I Wish I Had Understood More About Trans Kids Before My Son Came Out

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Courtesy of Vanessa Nichols

I have a 10-year-old transgender son who has been out for almost two years now. Everything and nothing has changed within that time.

He hasn’t changed much at all, aside from being a happier, more well-adjusted child, yet everything about me — my thinking, my beliefs, my circle of friends, my priorities — everything has changed for me.

They say that when your trans child transitions, the parents transition, too. And those words are so very, very true.

The caterpillar to the butterfly analogy certainly applies to our kids, as they become themselves within this amazing, beautiful journey. Their wings spread far and wide. And we, as affirming parents of trans kids, fly right behind them, finding our own wings, navigating a new path with so many unknowns in the beginning of the journey.

There’s so much I wish I knew a few years ago and I hope that imparting these key points will assist other parents who might be new here.

Here’s what I wish I knew:

1. Trans kids exist.

And that it was even possible that my kid was one.

I knew that transgender adults existed, mostly thanks to visible folks such as Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, so it sounds silly in my own brain now that I didn’t realize that trans kids existed. If they’re trans as adults, it’s quite obvious to me that they were trans kids. I know this now.

But, like many of us, I was confusing gender identity with sexuality or sexual preference, therefore, I was certain that being trans was something one would realize when they’re older, maybe teen years, maybe young adulthood, which is when we muddle through our sexuality. After all, Chaz was an adult when he came out, as was Laverne and Caitlyn Jenner, even.

Courtesy of Vanessa Nichols

Jazz Jennings was the only trans child publicly visible and I knew very little of her story. Truth be told, I didn’t want to know her story because I judged her parents for encouraging her young transition.

Yes. I was one of those folks who thought this way. I didn’t understand how this works. So, I parented this way, rooted in my ignorance.

I simply didn’t know that trans kids existed because I didn’t inform myself. I wasn’t listening to others’ lived experiences. I wasn’t believing them.

Trans kids exist.

Trans adults were trans kids.

They just conformed to what was expected of them. Societal norms are one hell of a mute button.

2. The “wait and see” approach is harmful.

When my child began displaying non-gender conforming preferences at the age of 2-3, I followed his lead in the sense of “allowing” him to dress in boys clothes and play with boy toys, and eventually even caved to the boy hair cut at six, but I fully dismissed him when he begged to change his name to a boy’s name, as he imaginary played as the male character, as he drew himself as male.

I would respond to him by saying, “We will talk about this when you’re older,” and shut him down.

What I know now is that I was soaking him in shame. I was perpetuating bad information about gender that we’ve all been given.

Kids have a concept of their gender by the time they’re three (often times even before the age of three, but prior to that, they don’t have the language yet). This is a fact.

None of us cisgender (non-trans) folks waited until we were adults to identify as the gender we are. Neither should our trans kids. Because they know themselves.

It’s quite simple. We just need to listen. And the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, as does every other major medical association.

I hear often from parents of older trans kids (teens and young adults) that I’m fortunate my child came out so young. I didn’t understand why I would hear this so often at first, but now I do. Had I listened harder, sooner, I would have saved my son quite a bit of pain. And some parents don’t listen, don’t hear, don’t even see it coming at all because their trans kids don’t even trust them with the information, burying their kids in shame for years and years, when there’s then so much unraveling and unpacking to do by the time they come out. (And yes, some trans folks don’t figure this out about themselves until they’re older, which is just as valid as knowing from a young age!).

To “wait and see” is such an insidious thing to do and needs caution.

The sooner transgender kids are affirmed, the easier their journey will be. Full stop.

Does that mean that every kid that bends gender norms is trans? Absolutely not. But when they’re consistent and persistent about how they identify — believe them. They know.

3. It’s necessary to cleanse family and friends.

When my son came out, we knew we’d lose some family and friends, and we did.

And that’s totally okay. Actually, it’s better than okay — it’s necessary.

When your young child comes out as trans, it’s a way of taking the trash out of your lives. Not everyone will understand, of course, but not everyone will even try to understand. And those people need to get packing.

We were humbled by the love and support we received. It was amazing. And it came from the most unexpected places at times.

There’s a giant difference between tolerance and acceptance, though. In the beginning of this journey, tolerance was welcomed. We were just glad people weren’t being outwardly terrible to us. A few months in, I realized that tolerance felt pretty terrible. It was that feeling similar to when you’re in high school when you’re talking to the cool group of friends, but you know when you walk away, they’re shit-talking you.

That’s how our daily lives began to feel when my son came out. And it didn’t feel good. At all.

