My Transgender Child- A Mothers Journey
“Mummy, God has made a really big mistake when making me. He was thinking girl and at the last minute made a boy.”
Transgender refers to an individual whose gender identity (what they feel) does not match their assigned biological birth gender.
When my son Sam said this to me, it was the moment I truly felt the enormity of despair that he had been feeling even at the tender young age of three. I looked into his tear filled eyes, my mind racing with thoughts of how to respond to such an important statement. I knelt down, took his little hand in mine, held on tight and said, “Darling God doesn’t make mistakes, God has a plan for everyone.”
So began our family’s journey of discovery and continuation of the unconditional love we had always given our son born a boy but identifying as a girl.
From as early as I can recall, Sam always preferred pretty clothes and delicate fabrics. Having older boy cousins he had many wonderful hand me downs in his wardrobe that were NEVER an option for him to wear. Sam would simply wear what he termed the “in between” clothes in public and when at home, dresses from the dress up box or a pretty number from the Op Shop that I would buy to avoid a very public tantrum.
It was not only the clothing that spoke of who he was, but how Sam was developing in the world with regard to play, his preference of equipment/toys and choice of friends.
As an early childhood teacher with over 20 years’ experience, I had observed many children and was very conscious of providing Sam with gender non-specific toys. However, in our household (comprising me, Dad and older brother), they were not always available. Sam always wanted the “girl” type toys.
My husband and I had no issues with Sam’s obvious preference for feminine things, but as time went on our extended family started to question our parenting. Why were we allowing Sam to wear ‘inappropriate’ clothing? Weren’t we making it harder for him in the long term?
As a mother I was still learning and found myself thinking: “What’s all the fuss? It’s just a phase. Don’t put all these unnecessary connotations on my three year-old.”
Time went on and as Sam started to mix more with other children at school, it became strikingly obvious to me that he was different, not just because of the clothes he wore.
Our journey as parents has taken two paths:
The first is the one where we, as parents, are providing support and love to Sam. We use feminine pronouns when addressing her; we listen to her fears; try to answer questions about her physical body and how to navigate her peers, teachers, family and social settings; and the second is our journey where we, as parents, are acquiring the knowledge and understanding about how best to support our child through life so that she can be happy and develop good self-esteem.
My husband and I have had many late night heart-to-heart discussions, questioning and learning to accept that unconditional love is love regardless of expectations and limits on who Sam is.
A quote from The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper describes it perfectly: “There is no greater possible source of love in your life than your children. Your children base their world upon your love and acceptance of them. Unconditional love can be the key to bringing you back to the present moment. You can use it as a parenting focus: How do I need to grow to allow me to unconditionally love my child, even when my child is not as I expected they would be? What needs to change in me so that my focus can be on helping to smooth the way for my child to minimise the trauma they experience, to make their life as easy and as joyful as possible?”
In the short space of Sam’s life, I have gathered a lot of information, read a lot and sourced professional help to try to understand how best to negotiate the challenges of a having a transgender child.
In the early years, I sourced a network of professionals that could help give us the tools we needed to support each other as a family. As Sam’s Mum, I continue seeing my councillor where I have the privacy and respect to bring and discuss my thoughts and feelings in response to Sam’s story as it unfolds. I have found this source of support invaluable.
As Sam verbalised her thoughts more and more, saying things such as, “This mountain to climb to be girl is too hard to climb Mummy. I would rather be back in heaven,” we sought the assistance of a Counsellor/Psychologist. This has been helpful in providing more “technical” information about transgender psychology.
We have come to the understanding now that Sam is eight that if she continues on this transgender journey then there are protocols that need to be set in place before she begins puberty. We will continue to support Sam and at this point in time, think that her desire to be a girl will continue; however, if it doesn’t, we as a family, will respond accordingly.
In Perth we are fortunate to have a specialised unit at the Perth Children’s Hospital called the the Gender Diversity Services to support children presenting with gender questions/gender dysphoria. At this service children and families have the opportunity to meet with a team of specialists in the field for support and care.
Gender identity refers to how a person deeply internalises their sense of feeling of being male, female, both or neither. It can only be determined by an individual and usually is sensed at an early age. Gender identity is very different from sexuality or orientation, the latter referring to the gender a person is attracted to sexually or romantically. This generally happens later in life.
Gender nonconformity/variance refers to behaviours and interests that fall outside what is considered normal for a person’s assigned biological sex.
Gender fluidity is a wider range of gender expression with appearances and behaviours that can change day to day, i.e., a child can feel girl some days and boy on others.
The Cottesloe Counselling Centre in Perth can offer support to families on similar gender journeys if needed. See our pages on Gender Psychology as well as Child & Adolescent Psychology for more information.