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.
By Sharon Dunski Vermont, mother of a transgender son
I glanced over from my place in the driver’s seat and noticed that my child, my first born, the person who years before had crowned me with the title of “mom”, looked terrified. I had felt for weeks that he was trying to tell me something but could not find his voice. In fact, I was certain I knew what was bothering my darling child.
“I have a question,” I began slowly. My child looked over at me solemnly.
“Are you transgender?” I asked hesitantly, scared of what the answer would be, but already knowing deep down what it was.
“Why are you asking me this?” came the quiet reply.
“Because I think that you are,” I whispered, touching his shoulder. We were still in the parking lot.
“You’re right,” he said with tears in his eyes. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
“You are my first born child,” I said adamantly. “And I will love you till the day I die. I will support you no matter what. All I want is for you to be healthy and happy.” I threw my arms around the child who I had just learned was my son and prayed that he would always be safe.
Over the next few days we told our friends and family about the changes that lay ahead for us.
And my new son was visibly happier than I had seen him in years.
The next few weeks were a blur of information gathering. What was transgender? Why was my child this way? What could we do to help him? Were there others like us anywhere nearby?
Hours on the internet led me to books, articles, and many experts; a therapist, a rabbi, the parents of another transgender child. And the more I learned, the more I realized that my family was far from alone. Transgender people were everywhere. In fact, an April 2011 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that there are nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the United States. And as I was starting to learn through my own journey, more and more children and teens were coming out daily as transgender. My son would have a community, a realization that eased a great deal of my worry.
As my son became happier and more comfortable being himself and as our family supported him and educated ourselves, I made myself a very important promise; that I would use my unique position as both a physician and the mother of a transgender son to educate as many people as I could about transgender issues and to advocate for transgender children and teens everywhere.
Thus, in keeping this promise, I have become very public with our family’s journey. Some have accused me of being an attention seeker, yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am actually a very private person, but I decided to come forward with our story in order to help others. And, from the positive emails and messages I get weekly, I see that I AM helping.
However, in addition to the good feedback I get from my writing, I have also received some backlash, which I sadly knew would happen. These are some of the hateful comments which I would like to address:
My child can be “fixed” with therapy
Actually, there is nothing to “fix.” My child is not broken. Being transgender is a way some people are born. You can’t change that any more than you can change the color of your skin. And being transgender is not a mental illness. In fact, psychiatrists no longer use the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder because they realize that being trans is not a disorder. Mental health professionals realize that these people do not need to be changed. They simply need help with underlying depression, anxiety, and discomfort with their bodies that often goes along with being transgender. My child has seen a therapist since he was two years old and a psychiatrist since first grade. If it was possible to “fix” him, that would have been done a long time ago.
My son is a victim of Munchausen’s by Proxy
Nope. He’s not a victim of anything. Munchausen’s by proxy is when a parent purposely causes symptoms in their child in order to seek attention. Parents of transgender children are doing no such thing by letting their children be themselves. A year ago, before my son came out as trans, I took him for a haircut, thinking his shoulder length hair needed a trim. When I picked him up an hour later, the sides were shaved and the top was about an inch long. A few days later, he went to the mall with a friend and came home with all boy clothes. My child was 15 at the time. When he was little and we thought he was female, I dressed him in dresses and fancy hair bows. My son is trans because of me only in the fact that I gave birth to him. He is living as a boy because he is one.
I am a terrible mother
Um………..no I am not. I am home when my kids get home from school, despite working. I take them where they need to go. I am there when they need to talk. I am always there to help them with their homework, friend problems, and the pains of growing older. I am at every recital, performance, competition, and sporting event. I tell them I love them about a thousand times a day, and they tell me that I am their closest friend. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars helping my transgender son. We have taken him to the best doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, support groups. We have seen gender specialists hundreds of miles from our home. I may be a lot of things, but I am not a terrible mom. In fact, I wish that more kids had a mom like me who cares so much that she’ll do anything for her children.
This transgender thing is just a phase and we should ignore it
Studies show that most kids who come out as transgender continue to live as their affirmed gender into adulthood. Yes, there are a couple of old studies with data to the contrary, but those studies were flawed and the data is skewed. Being trans is not a phase. While people often will experiment with their sexuality, it is very rare to find someone who experiments with their gender. My son is a boy, regardless of his chromosomes or his anatomy. Living as a girl was very painful for him. This is something people may never understand unless they know someone who is transgender. But, trust me on this, because it’s true.
While my son is living his high school years happy as his true self, I continue to uphold my promise to help the trans community through education and advocacy. I speak to physicians, I advocate for changes in the healthcare system, and I write about my own personal story. And I do this because I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m sure that there were people who thought Martin Luther King was simply out for attention. And yet, look what he managed to accomplish. Those of us who fight for equality and justice will likely always face some hatred and negativity. But I can overlook the contempt and the hostility because I know that I am doing what I do for all of the right reasons.
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