October is LGBT History Month. To honor transgender people and their unique histories, I will be featuring transgender people and parents of transgender children all month long. Through sharing their stories, I hope to raise awareness of this amazing population of people who still struggle for basic human rights.
“Mom, you know I’m a girl, right? I’m a girl on the inside.”
My 4-year-old child, Avery, who had been assigned male at birth said those words to me, and my world started spinning. I have never been much of a girly-girl. I have two brothers, and out of the three of us, I am the only one to have ever had a broken bone, a concussion (multiple, actually), and a leg full of scars from a mini-motorcycle accident when I was a child. I only wore dresses when my mom forced me into them to look “respectable” at church on Sundays. I collected garter snakes and kept them in a big box in our garage. I used my brothers’ GI Joes to attack the Barbie house and dolls my mom bought me for Christmas. I have always hated the color pink and can’t be bothered to polish my nails. I keep my hair cut in a pixie because I lack any skills at styling it when it’s longer.
But despite my non-girly nature, I have always known without a doubt that I am a girl.
Surprisingly when Avery started wearing princess dresses at daycare and asked to have one at home, I didn’t panic. One dress slipped over boy clothes didn’t mean I would suddenly have to figure out how to braid hair or coordinate a full outfit of a dress, shoes, jewelry and hair accessories. I could still relate to a boy wearing a dress. And this would only be a phase, of course, so we could get back to collecting bugs, having sword fights and rolling around in the mud soon enough.
Instead of growing out of the princess-dress-wearing-stage, though, Avery started asking for more “girl things.” Headbands, purses, pink shoes, lip gloss, shimmer face powder, and then underwear with Barbie and My Little Pony characters on them. My husband and I didn’t label anything as “boy only” or “girl only” out loud. We didn’t want to encourage or discourage the behavior. Again, we thought this was a stage and didn’t want any guilt associated with the things that brought happiness to a child. But Avery was carrying guilt. A few weeks before Christmas, I asked both of my kids to go through a toy catalog and circle things they would like as presents. Then I announced that we should give Santa the wish list. Avery adamantly said “No!” worried that Santa would never bring girl toys to our house.
Shortly after that is when Avery made the announcement of being a girl on the inside. It was so matter-of-fact. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. It was who he was — who SHE was — so why didn’t we understand it? We had been telling our “son” that he could like anything he wanted and still be a boy. That wasn’t enough. It wasn’t her truth. She knew who she was and it was time for us to listen.
My husband and I started doing research. We found a gender therapist (I didn’t even know that was a thing!) close to our home and made an appointment. We started reading everything we could about gender identity and being transgender. Like many people, we thought that a child who was so young couldn’t possibly know what gender is and make a big decision about being a different gender at such a young age. Our child had boy body parts, so surely we MUST have a boy, right?
We learned that gender identity is formed between the ages of 2 and 4, although many people aren’t able to express who they are until later in life. And if you think about it, when children are taught the differences between boys and girls, they aren’t shown pictures of genitals. They are shown boys in blue overalls with baseball gloves and girls in pink dresses with pig tails. Without even thinking about it, we teach kids about gender expression as an external indicator of who a person is on the inside. But when a child says “Wait, I fit in with that other group…I’m a different gender than you think I am,” we tend to only focus on the anatomy hidden away in their underwear. That doesn’t make any sense.
With a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria from the therapist, our son transitioned to become our daughter. We allowed her to grow out her hair, get a complete new wardrobe, and redecorate her room. Today, she is eight years old. She has socially transitioned. That’s an important thing to understand about transgender children. All that has happened is that her outward appearance has allowed other people socially to see her as the girl she knows herself to be. She hasn’t had any hormone therapy or surgery. That just doesn’t happen with kids. That will only happen — if she chooses — when she’s older, after more counseling and a really long track record of being insistent, consistent and persistent in declaring her true gender.
In the last few years, we have realized that the genitals aren’t the only body part we needed to consider when determining a person’s gender. Unfortunately, it’s the quickest and easiest way to identify someone. After all, a quick glance at birth can usually tell us what we need to know, right? It makes me cringe when I hear people say that my daughter is a “biological” male. What about her brain? Her brain is part of her biology and it is definitely female. And although I say that she “became” my daughter to help people understand how our perception of her changed during her transition, the truth is that she has always been my daughter. I just needed her to tell me, and I’m so very happy that she did.
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Special thanks to Mary Tyler Mom who inspired this unique and beautiful way of honoring LGBT History Month.
Tags: children, coming out, Debi Jackson, family, gender, glbt, lgbt, LGBT History Month, Listen to Your Mother, LYTM, motherhood, October, Parenting, storytelling, Trans-Parenting, transgender, transgender issues, transition