I recently received a Voices of the Year for #Blogher17 and had the opportunity to present my essay on stage. Being visible provides me with a platform to educate others, but I realized that many of the same questions kept coming up. Obviously, I’ve written about nearly all of them at least once. And obviously, I can’t expect everyone to dig through my blog to find the answers on their own.
So I’ve decided to conduct an interview with myself, using the ten most frequently asked questions, so that everything is in one place and our conversation can progress.
1. How old was he when he transitioned?
Usually this question is preceded by: How old is your son? Then of course, the look of shock when I tell them he’s 9. They were expecting older, twelve maybe? Nineteen? Because trans children are still unusual. A child at my son’s age having the kind of strength it takes, to speak his truth when everyone opposes him, is unusual.
He transitioned when he was six, about one month shy of his seventh birthday. So if nine is young, this answer generally shocks most people. Which is often followed closely by: Don’t you think that’s kind of young?
Of course I do. Gender was not a part of my world, at six. Or for that matter, at twenty-six. Because my gender identity, for the most part, aligned with the way society said it should be. I’m not trans. But that doesn’t mean I get to tell him what his gender identity is. It doesn’t mean I get to deny him, when he expresses who he is. Simply because he knew himself at six and I didn’t, doesn’t make him wrong and me right.
I don’t have the right to judge his gender identity. At any age in his life. It took me six years to figure that out. Six years, and a wretched, sobbing child, begging to know why we wouldn’t love him if he was a boy. A child is never too young to know their truth, to know themselves. A child is never too young to understand that his parents are either with him, or against him.
2. Was your child born a boy or born a girl?
My son was assigned female at birth. Easy answer.
Except I want to address a few things, with this question, which is the single most commonly asked question.
My child was not born a girl. He was assigned female at birth. Saying “born a boy/girl” implies that a person is not really a boy or girl. They’re only pretending. My son isn’t pretending to be a boy. He’s not sick in the head, this isn’t a mental disorder. He is not his genitalia. None of us are.
Which brings me to my second issue, with this question. The underlying question people are really asking, when they ask what gender my son was assigned at birth, is what is in his underpants. Which does not, in any way, make someone a better ally or more educated about trans issues. I point this out, because people feel that this is an appropriate question to ask, of me, in regards to my child, or to grown trans and gender expansive individuals.
It isn’t, I promise.
3. What is your son’s birth name?
I never share my son’s birth name. Even asking is a bit invasive. I’ve even had the bold few who insist that it’s okay to tell them, because my son’s not around and they won’t share. I have a few choice expletives to insert here, in regards to those people. Nobody needs to know that information about a trans person.
4. How is school going for him?
To be honest, we have home-schooled for the past two years, which makes for a mostly stress-free, free-range kind of learning. However, he’s going back to public school in the fall. We had a lot of conversations about whether we wanted to continue to home-school or attend public school, and after several months of waffling, we settled on enrollment. He’s worried about math. I’m freaking out about math, but otherwise, I feel the transition is going to be wonderful.
But, I know that’s not what people are really asking. They want to know what bathrooms he’ll be using, what locker rooms. How supportive is the school staff, will people know about him. I do feel asking these kinds of questions is important, because learning about the challenges parents of trans kids face in a public school system is important.
Per the district policy, with parent’s permission, my son will be allowed full and unrestricted access to the boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms. Per my son’s insistence, at this time, the only person in the school that knows he’s trans is the principal. This will probably change, as he grows more comfortable. We’ll be ready when he is. The important thing is that he’s supported and he’s safe.
5. Does your family support you?
Yes. Yes. YES. I wish I could stress to everyone and anyone how important the support of family and friends is. IT MEANS EVERYTHING. To me, as the parent struggling to do the right thing in a society that tells me I’m not. To my child, who needs his family, who needs their love and acceptance. Rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, distress…they all drop, when family shows up.
Unfortunately, my family being nearly unanimously supportive from the start is not the norm. We wrote them a letter and gave them time to process. Some people choose other routes, like social media or phone calls. In person meetings. My son was lucky to have his parents at his side. Most children and adults who are trans aren’t so lucky.
Which is why being educated and knowledgeable is important. Speaking up and speaking out is important. The more we normalize trans and gender expansive people, the more support they will find.
6. What were your earliest signs that he was trans?
I’ve written a lot about early signs with my son, about how we didn’t always listen to them. We were fortunate in that he has made his gender clear from almost the very beginning. He told us, around 2 years old or a little before, that he wanted to be a boy when he grew up. He told us at two and at three and at four. He never stopped.
There were also other signs. Choices of toys, clothing, hair styles. When he would play pretend, he was always the male character. Without exception. Early on, me or my mother in law would insist he take a turn being a female character (most notably, I remember Dora and Boots). The minute we insisted he take a turn as Dora, the game was over.
These are not signs that occur for every child. There is no step-by-step instruction book to identify a child as trans. Letting your son wear pink or a dress won’t make him trans. Letting your daughter play with trucks won’t make her trans. Sometimes there are no signs at all, at least not that the child lets on.
7. Can you tell when someone else’s child is trans?
No. And believe me, I have lots of parents who detail their child’s behavior and then ask me pointedly if I think their child is trans too. I tell them what I would tell anyone else. Give a child the space to be who they’re going to be. That’s all we can do.
8. If I think someone is trans, should I ask them?
I am wholeheartedly against this. Asking someone what their pronouns are, if you have been introduced and need to use them, is respectful. Asking someone if they are trans can be akin to a violent attack. It outs them against their will. If they’re not visible, meaning open about being trans publicly, they will likely feel unsafe, distressed, panicked even. Don’t do it.
But maybe my wonderful ally friends out there are thinking, but I’m safe! It’s okay.
No, it’s still not. It’s invasive and private and none of your business.
9. Do you worry about your younger child?
All the time! Of course, not for the reasons I’m generally asked. People wonder if I was too permissive with my older child, and that’s why he’s trans. And then, of course, I’m probably being too permissive with my younger child.
Don’t worry, I’m used to having my parenting judged, for any number of reasons. But mostly for my youngest. He’s a screamer. And a tantrum thrower. He can’t sit still to save his life and he has the most adorable dimpled smile.
He also has his favorite green tutu, that he’ll wear on occasion and dance around the house. He’s still a boy. He also pretends to be Wonder Woman from time to time. Because she flies and has a cool lasso.
I can’t fault the kid on his taste.
I simply try to let him be himself, whatever that might be. And for now, at least, I’m relatively sure that’s masculine.
10. How did you know?
I feel like this question was asked in a variety of ways, but they all basically came down to the same thing: what made me certain that my son was trans?
Unfortunately, the answer will disappoint: I never knew. He did.
And the truth is, I never will know. Only he will.
Ultimately, that’s all that should matter.
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Read Portrait of a Transgender Child to learn more about my son.
Read my latest post here: The Do's and Don'ts of being an ally to parents of a trans kid
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