One parent’s perspective of the challenge and joy of raising a child who is seeking to be the person he needs to be
A little more than 16 years ago, I was blessed with my first child, whom I thought to be a beautiful, healthy little girl. She became the center of my universe and was perfect—happy, curious, and good natured. I thought, I’m so lucky; I couldn’t ask for a more perfect, normal child.
Normal child! Wow! Did I really think that way?
Looking back, I realize how little I knew about what it really meant to be a parent. You see, today I am the very proud parent of a transgender child. That’s right, I am the proud parent of a transgender child—trans boy to be exact.
HIS EARLY YEARS
A trans boy is a child who was born as a girl, but who identifies with being a boy. Being a trans boy is not as common as being a trans girl, and, until recently, most of what I found to guide us through this journey has been written about trans girls.
My son knew around the age of 3 or 4 that he liked doing “boy” things, and I would think to myself, How cool is that? Looks like I have a little tomboy on my hands.
Around the age of 6, however, he started telling his mom and me that he wasn’t a girl; he was a boy.
At first we would say, “Sweetheart, you are a girl, but girls can do anything boys can do.”
He would tell us that he knew girls could do anything they wanted, but that he was not a girl!
One day when he was still very young, he was playing with a toy sword and, as he swung it, he told me, “I’m going to save the world from monsters.”
“You’re going to be just like Joan of Arc,” I said, laughing.
He stopped swinging his sword for a second; I could see he was deep in thought. Then he replied, “No, Daddy. I am going to be like John of Arc.”
MY MOMENT OF TRUTH
But the moment I truly realized that he was a trans boy and not a tomboy or a lesbian was when my youngest sister got married.
We hadn’t really told anybody we thought he was transgender, and, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how my conservative, Southern family would handle it. My sister wanted him to be a flower girl. For weeks he begged me not to make him do it, and I would firmly respond, “Sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t want to do. You need to grow up and do this. Your aunt wants you to be part of her wedding, end of discussion.”
Then it happened. I was taking snapshots of the wedding and, when I tried to get a candid shot of him in a dress with his hair pulled back in a ponytail and ribbons, I saw it. My son, who always seemed so happy when he was himself, was completely embarrassed, miserable, and humiliated.
To see him trying to be invisible and on the verge of tears for trying to be what others expected him to be is something I don’t ever want to experience again. I will remember that look for the rest of my life. That sick feeling in my gut that this was mentally abusive to my child. Oh my God! How could I have done this to him? What was I thinking?
I immediately went to him and asked him if he wanted to change clothes? Ha, that was a stupid question. He looked up at me and gave me this silent, but urgent, nod. “Let’s go,” I said.
On the way back to the room, I hugged him and told him, “Son (that was the first time I acknowledged his gender), I am so sorry, and I will never make you do that again.”
UNDERSTANDING HIS WORLD
It’s important to understand that transgenderism is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a sexual preference choice and is not the same as being gay.
Basically, transgenderism is the belief and feeling that you are not in the right body. Somehow nature has played a terrible joke on you and that, for the rest of your life, you are going to have to be something you are not.
It’s how you feel about yourself and your identity.
People who are gay are quite aware that they are a particular gender and they are attracted to people of the same gender. Transgender people don’t look at themselves as being gay. A transgender person feels trapped in a body he or she doesn’t recognize.
ACCEPTANCE FROM OTHERS
The first thing someone says to me when I share that my son is transgender is that they are sorry. That it must be difficult dealing with it.
I tell them, “Don’t be sorry.”
Once we identified how he felt and were able to accept and acknowledge who he is, it was like discovering the most wonderful treasure in the world. He burst out of his shell and became this radiant human being. His level of self-confidence shot through the roof.
He stopped trying to prove to the world that he wasn’t a girl and this freed him to apply his energy into what really matters, growing into and learning to be the kind of person he was meant to be.
Now, I’m not going to say everything has been perfect. There have been a few challenges.
I feel strongly that he needs to be honest with people. He still doesn’t want to tell his close friends, and, as a dad of a teenage boy, I struggle with how to discuss dating with him. I don’t think he should stand on a mountain and broadcast that he is transgender, but I feel strongly that, when a relationship becomes a close friendship, he needs to be honest with that person.
If the friend is worthy of my son’s attention; is somebody my son really cares for; and is somebody who really cares for him, that person will be okay with the truth. If they aren’t, then they are not mature enough to be in his life.
I realize that not everybody will be accepting. Some will blame my son’s mother and me for being “too liberal.” Some will say “it’s just a phase.” I know this because some of those people are a handful of my own family members.
But I also know there are people who will be accepting, as well as loving and caring. They will get to know my son and will understand his situation. They will meet him and just “get it.” I know this, too, because some of these people are the rest of the members in my big, conservative Southern family. Those who I thought would have had the biggest problem with my son’s transgenderism are the ones who have shown themselves to be the most accepting. Their love has been amazing. Their interest in how his transition is going has been eye-opening.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
For now, being a teenage boy physically for my son has meant having a hormone suppression therapy implant to prevent the development of breasts and starting a period and taking self-administered testosterone injections to continue his non-surgical transformation of growing appropriate body hair and developing a deep voice.
He cannot undergo gender-reassignment surgery, a procedure that is both expensive and extensive, until he is at least 18. This surgery is on the horizon for him; but, before it can happen, we as a family need to fully vet the process, the extent of the procedures, and his responsibilities in the process. These are deeper conversations that he’s not quite ready to have right now, but I anticipate having them and then taking the next step in a few years.
I have had quite a few—what I thought were going to be awkward—conversations with insurance companies about some of my son’s treatments. Without fail, all have been very understanding. One woman in our corporate human resources/benefits department told me that she is seeing more and more of this type of claim. She told me that, as a Christian, she believed God doesn’t make any mistakes and that I should consider it a blessing to have been given the responsibility of raising this beautiful child who God has blessed the world with.
I only get to see my son during the holidays and summer break, as his mom and I are divorced. We work hard at co-parenting. We both love him and want the best for him, so we put aside our differences and focus on raising a healthy kid. We are also fortunate to be surrounded by people who know and love him. And we have had the good fortune to meet and befriend a trans man and his wife, who have been an invaluable source of information and guidance.
At 16 years old, my child has grown into a young man who I am proud to have as my son. He loves to skateboard, play the guitar, listen to music, and watch movies (especially ghost stories). When I ask him about college or what he wants to do when he grows up, he says that he’s fascinated by the criminal mind. He thinks he would like to work for the FBI as a criminal profiler.
Hmmm, I guess he really is going to save the world from monsters.
What more could a father want out of his boy.