From the day I took that first positive pregnancy test I vowed to be a loving, caring, nurturing parent. I was overwhelmed, of course, but in the midst of that emotional chaos, there were so many promises I made myself. I promised myself that no matter what the future held for us, it would be filled with patience, kindness and understanding.
I promised my baby that they would grow to experience unconditional love and acceptance. That I would be an affectionate mama and a good role model. When my second child came along, the same promises flooded back to me at the hospital while I held my darling baby girl. I could see myself in her face. She was the embodiment of everything I ever wanted. A sibling for my oldest, a girl to finish off our family. The perfect ending.
(Little did I know that less than a year later I would be blessed with another surprise girl. One who completed us.)
For years I thought my family was made up of one boy and two girls. One girl who was very much into princesses and dolls, babies and glitter. And one girl who liked blue and trucks, karate and superheroes.
One night, when my middle child was four, I was laying in my bed with her listening to her ramble on about the day, discussing various events. And suddenly she stopped and crept up very close to my ear to whisper that she had a secret.
She confided in me that she is "a girl and a boy." At first, I thought she was just being silly. I knew, of course, that she preferred "boy" things. She spent more time trying to play in rocket ships and fit in with her brother than she did playing with dolls these days. She never let me brush her hair and if I got her into anything remotely "pretty" it was with a lot of bribery, and usually just as many tears.
It wasn't until she elaborated that I started to think this might be something more. She continued to explain that she felt like God had made a mistake. That her parts were not right.
She should have a different name like Brent or Jake because those names are for boys and her name is very "girl." She continued on with her reasoning and examples of her feelings.
I made sure to express to my daughter that whoever she was, she was loved. Whether she felt like a girl or a boy, that didn't matter—not to me. What mattered was that she was happy and comfortable in her own body and soul.
As I left her in bed that night and went to turn out the light, she said one more thing that I'll never forget. She asked me if in my heart I feel like a girl because in her heart she felt like a boy.
The conversation left my heart in my throat. As a mom, what do you do when your child confides in you with something so heavy, so profound? My initial reaction was—wait it out, see what comes of it. But the next day when my daughter woke up, she came into my room to give me a big hug. She then, timidly, reminded me of our conversation the night before. As if this was something she had been planning for a long time, and felt relieved to admit. And that's when I knew, this was more than a fleeting thought in a late-night chat.
The experts say the benchmarks of a transgender child are consistency, insistency, persistence. If a child expresses feelings of being trans but waivers and changes their mind day to day, that's not to say your child is NOT trans, but consistency is key.
So what did we do? We validated. We accepted. She asked for a shortened version of her birth name and so that is what we started using consistently. Within a few weeks, she asked us to change to male pronouns because, "You should be calling me 'he.' I'm a boy." And so, we did.
We agreed to take him for a short haircut. We flooded his closets with boy options to choose from. He still had his old clothes, but new ones as well.
And once my son was given more tangible and attainable options to live as his true self, that was when my daughter started to become my son.
I started learning to change my language—the way I referred to him, and the way I introduced him to new (and re-introduced him to old) people. I had to explain to his siblings what was going on and how we are a family, so that means we support each other even if we don't quite understand.
We referred to my child as he/him/his from that point on with a few mistakes along the way, but always followed by an apology and explanation that we were trying very hard. It has been HARD to change our language when we've been so used to certain words we've been using for years. Especially nicknames.
I had a thing of always referring to my two youngest as "the girls" and that was something I had to make a real conscious effort to break. It took time, but after months of consistency on our part, it's become second nature and now calling him "she" would feel very awkward.
I read and researched and called professionals and researched some more. It was as if I was pregnant with my first child all over again trying to learn how to raise a child, except I had children and had been a mom for many years, but this was so new, so unexpected and I was SO scared.
I feared for his future, for his life after reading about the scary statistics that trans kids who don't have support from their families have a 40% higher suicide rate.
Once I realized how serious the outcome could be if I didn't accept, support and follow my son's lead, I was strikingly convinced. There was no question in my mind that I would much rather have a transgender child, than one who took his own life later because of something I could control, something I could help with.
As parents, we always question if what we are doing is the "right thing." We are worried we are screwing our kids up every second of every day. Every decision we make—no matter how small—comes with a future analyzation of how we could have, should have done things differently. A situation like this that comes with such a stigma and so much judgment. I'm finding that it somehow grants even strangers permission to jump in to give their unsolicited opinion on my life and how I should raise my children. Giving me even more reason to question my decisions.
People often ask me why I'm "allowing" this. As if this was something I could choose NOT to permit. When it comes to your child understanding and identifying with their gender, it has already happened. It's not a matter of allowing them to be trans, but more a matter of whether or not you are going to choose, as a parent, to let them be who they already are.
For me, this wasn't a question. My child already had more insight into his identity than I had in 34 years of life, who was I to take that awareness away from him?
A version of this post was published June 1, 2021. It has been updated.