. She said, “People who are transgender usually know from the time they’re young. The parents see signs early on. Instead of feeling awkward around girls, I would expect your child to have lots of female friends because he (if transgender) would relate to them better. I’m not seeing any of this with your child.”
When people ask me whether I’ve always known that my child is transgender, my answer is no. After the conversation with the counselor, I thought, “Wait, did I know? How could I not know?” Today, it hit me. Of course I didn’t know!
All of my children, all born male, are sensitive souls, and all of them have been allowed to express their “feminine” side in my home. When my oldest was a youngster, the majority of his friends were female. When he was 3, he confessed that he wanted to be Minnie Mouse. In high school (and even now), he took opportunities to dress up in women’s clothes.
My second oldest often wanted to dress as a girl on Halloween. When he was a pre-teen, I found evidence of him wearing my “hooker boots” around the house. One day, I found my boots in the middle of my bedroom floor. I said, “What were you doing wearing my boots?” “Dishes,” he answered, matter-of-factly. Even now, he loves the way he looks in women’s clothing. He buys and wears them often.
When my third and second youngest child was 3, we went to Disneyland. The souvenir he wanted most was a Jessie doll (the female character in Toy Story 2). We bought it for him and he loved that doll. As he grew older, some of his favorite toys were Littlest Pet Shop, which are generally thought of as girl toys.
I’ve tried to make it okay for my boys to express themselves in whatever way they chose. If they wanted to wear a dress, I gave them a dress to put on. If they wanted a doll, I bought them a doll. If they liked My Little Ponies (which 3 of them do), I bought them Pony toys, and shirts, and books.
My youngest was never a rough and tumble boy. When he was 10, he was watching the other boys run around the gym after a scouting activity. “What are they doing?” he asked. “Just being boys,” I answered. He folded his arms across his chest, shook his head, and said, “I just don’t get it.” Many of his friends have been boys, but they are boys who are more like him; sensitive and gentle souls. Boys some might look at and think, “Yeah, he’s probably homosexual.” He doesn’t hang out with girls much because he’s had crushes on them since the first grade, and that makes being friends with them a little awkward.
He has collected stuffed animals since he was small. He loves to make crafts. Does this make a person homosexual or transgender? No. When he started going through puberty, he used to cry and complain that he hated having a penis. I thought my mildly autistic child who is ultra-sensitive to touch was complaining because he didn’t like the way erections feel and he didn’t like that he was growing hair. Maybe that’s all it was.
But, now he is telling me that he is a she. That he feels uncomfortable in his own skin. That he wants to transition to be whom he feels he was meant to be.
Recently I asked him, “How would you feel if someone told you that it’s okay to feel this way and to express yourself however you want, but you have to stay in a boy’s body for the rest of your life?” He answered, “I’d want to kill myself.”
Of course I didn’t know he was transgender. In our house, his behaviors were the norm. The other boys he idolized (his brothers) were just like him. They liked to dress in girls clothes and play with girl things. I don’t even think my child knew he was transgender himself, because he didn’t even know that transgender is a thing.
So, did I know? No. How could I have known? Did he know? No. To him he was just like his brothers. But now he knows. And now I know. And now we know that he doesn’t know, but she knows. And now we get to figure out how we’re going to help her be who she is in a world that makes doing that very challenging.