One was always a “typical” little boy who had great affection for trains. We would never have described our son as masculine. In fact, we often scratched our heads in wonder when he refused to wear t-shirts and only wear polos and button down shirts with collars. He would run and grab my heels whenever I wore sneakers. He loved Italian Opera, playing with hair, and baking. He was gentle with his toys and often treated them as one would a baby. He was sensitive and never really rough and tumble. Although none of these things really amounted to much as men and women express their gender is such a variety of ways. However, once he started stealing and hiding his sister’s toys we really had to start having tough conversations in our home.
Then came putting his sister’s pants on his head and pretending he had long hair. We were tolerant of this for perhaps a day or two, but the fact is it was stretching out the waist of his petite sister’s pants. When we finally asked him to stop, he became furious. “It’s not fair! She gets to wear dresses and I don’t! She gets dolls and I am stuck with cars! It’s not fair!” He screamed with enough emotion that we all stopped and stood still. We had no clue what was going on. It was not until a family member asked me if I had ever heard the term of transgender that we even had a hint of what was really going on. We had been working diligently with our therapist on the assumption that One was simply gender non-conforming. However, he was making continual steps further and farther away from his gender “norm.”
We had already established with our therapist that One knew the difference between male and female. So, we were positive that there was no gender confusion occurring. So, one day I sat down on the edge of One’s bed at bedtime when he was six and gently asked. “One, are you a boy or a girl?” After a moment of sizing me up he responded with, “On the outside I am a boy, but in my head and in my heart I am a girl.” It summed it up so clearly that I really didn’t know what else to say. There was no time for much follow-up for he interrupted my thoughts with this question, “Mommy, if I make a wish on my stars, will my wish come true?” “I don’t know honey,” was all I could respond with. He sighed and quietly wished, “I really really want to be a girl.” My heart broke as it put me in a parenting position that I never imagined being in. I was out of my depth. As I’ve learned that’s when you have to do two very important things, trust your gut and double-check with a professional.
It wasn’t long after that One asked us to please start letting him wear dresses and asked us repeatedly to please refer to him in feminine pronouns. He really wanted to be referred to as “she.” We scheduled an appointment with a psychologist and dug through every last article we could find on being transgender. We watched documentaries and read science journals on the subject. Before we could even reach the psychologist’s office, One came out at church. He raised his hand and said, “I just want everyone to know that I am a girl.” There was really and truly no coming back from that. So we raised our white flag, bought her some dresses and pink shirts and let her live life as a girl.
We were terrified. We were scared of what everybody would say and think. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. “How can you let him choose to do this?” they would ask with a wrinkled nose as if they had just smelled rotten onions. I would stifle a groan as there is no choosing this path. This “phase” was not a phase. My child was seven by this time, and if it had been a phase it would have passed. The emotions surrounding this just continually gained strength. “It’s just morally all wrong!” people complained. “Where is your husband guiding this young man?” they would ask accusingly. “I can’t let my family be around that and let them think it is an acceptable lifestyle choice!” One by one the ugly came out of the woodwork. Never once did many of these people sit down and consider that this isn’t a choice, and that it is something that is deeply ingrained inside my child. It is a desire so deep that she didn’t leave the house except by force for over a year because people would see her in “boy” clothes. She would come home from school and immediately change into the one nightgown we had given her to play in. Is it that beyond their comprehension to see how it could be?
One, was formally diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria by a psychologist. We were told it is something that cannot be changed. It has been done in the past with some seriously dire outcomes. We were told the suicide rate for transgender individuals is over forty percent. That day I looked at my husband and said, “Not our baby.” Our child will always know that while the transition for us was a challenge, we are right beside her. We love her unconditionally. We love the child within and not the packaging. The great news is that we have a wonderful and supportive group of friends and their children who “get it.” We have lost several family members, but the ones that have remained are steadfast and protective. We’ve learned to hold our head up high. We won’t be able to change the minds’ of the masses, but we will fight for our child tooth and nail. She will not become one of the forty percent. We will do our best to raise a child that is proud of who she is.
Having a terminally ill child gives you perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have. Time is a valuable and priceless commodity, and we don’t want to waste that on coming to terms with our child’s gender identity. I would rather trust and accept her for who she is. This doesn’t mean I haven’t asked her several million times if she is sure, how, why, and every other way of investigating the situation. We have asked and are completely satisfied with her answers. You see, our child makes more sense now. She is also healthier and happier. She has weathered the storm right beside us. She heard the ugly comments, and she held her arms around me as I weeped when we were belittled, judged, and abandoned. She too felt the high cost of being her true self. “I’m sorry Mom. I’m sorry being me made this happen,” she would say with tears in her eyes and her chin held high. “No,” I whispered back, “I’m sorry you were born in a world that just doesn’t understand.”
The year after One’s diagnosis of A-T was filled with crushing sadness. The year after socially transitioning was filled with some sadness, but it was also filled with frustration and anger. All of a sudden everyone was an expert on the subject. The most infuriating part was that these experts were anything but and most had never even met a transgender individual. No matter which way you explained it to them, be it scientifically how it happens, psychologically how the brain is wired, or how it is addressed religiously, nothing changed their point of view. We experienced bigotry in a way that we never thought we would ever endure. While it was terrifying, humiliating, infuriating, and sad, it made us stronger as we banded together as a united front. I would look Two in the eyes and say, “Remember this feeling. Remember how badly this hurts. Don’t ever do this to another soul, ok?”
Two took the lessons from her sister’s transition to heart. She too works to reconcile her feelings about being in an elementary school that not just shunned her sister, but punished employees for being friends with our family, and turned a blind eye to false allegations against us. I will never look at discrimination or the poor souls that were a part of it the same again. I won’t sit idly by and watch it unfold. I now know the pain that’s in the victim’s heart. One has made me a better mother, but moreover a better human being. She also has made her siblings better people. They are watching love, acceptance, and tolerance in action. They are learning that you don’t always have to agree with someone to love them, and that all people deserve respect and basic human dignity.
One is now permanently wheelchair bound. Gone are her days of running, jumping, and climbing. Crippling fatigue has settled in, and we are learning to take things as they come. Her eyes now move in ways she doesn’t control, incontinence, full body tremors, oculomotor apraxia, dysarthria, apraxia of the tongue, recurrent illnesses due to a weakened immune system, receives weekly subcutaneous immunoglobulin therapy, and difficulties breathing all while being intelligent enough to know what is going on. She is a smart and resilient little girl. She teaches us daily what true character is all about. We don’t regret for a single second to support our child’s gender identity. It is rarely a topic of conversation anymore in our home. I vow to you that I mean it as much as the day we stood in front of that judge, “I will love this child until the day that die.”