In my last two posts about my genderqueer and transgender “child,” Link (age 21) I focused on the transitions they were going through and what all the gender terminology means. I didn’t say much about my own reactions other than that I was trying to be supportive.
This time I want to tell you more about what it’s been like for me as a parent. Usually I downplay that angle because Link’s gender is part of Link’s story and isn’t mine. Especially now that Link is an adult, I don’t want to co-opt their life. But when your child changes gender, it changes your parenting irrevocably!
I started as the single parent of one child, who was/is smart and strong-willed. And presumably a girl. I rarely focused on that. I had done my homework on child development and in true intellectual fashion, had filled the house with educational toys, music and books. We had cars and footballs and dolls and tea sets. There was daycare and school and playing outdoors and visiting relatives. We did a lot of LEGO and art. Two books had influenced me greatly: Anti-Bias Curriculum by Louise Derman-Sparks (1989, an early childhood education teaching tool) and Feminist Parenting by Dena Taylor (1994).
So did I have an agenda? Yes. I didn’t want my child to feel restricted by negative gender stereotypes such as: girls are helpless, girls should be seen and not heard, or “act like a lady” versus “boys will be boys.” My goals as a parent were to raise a future adult who would be independent, resourceful and competent. Like most parents, I undoubtedly pushed my kid toward interests in my own comfort zone: swimming and skating versus soccer and hockey; reading and music lessons versus TV and Super Soakers. But I did push myself, trying to keep up with Link’s interests such as attending anime conventions together – in costume!
When Link first came out as a lesbian at age 12, I didn’t feel any need to be educated about it. I felt slightly different as the parent of an LGBTQ kid, but not much. I thought, OK, you are attracted to who you are attracted to; you love who you love. I was surprised and pleased that Link was confident enough to accompany a female date to the junior high year-end formal dances. So I thought, OK, that’s her path now. We went to Pride Parades!
I did worry about bullying. Link had friends in other grades and classes, and they stuck together in the school library because the cafeteria was downright dangerous. Link wasn’t close to kids in her own class. I went along as a chaperone on a school trip and my eyes were opened as to how different Link really was from her classmates. Being used to Link, those “conforming” kids seemed alien to me!
I mentioned Link’s sexual orientation to close friends and colleagues if it came up in conversation (“So, has she discovered boys yet?”) but relatives never asked. I knew that it was never OK to out someone, so I didn’t tell any close relatives: it was up to Link to decide who to tell and when. That eventually took place by age 16. The general consensus from my older relatives was that it was a phase or she was “just confused.” Questioning was accepted; affirming – not so much.
Link had been looking forward to senior high school (grades 10-12) because the school had a Gay-Straight Alliance club. I thought the insistent, low-level bullying and mean-spiritedness would end at that age. It did – it turned into ostracism. The GSA was good, but not sufficient. Link was miserable. It seemed there was no LGBTQ culture to move into. To be honest, I think it was made worse by the presence of two much-loved “fabulous” gay boys in the GSA. Link was the only lesbian at school, and did not feel fabulous. I educated myself more at that point. I hadn’t been very aware of the anti-female bias in the LGBTQ community. I read about how 70s feminists distanced themselves from lesbians, as did gay men. Lesbians were supposed to be polite ladies and stay home with their cats (or dogs), I gathered. Or just get married and live quiet little lives. I am sure Link figured out this bias long before I did.
During this time, I was trying to help Link figure out an academic path, and work on their art and sewing. I thought that by focusing on goals and life after high school, Link would see through to the other side. It didn’t work. You have to live your life, not skip it. I arranged for counselling for Link – which did help, especially with practical matters, like getting through grade 11. Visits to the family doctor were useless. No physical cause was ever found for those endless stomach aches, and Link refused medical care for depression and anxiety, trying to handle it solo. Things finally started coming together when Link realized they were genderqueer and gave up the labels of girl and woman. Link went through different incarnations of looking androgynous or masculine.
Meanwhile, there was a local organization that ran activities and support groups for trans youth, and they were a lifesaver. Link got back into anime and cosplay, and attended many events. So a new social life was created outside of school, and I facilitated that with endless drives across town, shopping trips for fabric and notions, and Parent/Kid chats.
