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thoughts on the transition journey of our entire family, from the proud mother of a transgender youth
I’ve had this blog for about fourteen months, and during that time have considered myself fortunate to have received very few negative comments or emails regarding my decisions about my transgender child. I also rarely check my blog stats, and at any given time could not even tell you how many followers i have (although my son occasionally updates me). I find it easier to imagine that i’m just writing to those of you who regularly comment and to those few whom i’ve shared this blog with who know me personally than the overwhelming and intimidating thought that any and every human connected to the internet can read what i write here.
However, i recently discovered that some very kind folks were sharing the link to my blog with others on various websites, so i’ve started looking at my stats more often to see where folks are coming from, so i can learn of these links and thank the people who shared them.
And that’s how i found the link to the most harsh criticism i’ve received yet. The referring website had the word “gender” in the url, so i expected something totally different from what i found when i arrived at the site. What greeted me was a blog run by a self-identified lesbian radical feminist who posted photos stolen from the blogs and websites of trans men, of both top and bottom surgery results, along with disrespectful commentary and refusal to recognize these individuals as men at all. And, in the comments section, the conversation turned to parents — and that is where i found the link to my blog posted with comments that misgendered my son, questioned and criticized my parenting, and generally showed an offensive level of transphobia.
I’ll be totally honest and blunt: my first thought after scrolling through comment after comment was “fuck them and their ignorance!” I wanted to just close out the page and never talk about it or think about it again.
But, as i pondered that website and those comments the remainder of the evening after first seeing them, i realized i could not just forget it. I have to answer at least some of the misconceptions, for several reasons:
I’ve heard them before.
When my son first disclosed that he was a boy, he experienced a brief joyfulness after having battled depression since puberty. That all came to a crushing halt with his next menstrual period. His therapist recommended that until we could find an endocrinologist to give him a puberty blocker, we put him on birth control pills.
So, i took him to my gynecologist. I had always liked her because she is a pro-woman, pro-choice, progressive feminist. I appreciated the magazines and artwork that were displayed in her office. I could go in for an exam in the middle of winter when i hadn’t shaved my legs in three months and be totally comfortable. My spouse and i were still in the early stages of understanding what was happening with our son, and i was relieved to find this doctor supportive and affirming. She congratulated my son on finding himself and being true to his identity. She talked about the university where she did her residency, and how they were one of the first hospitals to perform sex reassignment surgery back in the 1970’s. She gave us a prescription for birth control pills and explained how he could use them without the “off” week so he would only have to endure a couple of periods per year.
And then, she called me at home the next day. She started asking questions about my “daughter” – about my child’s upbringing and our family life. She concluded that she did not believe that my child was really a boy, but that “she” was instead a confused lesbian who did not have enough strong female role models and felt that it would be easier in a man’s world to live as male. I found this incredibly offensive, but did thank her for not saying it in front of my son. She is no longer my gynecologist.
These negative comments make me wonder if i’ve made things look too easy.
I’ve shared here before that i find it difficult to write about the difficult times. There’s a lot about my own personal pain and struggles around my son’s transition that i haven’t shared, mainly because my son reads this blog and i’ve never wanted him to think my support is faltering. But i’ve grieved. I’ve missed the daughter i thought i had. I’ve questioned whether or not i can get through this. And reading those comments, i get the sense that the women who wrote them think i’ve not only jumped on board with my son’s transition without giving it a second thought, but that i’ve perhaps even pushed him into it. Maybe i just need to be more open and honest, even about the rough times.
There might be others who are less set in their opinions who could benefit from some education on this topic.
Whether i like to realize it or not, my blog is “out there” and people are finding it who have no idea what it means to have a transgender child. The most common page for people to first land on here is a simple Happy Birthday from last year which has absolutely nothing to do with trans* issues at all. These folks, who happen upon the blog of the parent of a transgender son, may arrive with some of these same misconceptions but a willingness to reconsider them.
In another lifetime, these women could have been me.
There have been times in my life when i thought i had it all figured out on a certain subject, only to later learn i was utterly and completely wrong. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian taught that gay people were going to hell, after all! Had the course of my life turned differently, i may not be the mother of a transgender child, and may not even know any (out) trans* people. How would i feel about the subject then? I am very pro-child and extremely protective of young people. Some of the women who criticized me at that blog wrote in a very protective manner towards my child, believing that i am enacting some sort of emotional and physical violence against him. I know they are speaking from ignorance on the subject, but i can empathize with and relate to their general concern for the well-being of young folk. I certainly feel an equal level of distress when i learn of parents who are not supportive of their depressed and anxious trans youth, or of parents who are raising their children in extremely bigoted environments.
