A year ago, when I finally came to accept that my adored 17-year-old was transgender, it was like the bottom fell out of my world.
Night after night, I lay in bed crying, feeling a combination of nausea and abject terror. I was convinced this was the worst thing that could possibly happen to a parent. And I was angry that all the effort I had put in over all those years to ensure my child had a happy life had been for nothing. I had so much to learn.
Four months earlier, when he had first started to make noises about living in the opposite gender, I had rejected it out of hand. I thought it was ridiculous, that he was way too young to make such a “choice”, and I didn’t hesitate to give him a long list of ways in which his life would be completely destroyed if he “chose” to do this.
In hindsight, I accept that this was a perfectly natural reaction. But I now realize just how wrong I was, on so many levels.
Here are just some of things I’ve since learned:
What I thought then: being transgender is a choice (and a teenager is too young to make that choice).
What I now know: it’s not a choice. If it was, no one would ever choose it. Why would you consciously choose to add that degree of difficulty to your life? It’s something people are born with, and as such, they can be absolutely sure at any age, however young.
What I thought then: “You’re too young! Can’t you wait until you’ve finished school?”
What I now know: the younger you know (and accept) your child is transgender, the better chance they have of adapting physically to their actual gender. Puberty blockers at an early age can save a lot of angst (not to mention expense) later.
What I thought then: your child being transgender is the worst thing that can happen.
What I now know: that’s ridiculous. Your child having a life-threatening illness, or being in a fatal accident, or any number of awful things that happen to families are far worse.
What I thought then: transgender people can never lead a happy, normal life.
What I now know: transgender people can lead perfectly happy, normal lives, especially if they have the love and support of their families and friends.
What I thought then: transgender people (and by association, their families) are freaks and outcasts.
What I now know: anyone from any culture or walk of life can be transgender, or be a parent of a transgender child. My first visit to a parent support group profoundly changed my life. I realized that there were countless people just like me, with kids just like mine. The only reason transgender people have been treated like outcasts in the past is because there’s so little understanding about what being transgender means.
What I thought then: How can I ever tell anyone about this? It’s just too awkward.
What I now know: Well, it was a bit awkward at first. And I was extremely nervous about telling people. But I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and acceptance we’ve received from our extended family, neighbours, and friends, and from all the institutions – banks, schools, government agencies, etc. – that we’ve had to deal with over my child’s change of name and gender. I’ve also realized that it’s up to me to set the tone – if I treat it as normal, other people will too.
What I thought then: my child would become a stranger to me.
What I now know: my child is exactly the same person – the same funny, adorable, sometimes annoying, messy teenager – and our relationship is as strong as it ever was.
I’m sure there are many more things I’ve learned – and will continue to learn on this journey. These are the ones that stand out to me now.
If you are somewhere on a similar journey, I wish you well. It’s a difficult and painful road at first, but it definitely gets so much easier. One day you’ll find yourself, like me, coasting along so easily that it will be almost hard to remember how rough it was when you set out.
Also, the more of us so-called “normal” families who can accept our children for who they are, the more “normal” and un-scary being transgender will become.