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How to Raise a Transgender Child…Without a Crystal Ball

While Gender Odyssey’s first family programming officially began in 2007, the seeds for a separate family focused conference were planted three years earlier.

Milton Diamond, an internationally known gender and sex researcher, was the 2004 conference keynote speaker. Little did I know that one of the most controversial sessions of the conference would revolve around his discussion of gender transitions for children.

In this session, the attendees (mostly adult transgender people) had vastly different views on the subject of whether or not kids should be able to transition. Should children have access to puberty delaying medications? Should they begin cross-hormone therapy during adolescence? With this course of action, these kids would never experience the agony of what most of us already had – the physical betrayal that comes with puberty.

Some people, with tears in their eyes, said they would have begged for this opportunity, alleviating years – for some, decades – of living an existence of invisibility, ostracism, and often shame for their little-understood “condition.” The chance to be seen on the outside for who they felt themselves to be on the inside was a dream all of them had abandoned at a very early age.

Other said the experiences they had growing up made them who they were today. Every event in their lives, good or bad, was invaluable and they wouldn’t trade them for the world. Some felt their true expression was more androgynous or gender variant and they weren’t interested in a physical transition. It wasn’t just about being only male or only female, but part of a wider gender spectrum.

What If I Could Go Back In Time?

In the twelve years since beginning my transition, I have occasionally asked myself the what-if-I-could-go-back-in-time question. Would I have wanted to change my gender when I was a kid? Would I have wanted my mom to say it was okay to change my name? Use a different pronoun? Find a way for me to take hormone blockers?

Ignoring the impossibility of time travel and, for the sake of speculating, I’d say that, had I known about medications to delay puberty and could get my little mitts on them?….YES, I most certainly would have begged for them! I would have changed my name. Puberty was a mortifying time and it just felt so…wrong. There’s no other way to describe it and I’m grateful I survived.

On the other hand, I value all the experiences that made me who I am today. I’m proud of my accomplishments and my ability to survive hardships. Would I have had the strength to be the man I am today if not for the determination to be the certain kind of girl I was?

What Should I Do With My Kid?

At the 2004 conference, a number of parents attended. Their fearful questions were in the same vein as the questions asked by the people in Milton Diamond’s session. Aren’t these kids too young to make this kind of decision? Shouldn’t they live as (insert birth sex here) first? What if they change their mind? How can I really be sure?

Really, we are all asking ourselves one simple question:

How can I see into the future?

I am reminded of one parent in particular. He asked a number of questions but I distinctly remember this one: “What should I do with my kid?”

This father represented everything I felt I would never have – a wife, career, family, societal respect, in effect, normalcy. I wanted to say to him: What should you do with your kid?! Why are you asking me and how should I know? I barely know what to do with myself. I’m taking my life one step at a time and I’m hoping it doesn’t lead to disaster. Was I the best ‘expert’ he could find? The only one?

Once I got over myself, I decided I am an expert and could answer his question of what he should “do” with his kid: What should you do with your kid? You’re at this conference! You are already “doing it”. Support him, love him, talk to him. Help him explore himself and tell him you love him no matter what. Don’t be afraid of uncertainty – it’s a natural part of life. Acceptance, unconditional love and open communication should be your top priorities. Also, don’t stop being his parent. There are chores to be done, homework to finish, and the dog still needs to go out for a walk.

The Best We Can Do Is Give Our Children a Loving, Supportive Boost

My expertise comes from being a kid who had unconditional love from his parent.
Honestly, I was lucky. Regardless of the fact that my mom knew nothing about being transgender and we had no access to any yet-to-be-created resources, she supported my day-to-day gender expression. I had to deal with the incongruence of my gender alone but it helped so much that my family saw the little boy in me, encouraged me to be myself, and loved me for it every step of the way.

My expertise also comes from being a parent. I’ve done my best to have a good relationship with my daughter – to love her unconditionally. Did I make mistakes? Of course. Did I do some things right? Hopefully. Ultimately, all of us “children,” get to decide what to do with our lives regardless of the decisions our parent(s) make. The best we can do is give our children a loving, supportive boost along the way.

Now, I know it’s unlikely you’d be reading this if, to some extent, you weren’t already on board. So let’s assume you love your child. What next? You need access to information and research; stories from other families; and medical and legal experts who will answer your questions. That’s where this conference comes in.

The Gender Odyssey Family Conference is specifically designed for families who are working to navigate safely through the day-to-day realities of a gender non-conforming identity and how this intersects with society. This unique conference is one of the only opportunities in the country for families to gather valuable resources, obtain information from the nation’s foremost experts, and develop community.

I hope to see you there!

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