What if your son didn’t want to be a boy any more? What if your daughter didn’t want to be a girl any more? And they meant it! How would it affect your family?
Some of the parent reactions I hear about are:
- OMG, just don’t tell your father.
- Everyone feels uncomfortable in their bodies sometimes. It will pass.
- Why can’t you just be a normal gay guy / lesbian?
- You always were a tomboy anyway.
- Are you going to be one of those drag queens?
- Why are you doing this to me?
- What did I do wrong?
- What will I tell people?
- I don’t mind what clothes you wear.
- The right girl / guy will change your mind.
Then, there are parent actions, such as:
- relocating the family to get away from “bad influences”
- asking a pastor to meet with the child and tell them they are sinful and need to “right” themselves
- enrolling their kids in “gender appropriate” activities such as rugby or ringette
- making strict new rules about clothing and haircuts
- insisting that they dress, look and act a certain way around specific people
- refusing to call the child by their preferred name
- not welcoming their child’s friends or dates to their home
If you are cringing and thinking, “Poor kid!” then you are the exception…all of these actions and reactions are typical when hearing about or dealing with a transgender child.
Two pix of my child Link taken the same month (age 2):
I consider myself open-minded, and I always tried to follow my child’s lead in terms of gender. Link was born a girl and my goal was to raise a strong, smart, competent daughter. My approach was to offer a wide variety of activities, toys, clothes, foods, role models and so on, and see what “stuck.” As I mentioned in my last post, I was girly as a child, but always had access to boy toys and activities. I just didn’t always choose them. Link always loved clothes and jewellery, books and learning, crafts, art and baking – and still does! She had no interest in baby dolls, never having seen me look after a baby. Her more neutral preferences were swimming, playing flute and violin, computers, video games, building toys, science and math. She never liked aggressive play or team sports, although maybe I exerted too much influence there. Everyone thought she would follow in her father’s footsteps and become an engineer. So all the time she was growing up, everyone thought she just had one of those “engineer’s brains” and wasn’t interested in trifling matters such as dances and dating. I had no sense whatsoever that Link wanted to be boy, or disliked being a girl.
In reality, she was dating girls from age 12, and developing a big network of LGBTQ friends. I imagined I would have a lesbian feminist daughter, and that was fine by me.
By 15, however, I started to see some changes. Some of them seemed natural to me – interests narrowed and deepened, friends came and went. I could see that Link didn’t have a “girl power” attitude or feel a great solidarity with women. I just took that as Link identifying more with geek culture! It became almost impossible for her to relate to any girls at school, who almost seemed like an alien species to her: Cheerleading! Going to the mall! Straightening your hair! I assumed she would not relate to boys her age either, but she did end up making friends with a number of boys who were into robotics, retro video games, indie music and animé.
Throughout high school, Link’s saviours were the school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), the local LGBTQ support/social club, and various animé groups and events.
When Link came out as genderqueer, I didn’t give it much thought, other than training myself to use her new gender-neutral nickname! Otherwise, she didn’t ask for any changes. Unknown to me, however, Link started to use male pronouns with new friends, and to try out a male identity. Since moving away from home, Link has a whole new network of friends, all of whom identify him as male. Yet Link has never asked that I do this, and says he doesn’t care. I wonder if he is trying to spare my feelings, or perhaps wait until a time comes when there are physical changes.
Right now I think a change is imminent. Link hardly wants to go out in public any more unless he can present himself as male. Not an easy feat in Link’s body. Clothing and haircuts simply won’t do it. I expect that hormones and/or surgery will be pursued.
I had a hard time with that at first. Both of those options are irreversible, and Link is barely 20. If they are deemed necessary, they are hard to get and expensive: doctors try to talk people out of them, just as parents do. Unless you are incapacitated by your gender identity, and always knew you were “born in the wrong body,” medical professionals don’t take you seriously. I can see why Link wants to continue living in a big city far from home – it will be easier to make the right connections in the medical community. Not to mention the presence of a larger queer community.
I expect that someday, I will be met at the airport by a young man with a deepening voice, more muscle mass…and, I hope, more happiness. In the meanwhile, I have been reserving time and money in the event I’m ever asked to nurse my child back to wellness after major surgery. That terrifies me, but I try to think past my own feelings to the positive outcome it’s in service of.
I think I am ready for my kid to choose his own body.