The school environment never improved, but Link graduated with honours, despite having missed 1/3 of the final year’s classes. Link looked fabulous at prom with their top hat and tails. I couldn’t have been prouder when Link went off to fashion school, a welcoming environment if there ever was one.
I think I was smug in sending my “successful” genderqueer kid off to college, convinced that the peer pressure of high school was over and everything would be fine now. I was off the hook for those big decisions like hormones and surgery – Link was an adult and could decide! After Link started mentioning those options, I definitely did my research. I ran the gamut of emotions. I could understand Link’s desire for top surgery because they were so impassioned about it – it obviously had deep personal meaning. But I was really scared of the hormones. I had thought Link wanted to look androgynous, not male, and testosterone is not just about looks: it affects your health and longevity, your voice and skin and emotions.
Link was now alone in a new city and had no local support to make all these decisions. They were overwhelmed by the demands of classes, living on their own, and navigating gender. Link left school after one semester, but stayed in Toronto and started to form a tight-knit community of friends, all of whom identify as genderqueer and/or FTM (female to male) transgender.
Link and I were so close, surely we’d talk every day on the phone, right? Nope, Link was terrified I’d consider them a failure for leaving school, and not launching correctly after coming from a supportive home. Sometimes it would be 3 weeks between phone calls, sometimes 6.
That is when I knew for sure that Link was on a different trajectory. This genderqueer and transgender stuff wasn’t a problem that could be solved with name changes and surgeries – it was going to be a lengthy process, and it was going to disrupt Link’s life considerably. I could support through encouragement, but not direct their actions. Things would have to happen in Link’s own time frame – not only when they felt ready to take another step (doctor’s appointments, prescriptions) but when they felt like telling me, too. Maybe I’d know before stuff happened, maybe after.
I grew up real fast after that 🙂 This empty nest stuff was not going to be a piece of cake. The kid who left home isn’t the same one who shows us around Toronto in the summers and comes home for Christmas – they have their own life, with Matters of Great Import to resolve.
Link is still making decisions after two years in Toronto, and still struggling, personally and financially and gender-wise. I have learned that Link still values contact with home and at times even asks for advice 😉 Whenever we’re together, we lapse back into our comfortable old ways, and it feels fine. Like a proper parent of a new adult, I hold my tongue most of the time, and however much I am inclined to judge, I know I need to judge 90% less. I am proud of new things: Link’s new solo apartment obtained without mom to co-sign and Link’s crazy-cool sewing skills; but also Link’s progress each time they make a medical appointment or get an ID changed. Not what I was expecting at all!
You know how bittersweet it is when your “baby” goes off to school, or how bad you feel when your kid doesn’t get the part or doesn’t make the team? I feel like that a lot. It was hard to leave my girl behind. I loved that kid. We were best friends. We looked alike and had the same mannerisms and exactly the same voice. And now we are two. In some ways, Link is so very separate from me because of all they have experienced. I never imagined my kid would have to deal with so much isolation and loss. But every day I marvel at their courage in being true to their own vision. If it’s exciting and scary for me – twice so for Link. I can’t look back at Link’s childhood to see who they are going to be – I have to look ahead. I am fascinated by the person they are becoming. Link is the same person they always were – and also a completely new creation. Most days I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “How cool is that?!”
This post is for everyone out there who’s ever done a parenting about-face because of who their child really is.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading!
This post (all 3 parts) is beautifully written. Link’s lucky to have you as a parent!
Thanks, Maria. I am the lucky one. I would not want any other kid than the Luffy Link!
Powerful words. I don’t know I could be so, and I am struggling for the right words as I don’t mean about the transgender thing but just about being a parent and letting my child go thing, evolved and patient.
Must have so hard to see your child suffer from bullying and ostracism!
Yes, it was awful, and there were always undertones of “If Link just tried to fit in” or “If you had only made an effort to help Link fit in” (then we wouldn’t have had the problem).
Thank you for sharing. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to parent, but you have enjoyed some of the most challenging components being related with (misunderstood) minority.
Thanks, Sarah. I should say that we also had loads of good times – most of it, in fact!
I’m glad it seems on the balance to be more good times! Thank you for sharing…
Wow, I really don’t know what to say other than well done for supporting your baby. It’s strange as my two male gay friends don’t like lesbians, I can’t figure out why.
