My son is an eleven-year-old trans boy. He came out to us a year ago, and socially transitioned immediately. Here are the answers to some questions I’ve been asked repeatedly.
How do you know he’s not going through a “phase?”
He told us he was a boy in hundreds of ways before we all became intimately familiar with the word transgender. Our son was insistent that he was not a girl, persistent about his gender identity not being the one he was assigned at birth, and consistent in his presentation, play, and preferences over a period of years.
How did the school deal with his transition?
“I want to support him, but I have to protect the other students.” That was the first response I received when I notified my son’s teacher that he was transgender. Thankfully, we live in a progressive state that has passed a number of laws protecting transgender youth and adults. Our district cooperated with his (and our) desire to send him to a different school in the district where he could be non-disclosing. He has thrived at his new school thanks to a supportive teacher and principal (who are aware that he is transgender) and a nice group of kids (who are not aware that he is transgender).
In our community, we call this non-disclosing or stealth. Because he’s non-disclosing, he’s been privy to some awful lunchtime conversations his peers have had about transgender people—calling them “trannies” and “mentally ill.” That’s been painful. Luckily, he has an excellent therapist.
In the year since he’s been out, we’ve had a few incidents of people accidently or deliberately using his name assigned at birth (also known as dead-naming) and misgendering. Invariably, these incidents lead to emotional distress, generally sadness or anger. We frequently discuss the concepts of awareness, education, kindness, and ignorance. His friends who know are accepting. We have found that they follow their parents’ lead.
What’s going to happen when he hits puberty?
He sees a therapist, a pediatrician, and a physician who specializes in trans youth to determine what interventions are necessary for his emotional and social well-being. He hasn’t needed hormones yet since he’s not in Tanner stage two of puberty.
Excuse me, Tanner what?
There are physiological stages (called Tanner stages) of development that can be determined visually or with a blood test. Most transgender youth don’t start using puberty blockers until they reach Tanner stage two.
Will you make him take hormones?
We’ll work with the professionals who know our son best to determine what he wants and what he needs, and take appropriate action. There are social and medical aspects to transitioning. The first step for most trans youth is a social transition (change of name, pronouns, attire, presentation). The second phase of transition may be puberty blockers—to delay the onset of puberty—and later, the use of a cross hormone: testosterone for trans boys, estrogen for trans girls. These cross hormones are typically started in the teen years.
What if he changes his mind?
Then we will know we did, and are doing, our best to support him wherever his gender identity path leads. As informed parents educated about the latest research on transgender individuals, we are aware that “de-transitioning” is quite rare.
What has the reaction been from friends and family?
They have been amazingly supportive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that our older relatives have been eager to learn about transgender issues and understand our son. We’ve also been encouraged by the positive reaction from friends and family with strongly religious backgrounds. I have encountered a few people who think we are nuts to support our son’s gender identity journey but…that’s their issue.
Is he gay?
He doesn’t know. He may be heterosexual and like girls or homosexual and want to date boys or pansexual and be attracted to individuals regardless of their biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Gender and sexuality are like apples and aardvarks: completely unrelated. He’ll figure out his sexual orientation at some point and when he does, he knows he’ll have our unconditional support.
Why do you keep the fact that he’s transgender secret?
We don’t. We keep the fact that he’s transgender private. My child is a boy. What’s in his pants, what pairs of chromosomes he has, that’s his business.
We all have information we keep private—financials, health status, and countless other things. Our children are entitled to their privacy too. If you happen to know transgender youth or adults, please, don’t out them, and don’t make their lives harder or more complicated by casually discussing their private gender history.
There is a wonderful piece here written by a transgender man, Zeke Smith, who was outed on Survivor. Nothing I have read has informed my thinking on my son’s privacy more:
“Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation, because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically,” Zeke wrote. “Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically—doubting, probing, or denying our identities. A person’s gender history is private information and it is up to them, and only them, when, how, and to whom they choose to disclose that information. Keeping your gender history private is not the same as a gay person being ‘in the closet.’ The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends.”