The Problem With Raising A Child With Gender Dysphoria Is Other People
Two girls to adorn in frilly dresses and tutus. Two girls to play Barbies and tea party, artfully arranging each place setting. Two girls to braid hair and paint toenails.
But that’s not what I got.
Instead, Lucy chose blue from the moment she learned she had a choice. She wore Buzz Lightyear T-shirts, played with Matchbox cars and watched Monsters, Inc. Of course I wanted a little princess, full of pink and sparkles, but that’s not who she was. And there’s nothing I would do to change her.
As time went on, she received an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. She also never stopped referring to herself as a boy. After having several age-appropriate anatomy conversations, this was not just a “phase.” She wasn’t confused. She wasn’t desperate for attention or “just being silly.” She was simply revealing to us exactly who she was.
I could never slip up—I was corrected every single time. “You’re being such a good girl.”
“No, I’m a boy.”
And other times, “Here, Lucy. Wear this shirt.”
“No! I can’t wear a pink shirt! That’s a girls’ shirt!”
Never, ever have we gender-labeled our children’s toys or clothing. Lucy was learning from what she’d seen on TV, at school, and in the community. Boys wear T-shirts and tennis shoes. Boys have short hair. Boys play with dinosaurs and trucks. Boys like to run and play sports. My acutely observant little girl was identifying herself as a boy, because to her, the world is all black and white. There is no gray. To us, Lucy lives in the gray—a “tomboy” is what we’d refer to her as, but the black and white world she lives in tells her that she’s a boy.
WebMD says children with gender dysphoria will have several of these common traits:
– Consistently saying they are really a girl even though they have the physical traits of a boy or really a boy if they have the physical traits of a girl
– Strongly preferring friends of the sex with which they identify – Rejecting the clothes, toys, and games typical for boys or girls – Refusing to urinate in the way—standing or sitting—that other boys or girls typically do – Saying they want to get rid of their genitals and have the genitals of their true sex – Believing that even though they have the physical traits of a girl they will grow up to be a man, or believing if they have the physical traits of a boy they will still be a woman when they grow up – Having extreme distress about the body changes that happen during puberty
I was uncomfortable explaining to my 5-year-old daughter what a penis is—just the word escaping my mouth felt inappropriate (especially after she demanded that daddies have “hot dogs”), but it wasn’t until then that I truly understood gender dysphoria. She knew. She understood. And then she begged me, with tears, to let her be a boy.
“No, Mom! I don’t want to have a bagina! You can’t make me be a girl!”
Still, we lived each day loving our Lucy, no matter what—no matter what she liked or didn’t like, no matter who she was.
Though neither her ASD nor gender dysphoria diagnosis was surprising to us, they both were equally challenging when thinking about Lucy’s future. Will people accept her? Will she have friends? Will she be happy with who she is?
I was able to finally explain to my family and friends exactly what Lucy’s diagnosis is. We were overwhelmed with support. There were no judgments, not even a lot of questions. We were constantly being told, “She’s just…Lucy.” People complied with her request to call her a boy. No one ever corrected her; they just let Lucy be who she is.
And then Target announced their new bathroom policy.
“Transgender people are disgusting.”
“They are just looking for attention.”
“People who are trans are just people who are perverted.”
These are just a handful of remarks that a few Facebook friends made as they shared how repulsed they felt about Target’s new policy.
I took it all too personally because they were talking about my Lucy—my precious and perfect Lucy. And with tears in my eyes, I texted my sister about how painful it was to let my children live in a world with such hate and ignorance.
And yes, I understand that when you post hateful comments such as these, you’re not thinking about my sweet, little 5-year-old daughter who is desperate to be a boy. I understand the fear that you have because, as you know, I have two small children of my own. I validate your fears. We have a world that is full of pedophiles and rapists, but the reality is, a Target bathroom is unlikely the place where these people will find their victims. Beyond this, there is the unjustified implication that transgender individuals are pedophiles.
The bathroom is an issue with Lucy. We have, on several occasions, stood outside a men’s public bathroom, while Lucy pleaded with us to go in. On the verge of peeing her pants, I’ve lost my temper at times, telling her that she was not allowed in the men’s bathroom.
“I’ll wait until they all leave and then go in myself. I will go so fast before they come in again.”
I ask you to, please, think about the desperation behind Lucy’s plea. The fact that she understood why I couldn’t let her go into the men’s bathroom, especially alone, means she has the capacity to fully understand that she is physically a girl. She knows going into the men’s bathroom is something people forbid. She knows that she does not, in fact, have a penis. She knows she’s different. But she has not even once let that sway her beliefs. She’s never wavered. She’s never been unsure.
“What’s the hardest thing about having a child on the spectrum?” a friend once asked me.
Without hesitation I responded, “Other people.” The same applies to having a child with gender dysphoria.
To my daughter, I say: I will never teach you to be someone you’re not. I will never make you feel bad for being who you are. As long I have breath in my lungs, I will fight for this world to be a better place for you. We will help people understand and be kind. We will let you be you. We will find joy in your differences. We will celebrate you, Lucy. Every single day.
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