Such a heart felt post x
Thanks, Julee. If you Google “Why don’t gay men like lesbians,” it is an eye opener.
What a powerful post, I can’t imagine how long it took you to put it all together, to relive all those experiences (and emotions) in your mind as you put it down in words.
‘Good on ya for being there for Link’.
Thanks, Cathy. As with any “empty nester” parent, it gets easier with time. After two years apart, I am getting more functional, LOL! and it is easier to think and talk about it.
How wonderful Link has you as a mother, mentor and friend. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Thanks, Holly. It’s great how your kids teach you how to be for them!
Can I just say that I love you. Seriously. Your posts about Link just give me so much faith in humanity to be kind and empathetic. Thank you for all you have done, are doing, and will do for Link. As a mama of boys, I’m trying to navigate how to raise them with acceptance and the understanding that their parents will support whoever they choose to be. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me such a great model 🙂
Megyn, I am undeserving – I can just hide out when things get tough, but Link always has to be out there “fighting.” I do like being able to gently educate those who haven’t met a “queer” or trans person before (or perhaps not knowingly). It is good to feel I can add to the sum total of acceptance out there!
Well lived–in spite of, maybe even because of confronting,–the hiccups. And to be able and willing to put it out there is a gift to us all. Thanks.
Yeah, it is the living of it that’s the lesson. And I would agree about the “because of.” Looking back, I can’t imagine Link choosing a different path; they are who they are. I am still always surprised when I talk about Link being trans or genderqueer and people say, “What does that mean?” because it’s been part of our home culture for so long.
Indeed, that’s such an honestly heartfelt post and at the same time so enlightening! You have to know that sharing your transparent has really sensitized me to LGBTQ . You are both so lucky to have each other! A big THANK you to both! Love
That makes me feel good, Alice!
This is my favourite post on your site. And it even left me in tears.
Maybe if you write a book one day, it will be about this (with Link?)
In some ways it feels like losing a child and gaining another. It got easier to accept when I realized that much of the “old” Link was based on lack of self-knowledge and sometimes outright deception, not to mention hurt. So it is right that the new Link emerge and they are my child now. It took me a while to adjust to being the parent and friend of a new person. But later I almost felt like I recast our story and that person had always been there!
I have read two books lately about parenting and gender. I think the best books are First Voice, written by trans and genderqueer people themselves. I would be afraid to write something that sounded like “Poor me, look at what I’ve been through as a parent” or “Hey me, what a great job I did.” Really the kids’ own stories are more telling. That being said, I am not finding the parenting info on the subject very good. So you never know. The growing trend is trans children who identify themselves at a very young age and cry out for medical and social decisions and support while still far under the age of majority. Now those parents need support!
Wow. This was illuminating. It was both sad and beautiful. I am definitely a non judgemental type and more than that, I actively embrace the differences that we have been given. I wish more people could embrace differences as beautiful and that you and Link didn’t have to go through the bullying. That is not fair and I am sorry for you. At 21, no matter who you are, you are going to go through changes and your brains is still developing. Link has a beautiful future and your parenting skills have provided that future, as well as Link too!
I think most people, but especially younger ones, are afraid of differences. Maybe it stems from a fear of awkward moments or poor communication or lack of experience or whether it will make you less cool to have a friend who is different. If you have a choice of continuing with your same comfortable friends, or making a new one who challenges your views, most people will choose what keeps them in their comfort zone. For some people, it wears off and they become more open-minded, while others’ views get really entrenched: you just can’t tell! Which is why I love books like the Anti-Bias Curriculum: it is basically anti-oppression training you can use with young children (anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-ableism).
Dar, this is a beautiful post honouring your lovely, bright and brave young person. I am sure as a parent it has been very difficult for you, just because we fear so much for our kids, and want them to be happy. I know from parenting my own teenagers how tempting it is to encourage them to ‘fit in’, because we feel it would be easier for them. How hard it is to be different in our homogenous culture. Different is scary, but truly, finding out who you are, and having your family embrace that uniqueness, is an extraordinary gift. All the best to both of you in your journeys.
