Disclosure: Syracuse Moms Blog seeks to honor the voices of all moms living in Central New York. We understand that this is a controversial topic, but we ask that you read this local moms journey to seek understanding – and should you desire to weigh in, that you do so respectfully.
I became a parent in 2005. I gave birth to a baby boy. Cigars were handed out to friends on the evening of his birth—they were adorned with little blue stickers, on which my baby’s name, date of birth, weight, and height were scribbled.
My son, who was born eleven years ago, is now a tween. Sometimes emotionally upset, often times worrisome, and constantly in need of reminders to clean his room—he really isn’t all that different from other fifth graders. Except that he dreams to be a she.
Up until a couple of years ago, I admit that I had pegged him as gender variant. One source best explains gender variance as behaviors and interests that fit outside of what we consider ‘normal’ for a child’s assigned biological sex. So, in my child’s case, the history of his behaviors and interests were:
- Around age 3: The movie Wizard of Oz was a favorite and the female characters (Dorothy, Glinda the Good Witch, and the Wicked Witch of the West) were adored and constantly role-played. My son would put on one of my knee-length nightgowns and spin around the living room holding a wand and wearing red glitter shoes while watching the movie over and over.
- By age 4: The movies Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and Shrek were all favorites and Belle, Annie, and Fiona were the characters whom he loved. He didn’t care for what he called “boy toys” and he chose girls as playmates at both preschool and the playground.
- Age 5: Barbies and dress-up were fun ways for him to pass time.
- Age 6: Two favorite activities he participated in at the public library were American Girl Doll club meetings and fairytale tea-parties.
It was obvious to me as time progressed that, by my son’s behavior and interests, he was not conforming to typical gender stereotypes and expectations.
When he told me that his first crush was on a boy, I figured that he would most likely grow up to be gay. Even though he was years away from puberty at the time, I was pretty confident in my assumption. After all, I had a few gay friends who I was quite close with for many years, so that possibility wasn’t a concern for me. When he was 8 years old, however, he said (quite loudly while sitting with my entire family at a restaurant) that he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. And then, a year later, he told me as he sobbed with tears pouring down his cheeks that he thought that God had made him wrong because he was a girl born in a boy’s body. And he also confessed to me that he wanted to kill himself. My son was just a nine-year-old at the time. I remember feeling my heart drop into my stomach as I did my best to remain calm and focus on being supportive.
I knew that my son needed help and that I, too, had to get myself some help.
I scoured the internet for helpful resources. First and foremost, I needed to find a counselor for my son. And not just anyone, but someone who had experience counseling transgender youth. And I needed to find someone to listen to me and help me take the right approach. I knew I was about to head down an unfamiliar, challenging path, and that I would need all of the help I could get. I started with emailing a guidance counselor at my son’s elementary school (and good thing I did). She replied, giving me the phone number for The Q Center, which is located in Downtown Syracuse. I called and quickly learned that they have support groups for parents and guardians of transgender youth, transgender youth between the ages of 13-22, as well as siblings of transgender youth. I attended a handful of meetings, which take place in the evening on the first and third Wednesdays of every month, and over the course of a year or so, I met many amazing, strong caregivers who shared powerful stories.
It was through these experiences that I developed a better sense of direction regarding where I must head. I knew that I never wanted to see my child take his own life, let alone think that suicide is as an option. Thanks to The Q Center, I was provided with a list of therapists, psychologists, physicians, and centers that welcome and serve transgender youth. Now, my son sees a counselor who is receptive to his feelings, fears, and desires.
In addition to meeting with other parents of the TransParent support group and getting my son support, I wanted to better understand what it means to be transgender. I found great information in the book Gender Born, Gender Made. And I even got my hands on books for my child, such as Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and The Royal Heart. We watched season one of TLCs I Am Jazz together and we openly talked about his desire to transition from male-to-female (termed “MTF”). He stated that he is not yet ready to transition to female, so he remains to appear as a male for now, but one who considers himself female in every other sense and, in my mind, still keeps the label “gender variant.”
When he is ready to transition, he said that he would like to keep his hair short and sometimes wear dresses and sometimes dress like he does now. And as far as sex reassignment surgery goes, he said he doesn’t feel the need to consider that in his upcoming adolescent years, however hormone blockers may need to be considered in the near future, for he says that the thought of male puberty petrifies him.
Many may wonder what a gender variant tween looks like. Well, mine goes to school in pastel-colored shirts (usually pink, purple, or green), wears girls sneakers, and sits with females at lunchtime. Sometimes he paints his fingernails with polish, but, for the most part, his days of playing dress-up are no longer an interest. For Christmas, he got his first iPod, which was loaded with songs mostly by female pop-artists. He is extremely creative, constantly reads and writes, and has consistently been on honor roll for his first year of middle school. He complains when class lessons require teams of girls versus boys and when the girls get to do yoga in gym class as the boys learn to wrestle. When intramural volleyball was offered “for girls,” he signed up anyways (and he did get to do yoga, for I always encourage him to advocate for himself). I am always certain to email his gym teacher and principal when a situation arises. So far, the North Syracuse Central School District has been very accommodating and its principals and teachers who I’ve met thus far have been extremely understanding and supportive. They seem to understand that, although my child presently dresses as male, my son identifies as female in many other ways. He uses the restroom marked for males (for now), but when it comes to the locker room, he prefers to change in a private room before and after gym class. I find that communication between myself (as parent), the administration, and faculty is key to maintaining a smooth year for him.
There will always be bumps in the road. Just a few weeks ago, while on a field trip, a male student teased my son by calling him “gay boy.” He cried and many teachers came to his side to resolve the conflict. At home, he asks his close female friends to play or come for sleepovers and, more often than not, they aren’t free or able to. But, luckily he has had one female friend for five years now who often joins him for sleepovers. And he was finally invited to an all-girls birthday slumber party a few months ago, which made him feel so accepted and happy. He does have a couple of male friends, but it seems as though he usually finds friendships with boys frustrating and less appealing than friendships with girls.
As for me, I experience different bumps in the road. Although most of my family accepts my now-gender variant son (who may soon become my transgender daughter), I struggle to get everyone to understand and accept it, and find it difficult to just let it be for now. Although the local TransParent support group is great, I feel bad for parents located outside of the Syracuse area or in other Central New York communities, for they may lack support or feel as though they have no voice. So, to remedy that, I created a Facebook page called TransParenting in Central New York, where I feature information and positive news stories from both our state and nation.
I chose to focus on the positive because there is enough negativity out there pertaining to the transgender community. For example, the suicide rate within the transgender community is so high, now estimated at just over 40%. I hope my Facebook page provides a sense of hope for parents and guardians of transgender children, as well as feelings of unity and pride that can be fostered throughout our region.
When I told my son that I was invited to write and share my experience, I asked him if there was anything he would like to say to parents who learn that their children are transgender. The only thing that he said was “Get ready for a lot of crying from bullying.” It shouldn’t have to be that way. That shouldn’t be the reality that transgender youth are faced with in the twenty-first century. I believe that once awareness spreads—and does so in a positive manner—and school curriculum regarding lessons on puberty gets updated to include information on gender variant and transgender youth, hopefully society will be more welcoming to children like mine and bullying will be more effectively stomped out.