Additionally, i am not exactly what you’d call fond of men, having received much more violence than kindness from the majority of the men in my life, and it was difficult coming to terms with the fact that the child i had raised as my daughter was “one of them”. I think that’s why this criticism coming from women who call themselves feminists stung so much: when it comes from religious folks, i “get it” and it’s easy to look past, but this came from people i thought were my sisters. That just shows how very much i am still utterly and completely wrong about.
I won’t address every misconception raised at that website — some are too offensive, some are just downright stupid, and some are simply due to a lack of reading comprehension on the part of the person who wrote them. However, i am going to discuss a few, particularly the ones i have also heard elsewhere in person and online:
The misconception that trans men are confused butch women, whatever their orientation.
To begin with, this disregards gender identity altogether. Since i am not a trans person myself, i can only share what i know of trans* identity from reading educational resources and from listening to the experiences of transgender individuals. What i do know is that while people can question their gender identity in the same way humans can question sexuality (and mainly these questions often arise due to the expectations of our society and fears of being “different” and/or upsetting existing family dynamics), generally trans people are not “confused” and are just as sure of their identity as any cisgender (non-transgender) person.
Gender identity is a real and valid part of being human, and each of us has a gender identity. Many of us have a gender identity that is the same as the one we were assigned at birth, when the doctor or midwife looked at our genitals and pronounced us “male” or “female”. Some of us have a gender identity that differs from the one we were assigned at birth. Neither is more valid than the other, and both should be respected.
On a personal level, as i’ve gotten to know my son as my son over the last year-plus, it has become more and more clear that he has the mind of a boy and is definitely not a young woman, confused or otherwise. He has always been a bit of a mystery, and it’s clear now that this is why. As he has become more comfortable talking with me about himself in the past, he has shared writings and thoughts where he pondered what life could be like if he were a boy for years before he accepted for himself that he is one. These aren’t issues of social injustice directed towards women or of misplaced feminine-masculinity driving his male-ness; his innate sense of self developed at the earliest age is male, and he does not in any way relate to being a woman or to the body he was born into.
The misconception that parents (specifically, me) would prefer a child to be transgender and heterosexual than non-trans and lesbian/gay.
In my own case, this could not be further from the truth. I self-identify as bisexual, something i did not accept until my early 30’s due to my strict religious upbringing, and i think my then-“daughter” may have been the second person in my family and friend circle that i “came out” to after my spouse. I had not only experienced violence, objectification, abuse, and assault from men beginning at the earliest stages of my life, but i had seen other important women in my life experience this too. I have a good relationship with my spouse, and i think my sons are the greatest young men ever to walk the face of this earth, but in general, as i said previously, am not what you’d call fond of men. So, if anything, i encouraged the child i once knew as my daughter to be a lesbian. But that child liked boys, and ultimately, you know what? He’s a gay trans boy. And he is perfect.
Beyond myself though, what i am finding within the trans* community and among other parents of transgender teenagers and young adults, is that many gender non-conforming youth are queer. And the parents who are accepting of their trans youth are generally very accepting of this varied sexual orientation. The idea that parents would rather have a straight trans kid than a gay cis one is just not something i am seeing anywhere, any time.
The misconception that transgender adolescents are “too young” to make life-altering decisions with regards to their gender identity.
This may be the most common criticism i hear. It was the first concern raised by my own family members and friends when i shared the news of my son’s transition. It was even a nagging doubt in my own mind in those early days of learning that my child is transgender. At the root, i think, is adultism and the idea that adolescents are not capable of making any decisions and must be told what to do or how to live by those older and supposedly wiser.
What i find most hypocritical is these accusations being launched by lesbian women, considering that similar criticisms have been directed by those who believe that people can’t possibly know their sexual orientation at a young age!
The fact is that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, and the treatment for that condition is bringing the body into alignment with the gender identity. Just as cisgender folks like myself were certain of our gender identity at age 10, 12, or 15, so are the countless trans kids who are seeking help from their parents to live an authentic life.
My child has scoliosis. We sought care and an orthopedist monitored his spine through his primary growth stage. My child has asthma. We make sure he uses his inhalers as directed and takes all necessary preventative precautions. My child has gender dysphoria. We have obtained psychological and medical care and are treating him with the medically-accepted methods.
