It’s transgender awareness week. For most Americans, it’s a time to shake their heads and wonder what in the world is wrong with people. They probably believe that being transgender is just a way for individuals to seek out attention. They may feel that it’s just the cultural atmosphere where everyone seems to want to say they are transgender, or bi, or gay just to be part of the “in crowd”. After all, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone portraying an “out of the norm” sexual preference, so of course the young adults and teens are going to want to “try it”. They see families on social media shouting out support for the transgender community. The “We See You”, “You Matter”, “You are Loved” messages, and they wonder how a family could support individuals who are clearly not in their right minds.
But as a mom of a transgender individual, I see it differently. I didn’t go into motherhood with the belief that I was going to raise a transgender child. I didn’t go into this thinking that I would be a crusader for the rights of individuals to be who they truly believe themselves to be. I didn’t go into this so that my extended family could scoff and talk negatively behind my back about my child and my views on parenting. In fact, I went into this kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to have a child who was transgender, and I did everything in my power to change her perception of herself. Looking back I’m ashamed of myself, but at the time, I thought I was doing the right thing.
You see, I went to Ukraine specifically to adopt a little boy. I chose this child for our family. I knew exactly how he would fit in. He would be my rough and tough son who would love sports and video games. He would be the protector over his older sister and would be a shining role model in his life. He would grow up and marry a beautiful kind-hearted woman and give me tons of grand-babies. I had his life completely planned out.
Imagine my surprise when around the age of 3 or 4 he began to show more feminine behaviors and preferences. My little boy only wanted to wear his sister’s clothes – especially dresses. He would wrap his hair in towels and pretend that he had long flowing hair. He would only want Bratz dolls and Barbies for Christmas and would get physically upset if we tried to substitute for GI Joe dolls or the male Barbies. We tried everything to change his preferences and behaviors over the years. We took him to therapy, we brought in male mentors, we tried to restrict access to girly items, we tried our hardest to change him.
I remember one year a few of my kids were playing the Xbox. Of course, my transgender child wanted to be the girl in the game. I remember one of my sons screaming, “No matter what you do, you’ll never be a girl.” And my other screaming back, “But I can still try!” That was pivotal. That’s when I realized we were being bullies. We were trying our hardest to change him at his very core, and no matter how much we wanted him to be the ideal little boy – he was NEVER going to embrace that role. This wasn’t a fad or attention seeking or lack of parental involvement. He was a female in his mind and nothing we tried was going to change that. Even understanding this, we still made him wait until he was 18 years old to make any gender transition changes, after all this was a life-changing, adult decision.
Let me tell you, it was a hard transition. I went from spending 18 years using male pronouns to having to constantly remember to use female ones. She decided that she wanted to change her name to a more feminine name, so everyone in the family had to intentionally make an effort to call her by her preferred name. Once we began to do those two simple things, her entire behavior began to change. She was no longer the moody, depressed teen who avoided everyone. Our non-acceptance of her true self cause major issues in her trust of us and I’ll admit our relationship suffered because of it. But again I will say this, we thought we were doing the right thing. We didn’t know any better, but we still caused her pain and emotional suffering.
I took her to her first transgender clinic appointments. I sat with her as she explained how she knew she was a female on the inside and felt trapped in the wrong body. I listened to the doctors and therapist give her advice, take her vitals, explain the hormone drugs they would provide. As I sat there, I saw the excitement on my daughter’s face that finally, she was going to look on the outside the way she already saw on the inside. And I was okay…truly okay with allowing her to be herself and to support her along the journey.
It took a while for the medications to do their job, but ever so slowly, her body began to change. She developed more curves and her hair seemed to grow even more quickly. Her hormones were all over the place in the beginning, but she stuck with it because the end result was worth the effort. She was finally who she saw herself being all along.
It’s been four years since my daughter’s transition and if you saw her on the street, you would never believe that she was ever considered to be a male. Her mannerism, her appearance, her everything is feminine. She is amazing at playing video games. She loves sports, but is limited in what she can play by society’s standards. She is a defender for her siblings, and is working on becoming a good role model. This journey is one that I never would have chosen for myself, but I will say that I couldn’t imagine not having my daughter in my life. Looking back, I realize I should have embraced her for who she was as a child, but at least I can say that I understand and embrace her fully now.