Now, we only allow acceptance into our lives, because this isn’t an “agree to disagree” situation. Affirming my child was life-saving. Affirming trans kids is suicide prevention. So, we say “no thanks” to those who are merely tolerating us.

Ask questions, learn, research, read, educate yourselves. I need my son to know that he’s fully and wholeheartedly loved. He needs to go through life with this confidence so he can weed out the terrible people immediately and only surround himself with goodness. No excuses. Religion isn’t an excuse, uninformed bigotry isn’t an excuse. None of the “but that person is my aunt, uncle, best friend,” etc. type of talk. Toxic is toxic and we move on from those folks.

Be a true ally or we don’t have a lotta space for you.

4. There’s a beautiful community on the other side.

I was terrified when my son came out because I was terrified to be alone, despite the loving, accepting people in our lives. I wanted to connect to others in the LGBTQ+ community walking a similar path, so naturally, I went to social media.

No, really. True story.

I found so many of our people there. From private Facebook groups, to Instagram influencers, to Twitter handles, there’s a giant, affirming, amazing community of beautiful, colorful people that I’ve bonded with. The support we’ve found here has been so incredible, inspiring, and necessary.

We’ve built a community of support locally, too, by finding our local LGBTQ+ youth center. All of these folks are our new, chosen, extended family. And we are so grateful for every human in this community.

5. Being apolitical was a privilege.

I was never overly political. Because I didn’t have to be.

I dipped in and out of social justice, I randomly volunteered, I voted — sometimes a Republican ticket, sometimes a Democratic — with that “fiscally conservative” mindset at times. I loved President Obama and voted for him both times, I cried when marriage equality was finally passed, I made fun of how clueless George W. was, although I did vote for him when he ran against Kerry.

I was all over the political spectrum, and often times apolitical.

Because I had the privilege to be apolitical.

Courtesy of Vanessa Nichols

Most policies didn’t affect me directly, so I was able to shrug my shoulders quite often.

This is one of my biggest regrets in life, honestly. I wish I was there for the fight more consistently long ago. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I made far too many assumptions.

Now?

Everything in politics matters to me. Obviously, with this administration constantly attacking LGBTQ+ rights, that’s my focus of activism, but politics is clearly intersectional. And it matters to be involved in all aspects, to understand policy, to understand the way our government works, how decisions are made, how to fight for the rights of all marginalized folks.

Being political when you have a trans kid is necessary. Because equality has become a political issue, unfortunately. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

My “political agenda” is to achieve equality and equity for all oppressed communities. My political agenda is to promote kindness, understanding, and fair treatment.

And there’s so much work to do.

6. There are resources.

I felt like I was a minnow in this giant ocean when my child came out. I felt like we were the only ones going through this.

We needed emotional support, but we also needed resources.

Thank sweet goddesses for the internet.

PFLAG

HRC

GenderSpectrum.org

American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical organizations such as WPATH

Trans Equality Foundation

National Center for Trans Equality

GLAAD

– LGBTQ+ Youth Centers

– Therapists

– Local support groups

– Studies

– Documentaries, such as Gender Revolution

– Private social media groups

– Visible trans folks, such as Alok, Jacob Tobia, Aiden Dowling, and so on

– Other visible parents of trans kids, such as Debi Jackson, Mimi Lemay, Vanessa Ford, Amber Briggle, Jeanne Talbot, Jodi Peterson, Amanda Knox, (and so many more, many who have written books!)

So many resources. I dove in, reading, researching, watching, listening. Reading personal stories and listening to trans folks was the most impactful resource to me. Connecting to other parents of younger trans kids was a close second.

Priceless resources that I was able to alarm myself with, knock down my own biases, my own hangups.

I was able to take a giant, deep breath after I connected to these resources.

7. It’s all going to be OK.

I once wrote a piece about being terrified that my kid my be trans. And I was. So terrified.

Because of all of the hate and misinformation that exists in the world. Because of all of the horrible, scary statistics about trans youth’s emotional health. Because of bullying. Because fighting for equality is hard.

And it was so overwhelming and scary.

But once we leaped, we never looked back. Because once he was OK, once he was happy, healthy, and his wings soared, it was all OK. His smile, his new demeanor, his new self, a child I never met before, showed me that this was all OK.

This was all so worth it. This was all so…beautiful. Everything else became secondary, pretty irrelevant actually.

It’s such a gift to parent a transgender child. It’s such an education, such a journey. I’ve come such a long way. And I’m honored to have my son be my teacher. I’m such a better person for it.

I’m thankful every single day that I was chosen.