I’ve been asked many times, since he is “so young”, what if he later “changes his mind” and regrets any of the permanent changes that will be made to his body due to the medical intervention he will soon receive. When i tell him that people ask this, he finds it laughable. My answer is that if this were to happen, we would medically address the issue then in the same way we are now. Right now i am doing what i have to do to save my child’s life.
This misconception that if a “girl” had enough positive female role models or was allowed to “be herself” then she would not feel the need to transition to male.
This idea, similar to the one proposed by my former gynecologist, was echoed several times in the comments on the referenced website. Apart from the fact that it totally negates transgender identity, it also assumes to know the life details of a person (and in this case, specifically my child and me). In talking with my son about this entire situation, one of his observations was: “Yeah, like a bunch of people who read your blog for five minutes know more about me than my own mother.”
I’ve written about what a surprise it was to me and to my family when we learned that my child was trans, and a lot of that surprise was due to the fact that he just wasn’t a masculine “girl” growing up. I definitely have regrets about not being aware of gender issues when my kids were younger, and wishing i’d put less emphasis on the “boy”/”girl” thing, but my kids were all free to be themselves. My middle son went through a phase when he was pre-school aged where he wore purple nail polish because purple was his favorite color. My youngest child was the “baby girl” of the family, but has definitely been the most independent of the three, and that was always encouraged.
He has shared that, because he didn’t feel comfortable as a girl, he didn’t have an identity. So, he threw himself into ballet and “being the perfect daughter” as a way to distract himself from the reality of his male-ness. He has told me that there is only one thing that he ever felt that he had to do, and that was to be a girl, and when he allowed himself to accept that he was not one, he felt that he failed. This breaks my heart. And he wasn’t taught or told that he had to “be a girl” in any certain way, or be any type of girl. He just knew he was expected to be a girl because that is what we told him and how we raised him based upon his birth assignment, and he knew he was not one.
He began presenting as male several months before he told us that he was a boy, but because he was a feminine guy, we didn’t know what was going on. He looked sort-of like a 1980’s hair metal rocker with tight skinny jeans, band t-shirts, teased hair, eye liner, a chain from his wallet to his belt loop, a bandanna around his neck, and fingerless gloves. I remember that he was learning to play guitar and all of his musical role models at the time were men, so i sent him some youtube links to Janis Joplin, Cat Power, Regina Spektor, Kimya Dawson, Joan Jett, and other female artists (in my mind at the time, he was emulating the Joan Jett look, not “looking like a boy”!) . He showed absolutely no interest in the videos i sent and i was baffled!
There are women in our personal life who are business owners, teachers, dancers, and musicians that i encouraged him to look up to. However, he once again looked to the men – particularly the male dancers, which i really didn’t understand since he was a “female” ballerina at the time.
Of course, now it makes sense that a young boy is going to look to male role models. And if he had been female, there would have been plenty of women in our lives for him to have sought out as mentors. And, hello – i’m a woman!
It’s insulting to be accused of failing to allow my child(ren) to be themselves, when it is the freedom i’ve given them to do just that that allowed my son to realize that he is, in fact, my son.
The misconception that trans youth are being “forced” to take hormones, have surgeries, or partake in any other aspect of transition.
One of the accusations i saw in the blog comments and have also seen time and time again in comments on news articles about trans youth and their families is that parents are “forcing” their kids into transition, “forcing” them to take hormones, and “forcing” them into surgery. This is so completely false that it’s almost funny, except that people actually think and believe it.
I’m part of several different support groups for parents of transgender youth and adolescents, and i don’t know of a single case where the parents suspected that their child was trans and dragged them to the doctor asking for treatment. Without fail, the child is the one telling the parents “I’m a boy!” or “I’m a girl!” and the parents, usually with much apprehension and often with disbelief and reluctance, are following the child’s lead.
When it comes to puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery, it is the physical distress of the youth who are often cutting and disfiguring their own bodies and deep in depression and suicidal ideation due to extreme dysphoria that lead parents to seek treatment. When children at five and six years old are trying to cut off their genitals, and when adolescents at twelve and thirteen would rather commit suicide than face puberty, it is neglect of a criminal level for a parent to fail to act.
In my case, my son had access to the internet and once he allowed himself to accept that he was a boy, he quickly learned that medical intervention could save him from his physical distress. I didn’t “force” him; he demanded it! I am a strong advocate for him because i know it’s what he needs, but he has known from the very beginning that his body is his own and these are his choices to make.
