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the words remembered

Five years ago, my child let me know he was transgender.

The words he used were, “I have gender dysphoria.” He had already known for about two years, since he was at least 8 or 9 years old, and had been in various ways trying to let me know: shorter and shorter haircuts, masculine clothing, refusing to do some activities at school. Finally, one summer night at 2 am, I found him sobbing in the kitchen because he was afraid he wouldn’t be loved any longer and would be kicked out of the house, a sad and all too frequent occurrence for trans children.

In our case, I let him know that we would take things slowly, I had a lot to learn, but that he would always have my love. I think he went back to sleep after my reassurances, but I didn’t. At last I had an explanation for the last two years of depression I had observed in him, a depression that no amount of sports, medicine, diet change or therapy seemed to lift. I began scouring the internet that night and found all kinds of helpful information along with a lot of anecdotal unhelpful stories. I also went to a website that mimics the answers of the Magic 8 Ball toy and asked it over and over if my child was trans. It always came up with variations of yes or check back later.

I sought help right away: we found a therapist trained in gender matters, began a regular dialogue with a counselor at his school, and immediately had my son start attending a local LGBTQIIA+ support group for kids. We began using the they/them pronouns for a short time and a nickname that was androgynous. I found they/them tough but we stuck it out until his dad and I and our son were all ready for the he/him/his pronouns.

In some circumstances, my son was able to navigate the changes pretty easily. Apparently a loud-mouthed classmate had already outed him at school, so we worked on teacher support and an accessible bathroom for him. But, in some cases, like at extra curricular activities or with relatives, I needed to be the one to pave the path. And since I also needed the support of my friends, I checked in with my son and let him know I would be telling some folks. “The better we can move this along,” was his general attitude.

After I began sharing the news with some close friends, I kept a list of the nice things that people said so I could look back at it in times of need. Five years on, the list makes me smile, especially since it has become increasingly unnecessary to let people know: my son presents very male at this point thanks to hormone therapy and working out. Occasionally, though, I’ll run into someone that remembers we had a baby all those years ago, a baby of the opposite persuasion, and I have to fill them in. While dining out recently, this happened two times in one night. I set the record straight with one couple but not the other. At the moment I had to weigh how often I would see the family and if they needed to be informed. Sometimes, you just want to get to your dinner.

Here are some of the nice, funny and supportive things people said to me that remind me that there are good and kind people in the world.

  • “Let’s get together and have wine. We can use the correct pronouns and be supportive!”
  • “The only answer is extra love for all of you.”
  • “Chris was always the coolest kid!”
  • “We’re on ‘team Chris’ and always will be!”
  • “They will always be your child to us. Gender doesn’t matter.”
  • “There’s no one way to be a man or a woman. Love this kid!”
  • “I want to give you a big hug. I was just like Chris.”
  • “I am here if ever you would like to talk to someone. Please be patient with yourself here.”
  • “It’s great that Chris is able to start living as his true self at this age and stage with essentially all of his life still ahead.”
  • “Chris is still the coolest kid I have ever known, the most charming, the most acutely intelligent, and the most loved. I am so proud of you all for creating a family where he can express himself.”

Each loving response reminds me that as his parents, while we may face persecution and even jail time in some states for providing gender affirming care to our son, I can count our family and friends and the LGBTQIIA+ community. I’m so grateful to each. After all, as Charles Dickens once wrote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

Names have been changed, including the author’s. To learn more about supporting LGBTQIIA+ teens and their families, please visit Gender Spectrum, the Trevor Project, or GLAAD.

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