My Trans Parent Story, Part 1

Photo: Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe

Photo: Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe

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):

Tea Party

At the Lake

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.

A fine young man

One of Link's recent cosplays

One of Link’s recent cosplays

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.

Author Nick Krieger

Related posts:

Parenting a Girl, a Boy…or a Child?

How to Talk to Boys and Girls – and Their Parents

Parenting a Gay or Transgender Child

40 comments

  1. Mel

    Link reminds me of Zachary in that recent photo! A fine young man indeed! Sorry we missed this past birthday.

  2. Sonia

    I’ve always been in awe of how open & “matter of fact” you were when Link was dating girls at 12-13 (I can’t believe it’s been that long since I last saw you!). My brother-in-law is transgendered (female to male), and is currently trying to save money to undergo surgery. While he has had a much longer period of time to make his decisions, I completely understand the trepidation of making such radical and irrevocable changes.

    • Thanks, Sonia, in retrospect, the early teen years were the easy part. And I come from a family “almost” as traditional as yours! I would be interested to know if your family member and your brother-in-law have gone through this process together and if they will stay married?

      • Sonia

        It’s my husband’s sibling, and he’s not married at the moment, but seems to be in a healthy relationship. My husband struggles with the idea that his “sister” is no more and that he now has a brother, *really* struggles with the idea and rarely speaks of the topic 😦 My BIL has never attended anything my husband and I have hosted (for reasons other then his sexual identity) but I have to admit that it would be very difficult, and very very awkward, for my super traditional family to understand and be open hearted &* minded to him. It’s almost a blessing that I’ve been able to save him from their prejudices and bigoted ideas

      • I can relate to this, Sonia. I’m sure we have many hard times ahead in that respect 😦

  3. You are an amazing mother… what a better world this would be if everyone were as accepting & loving as you! Thanks for your honestly and openess with this… I enjoy reading about Link and wish him much happiness in life as we ALL deserve!!!

  4. Wanting to be a different gender is one of those things I have a hard time trying to fathom, and I can certainly understand your fear of a child going through such a major and irreversible surgery. At the same time I think people have a right to be who they are meant to be. I think I heard somewhere that there’s a doctor in Trinidad, Colorado who specializes in gender reassignment surgery, but I can’t recall the name.

    It sorta blows my mind how much society has changed in this regard since the time we were kids. Even coming out as gay was a HUGE deal then (not that it isn’t still) and there were no such things as support groups for gay or transgendered kids. Link is so, so very lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive mother.

    • Thanks, Cat. While I am not looking for approval, per se, it would be nice if other “trans parents” out there could find each other. Interestingly, the PFLAG group in our area has folded – I think that being the parent of a “lesbian or gay” is mainstream now!

  5. Fiona

    That is so beautifully written. What a story of courage on both your parts…and what a big journey to go on as a parent. It sounds like there are more big steps to come on that journey. It must be so hard to watch on as your child grapples with such huge decisions. An amazing story…sending best wishes to you both.

    • You are very kind. I do look at it as a journey. There will be no day when we both wake up in the morning and say “It’s done.” But that is true of most things in life!

  6. I would like to think I could roll with it like you have if my child came to me with the same wish. I know I would worry about the difficult road ahead. Our family has several gay members, but transgender would be anew experience. Best wishes to Link.

  7. I was looking forward to this part of your story, and can tell you I am not at all shocked that you have accepted Link’s choices as you have. I had many gay friends when I was younger, but it was all kept quiet (only known to closest friends they could trust) until after high school out of fear. It was funny reading about LInk’s choices in friends, as so many people could have made the jump to thinking I was having a gender crisis. I hated anything girly, worked on cars, raced them, loved machinery etc. I had very few female friends as I found them gossipy and backstabbing. I never got into the drama that seemed to take over the females during the teen years.

    I wish Link all the luck should he decide to chose reassignment surgery. I can’t imagine being 20 and knowing I would have to wait to begin my life until I had the proper body to fit the image I had of myself.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I admire you and think that your postings on this topic will help many others.

    • Thanks, Juhli, this is a topic that I like to raise awareness of. There are lots of accepting people out there. I look forward to a time when more of us can speak up for and with trans and gender variant people.

  9. Here are a couple of links from a show that Jeff Probst did on transgendered people. It was probably one of the best shows Ive seen on the topic since it wasn’t set up to bash these people or make them look like freaks. I cant imagine how difficult it would be to be born in the wrong body, know it is the wrong body, but live in a world where people think something is wrong with you for feeling that way. Best to luck to Link to come through this process whole and happy!
    http://shine.yahoo.com/video/inspired-transgender-teen-062100349.html and http://www.jeffprobst.com/posts/episode/2275_The_Husband_Who_Is_Now_a_Woman/postair.html

    • Thanks, April! I loved the first clip. I couldn’t access the second one, but I found another interview with them online. I believe that stories like these are nowhere near as uncommon as we think. Families can be amazingly loving and adaptable.

  10. What an interesting and well written post – I wish you and Link a happy future and that he will find the right people to help him in his journey. Being a whole person combines so much – our mind, our body, our character and appearance and each part has to feel right and comfortable and fit together. I struggled a lot as a teenager and it took me years to find and be my true self and that was without any gender change so I can’t help but admire Link with all the difficulties and challenges he will be facing everyday. Your continued love and support will undoubtedly make the whole process easier for him.

