Ryan, my almost five-year-old daughter, is a tough one. She is sassy and fierce. She has big, passionate emotions. She won’t back down from a fight or be outdone by anyone. She is queen of throwing shade and is constantly carrying a spark waiting to burst into full flame. Her intensity makes her hard to parent sometimes, but it will serve her well.
My daughter is transgender and will need all of these qualities to make her way in a world that struggles to understand transgender people and the issues that impact them. She will need to be fierce and sassy when the world tells her she doesn’t belong or that her life doesn’t matter. She will need her spark to remind her that she is so worthy and loved. Ryan’s intensity may lead to many power struggles in our house, but being transgender is not part of what makes her hard to parent.
In fact, sometimes I forget she is transgender. Like the color of her hair or her eyes, being transgender is just another detail that makes her who she is. The front of my brain does not put an imaginary neon sign pointing arrows over my kid advertising her gender identity. I don’t walk around thinking, Oh I wonder how my transgender daughter’s day is going? Or Geez, my transgender kid constantly leaves her toys all over the place. I just send good vibes to my kid throughout the day and get annoyed at her the same way I do my other children.
Ryan is just like any other little girl — any other little kid, really. Her favorite colors are pink and purple. Her long blonde hair is often pulled back, but when it’s down it billows around her face in long soft curls which she aggressively swipes out of her way. She loves to snuggle and be read to. She hates getting out of bed on school days. She will refuse to eat her vegetables but will sneak desserts if she thinks no one is looking. She competes with her siblings in games, bike races, and getting ready for bed if it means earning the title of being first. Ryan will equally stab your heart with her side eye when she is pissed and with her dimples when she can’t contain her joy.
Then everyday things slap me in the face and remind me that we need to address and deal with things most little girls don’t even think about.
When the weather finally switched from snow storms to warm and sunny spring days, my kids were ready to put on their summer gear. They traded their snow gear for summer clothes because 55 degrees was sweltering. My partner and I dug through a bin of hand-me-downs for Ryan, looking for shorts for her to wear, but had to place some aside. We also found some bathing suits, but they didn’t have skirts, so we put those aside too.
My partner and I don’t specifically tell Ryan why we don’t want her to wear certain things, and we only present clothing that will best cover her body. We do the same for our oldest daughter; our son too, but clothing labeled for boys are not usually booty shorts, tight bike shorts, or jumpers that allow their junk to fall out of the bottom. Girls’ clothing is tighter and smaller than boys’ clothing, which creates a problem when a girl with a boy’s body wants to wear what all the other girls are wearing.
If Ryan wears bike shorts or a bathing suit without a skirt, she runs the risk of being outed in a situation that will be uncomfortable and possibly unsafe. Not that ANYONE should be looking at any child’s genitalia, but the truth is that thick underwear for transgender girls and chest binders for transgender boys exist because they help cover and hide the things that separates them from their peers. The last thing we want is for some asshole to say something to our daughter because they see something that makes them question her gender.
Our daughter is female. Yes, she has male anatomy, but she is a girl.
In anticipation of kindergarten registration and the mountain of paperwork that goes with it, my partner and I decided to change Ryan’s gender marker on her birth certificate. We consulted our lawyer and pediatrician and other resources to do this. We also talked to Ryan about what we wanted to do. We wanted to be sure she knew the plan. We wanted her blessing.
We got her shade.
She couldn’t believe that the hospital had not only called her a boy on her birth certificate, but that we hadn’t already corrected it. We asked her if it was okay to correct the mistake. We wanted to be sure the whole world knew she was a girl. She wanted us to hurry.
Weeks later, we got word from our lawyer that the court had approved the gender marker change. When her new birth certificate came in the mail, we made a copy for her. She carried it around for days. It was validation. It was proof—not that she needed anything other than her word—that she really was a girl.
And all of that came in time for kindergarten in the fall. In a few months, I will send my daughter to the public school system. Although I forget that she is transgender during our everyday routines, the fact is never lost on me when it comes to her education. Ryan started preschool as a girl, and the school and teachers were amazing as we navigated her early social transition. They are still amazing. In a small group of about 20 kids and half a dozen different teachers, my daughter’s two years of preschool were the same as any other kid in the class.
But our world, and hers, will soon be bigger and more unpredictable and uncontrollable. I met with the school’s principal last fall in preparation for her first day of kindergarten this coming fall. I have spent almost a year advocating for my daughter. I have been pushing for staff to be educated on transgender matters so they are comfortable teaching a transgender child and with interacting with students or parents who may have questions or colorful commentary. I have been asking for and sometimes demanding a LGBTQ inclusive curriculum.
Yes, I am doing this specifically for my child, but I am also doing it for all of the kids at her school. I am doing it for the queer or transgender kids who aren’t out yet. I am doing it for the kids who will be their allies. Every staff member, parent, and child will benefit from a school that teaches acceptance and inclusion. These are the moments when I remember how important my daughter and all transgender kids are. When you are fighting for their rights, when you are fighting to protect their hearts, you don’t forget the reasons for being in the ring.
But it’s okay to forget the label.
Ryan is beautiful. She is fierce. She is so stubborn. She has a laugh that is contagious. At the end of the day, my transgender child is just a child. She is a little girl who likes ice cream. Her favorite animal is the dolphin. She loves cheese. I want you to acknowledge her existence. She is all of the reasons I choose to remember why I am fighting.
I want you to respect the fact that she is transgender, but please see the whole of my daughter. I do.