Thanks, Jo. Link has never wanted to fit in, and it’s been a hard road. It’s easy to provide a supportive environment at home, but eventually they go out into the world – gulp! However, I try not to underestimate all the good times we’ve had, and still have!
Thank you for sharing Dar.
As many have said this is a beautifully written post. It’s hard enough as a parent to step back and let children find their own way, but to know your child is suffering…..I don’t have the words. You’re a great parent. to a great kid.
Laura, I try to keep things in perspective. Supporting your kid’s gender expression is not as great a parenting challenge as, for example, serious behaviour problems, or significant disabilities. Eventually Link will get their body more in line with how they feel.In the long run, I am more concerned about the usual parent hang-ups of education and jobs!
I hope that Link reads your words–if not now, someday.
Ha ha, Link pointedly does not read my blog! We’ll see.
Thanks for sharing. I’ve spoken to a few people about their personal experience as a transgender in the past. It’s an eye-opener from a parent’s perspective. You’re a good mother for helping him on his journey. I’ve heard of many parents being less than accepting.
I can relate to Link’s experience of bullying, ostracism and loneliness. It’s awful. Not fitting in and no one understanding. Or even seemingly to care. He’s pretty brave to have gone through that and coming through that darkness as a smart and independent individual.
Thanks, AP. I admire Link for having withstood it all and for working out their own methods of dealing with it, to whatever extent possible. I’m sorry for your experience.
This is a great story. Thanks for sharing. It comes down to loving your child and providing support for them in the right measures at the right time. I have shared before how my heart yearned for this young lesbian who I overheard telling another person that her mother disowned her and won’t even speak to her.
Oh, it is so sad that it still happens. I find gender and sexuality so unthreatening; sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what the fuss is about. But I can’t be placid because activism and advocacy are much needed.
I really love these posts… *THIS* is parenting to me… love without boundaries. Love no matter what, or who your children are. You inspire me to become a better mother! xo
Hi Carla, One thing I often think about is: many people believe that when a child expresses differences in gender, that it is really a psychological problem or a behaviour problem, and the parent(s) should guide the child out of it, or get professional help to eradicate it. As you can tell, I disagree. I think that if parents really know and trust their kids, they will know when to guide and when to support. I still got to be the parent but it was more of a team approach (with Link co-directing!)
I am so glad the trans/intersex community is finding a voice. Hopefully acceptance will soon follow.
Being a parent makes me feel so vulnerable. I know not all parents feel that way, but it makes me feel like a defenceless part of me is walking around in the world. And there are no rules on what is best, it all depends on the child and parent.
In any case, it is apparent both you and Link traversed societal challenges in a graceful and courageous manner and Link has become a resilient person as a result.
In my opinion, if you manage to help your child become resilient then you’ve cleared the most important hurdle.
I have photos of my children dressed up as Link and Saria. The music from Ocarina of Time makes me very wistful. 🙂
I feel the same way about the vulnerability. As a parent, you know you have the strength to weather personal crises, but seeing your child face them before they are ready (if ever) is tough. On the other hand, parenting has made me tougher too – because kids never defer to you as you’d like, and they know your weaknesses far too well!
I feel nostalgic about several anime and video game themes!
I found myself agreeing along with you, I know totally where you have come from and I’m on the journey myself, it’s one I never envisioned but one that has taught me so much more, wishing you all the best , stay strong and just keep the communication open.
Thanks for stopping by, Claire. I hope all is going well for you.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences as a parent of a genderqueer kid. As a genderqueer person myself, it’s a struggle to help my parents understand what I’m going through. I’m dealing not only with my own discovery of who I am and how to navigate the world, but also trying to facilitate my parent’s process of coming to terms with who I am while staying true to myself while honoring the relationship I have with them and the love they have for me. Resources for genderqueer people are few and far between, and resources for the parents of genderqueer people even more-so.
Hi Levi, Thanks for commenting. I will be doing an update soon. A lot has changed in our family. Despite the obstacles (mostly society and the medical system), it has been such a rewarding journey for us. I have a lot more to say. I believe that genderqueer, gender creative and other gender expressions are a lot harder for relatives and others to understand than the binary born-in-the-wrong body story. I like your use of the words “navigate” and “facilitate.” You sound very wise 🙂
Pingback: Link’s Story (Trans Parent series continued) | An Exacting Life