Before nap time one afternoon, I held my 2-year-old twins in my lap and shuffled through some of their favorite board books. Ryan pointed to a girl in one of the books and said, “That’s me.”
Ryan’s twin, Ben, pointed to a little boy and said, “That’s me.”
I hesitated before I responded. Finally, I asked, “Ben, are you saying you are a boy?”
Ben nodded, and Ryan chimed in with, “And I’m a girl.”
When the ultrasound showed male anatomy, my partner and I thought we were adding twin boys to the family. We told our daughter she would soon have two brothers. Their births confirmed what we saw on fuzzy computer screens: two (biological) boys. And for nearly two years we called them our sons and “the bros.”
By 18 months, and with the verbal ability to express an opinion about clothes, Ryan started to demand skirts, dresses, and pink and purple outfits. We thought we had a boy who liked dresses and pink. We really didn’t care what Ryan wore as long as we could get out of the house without a meltdown.
But, It didn’t take long for Ryan to tell us she was a girl who liked pink dresses. And when she pointed at the little girl in the book, with long hair and a flowing gown, we knew that was how she saw herself. But we wondered the same thing so many others wonder: Was Ryan too young to really know her gender identity?
My oldest daughter always identified as a girl. And Ryan’s twin always identified as a boy. The difference wasn’t the age at which they began to label themselves; the difference was that Ryan’s label didn’t match the one printed on his birth certificate.
Ryan has never said she is a boy. Never.
After doing some research, and when speaking in terms of kids who identify along a binary path of either female or male, kids know their gender identity as early as 2 or 3 years old. We didn’t suddenly label Ryan female or call her transgender, but we didn’t deny her feelings either. We started to listen more closely to what she was trying to tell us, though, because that is our job as parents. And what we heard was the consistent, insistent, and persistent words of a child who knew she was a girl despite having a boy’s body.
But we were scared.
As much as we loved our child, we didn’t know what the right thing to do was. For a few months, we lived in a gender neutral area. We started to call her our “big kid” instead of “big boy.” Maybe it was a phase. Maybe she thought she had to be a girl to like dresses. But she was frustrated with us, with her siblings, and with all of the other people who kept calling her a boy or questioning her gender.
And when she burst into tears one morning when her older sister, the person she adores more than anyone in the world, asked her if she wanted to be a boy or a girl, we already knew the answer. She was born a girl. We were the ones who needed to make adjustments, not her.
And we did right before she turned 3. With the help of transgender friends, educators, psychologists, advocates, and our pediatrician, we began the process of introducing Ryan as a female. When she is older, she may choose hormone blockers to prevent male puberty. After that, she may choose to take female hormones. She may eventually choose some type of surgical procedure as part of her transition. But for now, she is our little girl. Our happy little girl who is loved and supported.
I wish all transgender individuals were so lucky. Sadly, 40% of transgender individuals attempt suicide. Rejection from family and friends, bullying, and discrimination all lead to increased risk of suicide. However, transgender people who are supported and accepted by family members are 82% less likely to attempt suicide.
For the parents who reject their child’s true gender identity? Your child is 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than a transgender child who is fully loved and supported. These are facts.
And if Ryan changes her mind? Then we change too. Because compared to where we were a year ago, change has done all of us a hell of a lot of good, and I would much rather have a happy 4-year-old than one who feels rejected, depressed, and alone.
I want all parents to think this way, but they don’t.
I have written several essays about my role as a parent of a transgender child and about the ways I have been shaped by her. Contrary to what some have written to and about me, I am not looking for fame, attention, or approval. I write these stories because I am a writer and writers write. I write these stories because I am an advocate for my child and for other transgender kids who don’t have a voice. I write these stories because I am an ally and a source of support for other parents who have transgender children. And I will continue to write our story until people stop making these comments:
I’m so sick of this trans trash.
Ridiculous. A child cannot at the age of 4–5 determine they are transgender. This is parents deciding for their child, and it is insane. And if their pediatrician is encouraging it, they should not be practicing.
It’s called curiosity for God’s sake. Transgender? What a joke.
My son wanted to be a girl because I told him I was a girl… Now he wants me to call him Baby Shark. Should I drop him in the ocean?!
Children are too young for these kinds of decisions. They have no understanding of the world at large, or the far-reaching effects a choice like this can have on their lives. Being male or female is really irrelevant until puberty, at which point our hormones are our “compass” far more than our hair length or attire. These choices should be made when an individual is an adult; no sooner.
Please don’t drop your child into the ocean. That seems dangerous. The parents who make these types of statements are equally dangerous. Not recognizing your child’s identity could be a matter of life and death. Literally.
Having a transgender child can be terrifying because loving my daughter without boundaries means my heart is broken over and over again by people telling me I don’t know what love is. It is terrifying to know some people think I am abusing my child for “allowing” her to believe she is a girl. It is terrifying to live in a world where people are so uncomfortable with what they don’t understand that they prefer to spit hate than ask for more information.
But having a transgender child is also pretty amazing because I get to know what it’s like to love without boundaries. And I get to see the joy radiating from my child who has been validated, finally understood, and is living her truth in spite of the naysayers vehemently holding on to their ignorant beliefs.
I didn’t force my child into anything. I didn’t influence her gender. I didn’t choose this path for her. But I did choose to do everything in my power to facilitate her happiness and health. And when it comes down to it, I know I am right. I am not better. I am not worse. I am just on the correct side of what some call an argument. And with unapologetic smugness, I will continue to tell our story.