The misconception that because one person calls themselves a “former” FTM (or MTF) or detransitioned, all transgender identities are invalidated.
This is a logical fallacy to begin with, and in any group, just because one person claims to be an “ex” something that does not mean that no one in the group is legitimate. Again, it’s surprisingly hypocritical that lesbian feminists use this argument and consider it valid, when they certainly would not accept a so-called “ex-lesbian” who has been through religious “reparative therapy” to come along and proclaim herself “cured” of lesbianism!
One thing i have noticed with the few cases i’ve seen of women who claim to be “former FTMs” is that they all admit to having identified as male for reasons that are totally unlike any that my son or the trans guys i know have ever expressed. These women list reasons such as: being uncomfortable with males gawking at their breasts and wanting to generally get away from the male gaze, rejecting society’s concepts of femininity, and feeling “unheard” as women. Now, these reasons sound a lot like the suggestions put forth by my gynecologist as to why my child might be trans, but they sound nothing like the reasons my child has given me! It’s no wonder these “former FTMs” failed, because they aren’t men.
Access to medical care can be a frustrating and difficult experience for trans* people and i am not pro-gatekeeping, but i do wonder if the “former FTMs” had a mental health evaluation from a gender therapist before beginning their transition. The first thing we did when we learned my son is trans was seek out a therapist who specialized in gender identity, to make sure that he was, in fact, transgender (as i said – yes, i did have doubts in the beginning, even though i was supportive and affirming!). I don’t know of any parent in any of the support groups i belong to who hasn’t taken their child to a gender therapist. And honestly, i don’t know of any gender therapist who would encourage someone who gave the “reasons” listed above to transition to male.
(Please see this post regarding what i’ve written here on folks who detransition: Dustin Hoffman made me write this apology)
The misconception that trans* identity disrespects women.
The lesbian feminists whose website i found insist that transgender individuals, both male and female, are a threat to feminism and that trans* identity disrespects women and lesbians. I find the exact opposite to be true. In the last year or so, i have learned a lot about gender and gender identity. I have come to bitterly view our binary society which wants to fit every individual into a checked-box of “male” or “female” and then poke fun at or enact violence upon those who don’t fit. I see this binary system as a part of the patriarchy that views masculinity as strong and authoritative, and femininity as weak and subservient. If trans* and gender variant individuals are a threat to anything, they are a threat to the patriarchal binary system that has oppressed women for millennia. Trans* folk demand to be respected for who they are, not for what they look like or what body parts they have – and isn’t that what we cis women have been demanding all along?
There are other criticisms and misconceptions about trans people (particularly trans youth and their parents), and i’m sure you’ve all encountered ones i haven’t even heard yet, but this post is plenty long enough. Please feel free to respond with your thoughts in the comments section, and share any common misconceptions that you hear that i didn’t include and how you’d answer them if you’d like. Thanks for taking the time to read this very long post, and a special thanks to those of you who have supported my family and me since the very beginning of my son’s transition.
Edited to add:
This post was reblogged at the site where i first found the comments about my blog, my son, and me. I’ve received some very negative comments on this post which have not been published. I felt conflicted at first, because i am usually very much in favor of the free exchange of information and opinions. My thoughts and views have changed so much on so many topics over the years, as i’ve listened to and learned from the wisdom and experience of others, and i usually encourage folks to expose themselves to opposing ideas and schools of thought regularly.
But, the comments i’m receiving are not educational or informative; they are inflammatory and rude. They imply that because the writer’s experience was a certain way, all designated-female-at-birth individuals’ experiences must be that same way as well. And of course, they attack me as a mother and as a human being.
This blog first started as a Word document saved to my computer that i thought no one would ever read but me. I wanted to keep a record of our experience and how i felt about it, because i knew i was so overwhelmed with emotion that i would likely forget some of the details. When i decided to share some of these writings and start a public blog, i did so because i knew there were others who had a shared experience, and i was hoping we could connect.
This is not a “free speech” zone. This is a “safe space” zone. People are free to disagree with me here if they do so respectfully (in fact, i welcome respectful disagreement when i am wrong about something or when i can learn something from it), but i won’t allow the core identity of my son and his peers to be discounted and disrespected.
I didn’t write this post for people who think they have everything figured out and who creep around my blog, copying and pasting comments and obsessing over a child they have never met and who does not affect their lives in any way. I wrote it for those who are interested in honest dialogue and for those who share this journey with me.