  11. Wow, this is very personal, anexacting.
    As parents, I think we all have that moment when we realize that our children are not turning out to be who we had imagined they would. The first moment our babies are placed in our arms, we begin that journey of hopes for what our child will become. It’s difficult to give up that dream.

    Some parents really fight it, and continue to try and “steer” their kids (even when grown) towards what they had hoped their child would become. Other parents realize that what their kids need most from them is their love. I don’t think its easy. In the end, you have to do what will be in the best interest of your child, and lay to rest any ideas of molding another person into who you had imagined they would become.

    • Hi Lili, as a parent I wanted to set the stage for a good adult life for Link, knowing that the direction it was taken in, wouldn’t be up to me. The direction was a little further afield than I would have guessed, but as with any child, it’s exciting to see the person they are becoming. Maybe even more so in my case because it hasn’t been gradual or obvious, but rather dramatic!

  12. Pingback: Friday Faves, April 19th | Living Simply Free

  13. If only every child had such a loving supportive mother, so much unhappiness could be prevented not trying to mould children into something they are not. I think you are a very wise woman, this can’t have been easy for either of you and I wish Link lots of good luck with whatever he decides for the future.

  14. Link is very lucky to have this loving support. I really wish I could get my father to understand he did nothing wrong; this is just how I appeared in the world. He’s loving and shows it, but he hasn’t quite gotten to where you are in the acceptance process.

    … and Nick Krieger is a really good writer (and a super nice guy).

    • Thanks; nothing irreversible has actually happened yet (in terms of surgery or hormones) so I’m sure some strange feelings will resurface (on my part) but I am mentally prepared! I loved the Nina book; I assume Nick’s next book will be yoga-related?

      • Yeah, I’m sure you’ll have to keep revisiting some of the feelings and processes with each new stage–but, that you’re thinking about it and conscious of it says volumes. I know Nick does a lot of writing about yoga and traveling. I’d like to see him combine both into a longer work.

  15. I wanted to like this article but the WordPress button never works. I’m always surprised at people’s resistance to trans people. I just refer to people the way they refer to themselves. No need for confusion.

  16. Pingback: My Trans Parent Story, Part 2 | An Exacting Life

  17. Greetings from Toronto. I found my way here from Garrett’s blog (I think we’re both fb friends with him too).

    Anyway, I just wanted to say this post really touched my heart and I have tears in my eyes as I type these words. My tears have nothing to do with LGBT or Q, and everything to do with parenting. I’m in a sensitive phase in my life right now wherein I’m looking at my past/family life, figuring out what I didn’t get/what I shoulda gotten/needed to get as a child, so I can give the missing pieces to myself now and keep growing and blossoming into who I am spiritually, emotionally and mentally (at age 36 I’m coming to realize this is a lifelong process). So reading about healthy parenting touches my heart extra deeply these days. I liked how you described your parenting plan 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.” This may sound pretty basic to a lot of people, but it’s really not because it takes a lot of presence and patience, all of which can make or break a child and the identity s/he is forming.

    Link is lucky to have such a cool mom. He’s young and has lots of time to grow into his identity (though at age 20 I sure didn’t want to hear how much time I had in life to do this or that lol). Either way, I wish him much luck, patience, wisdom and safety as he keeps figuring things out, and am happy for him to have such good family support which will undoubtedly make life’s difficult journeys, a little bit easier. I’m off to read part 2!

    Sincerely,
    Natasha

    • Thanks, Natasha. Just over 2 years ago, Link was the only “out” queer person at their high school, but now I’m sure there are more. One thing I’m proud of is that because Link interacts with a lot of younger teens through anime & sci-fi cons, they’ve been acting as a bit of a role model, mentor and activist. I am still shocked on a daily basis by how gendered kids’ play, clothing, and “treatment” by adults is, and how language about “girl power” seems to substitute for real equality. I would like to feel the times are changing?

      • Wow, how brave of Link to be the first out queer person in high school. Pioneer! And definitely pride-worthy at Link’s mentoring & activism with younger teens, how great and mutually beneficial.

        It is interesting how gendered the colonist culture is, especially when compared to indigenous, tribal cultures like the Anishinaabe, who differentiate the world into animate or inanimate objects. What an easier life it would be to interact in such a paradigm.

        I think the more things change, the more they stay the same, though sometimes I think the sex & gender stuff has regressed and has become even more rigid than “back in the day”, although maybe it’s the same, just different costumes and language. It starts from birth with words like “handsome, strong little buddy” talking to baby boys, and “sweet little princess” to little girls. Such loaded words with very particular messages that kids internalize in their own way to try to organize to make sense, which has got to be so hard in the extremist and imbalanced euro-colonist culture. Most “girl power” stuff I’ve seen is a far cry from anything empowering. All so confusing and stifling for kids, especially sensitive, thoughtful ones….

      • I feel strongly about how adults talk with and about kids. I’ve written a couple of posts about it:
        Parenting a Girl, a Boy…or a Child
        http://P25oSj-aN
        How to Talk to Boys and Girls – and Their Parents
        http://P25oSj-aU
        I was always happy to find books that helped me along in my journey like Feminist Parenting, edited by Dena Taylor (1994, out of print).
        I always welcome conversation on this!

  18. Pingback: Link’s Story (Trans Parent series continued) | An Exacting Life

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