As early as 16 months of age, there were little things about my oldest child that seemed…well, a bit different. As he clomped around in my high heels with a towel wrapped around his waist, my husband and I paused. This was curious play; but he was so young. We just went along with it. His little sister had just arrived so I was Busy – with a capital B. One napped just as the other woke up, the other napped and then first one woke up. Someone always needed to be fed or changed. Honestly, high heels and towel skirts were the least of my worries.
More time passed and by age 3, he was instructing his little sister to not use his real name but to call him “Sister” when they played princess. “ Hmm….okay, that’s a little different,” I thought. I decided to have a talk with him. I shared that God had made him a boy and made his little sister a girl. “It was okay to be a boy who likes to play some ‘girl’ things like dress up and princesses but it’s also really cool to play with cars and dinosaurs!” He simply gave me a very puzzled look.
We continued this conversation over several months. We talked about who we really are versus who we pretend to be. This was becoming a real concern for us. Finally, in his most reassuring voice, he told me, “Okay Mommy, I’m just pretending to be a girl.”
I’m not going to sugar coat this for you. I was getting very tired of this “phase”. What was going on? I wanted real answers to my questions about his behavior. I went to the internet. I spent many sleepless nights glued to my laptop searching for information. I couldn’t find much that was of any help and, frankly, some of it was simply garbage. I had, however, begun to learn the meaning of gender variant, transgender and gender identity disorder. But the more I read, the more confused I became. At that time we were struggling as parents. There was no road map to follow, no expert offering insight. The thought of our child being transgender scared me. I thought it was a life sentence of despair.
We had met with a several therapists, a child psychiatrist, and our pediatrician. None of them offered much help because they had so little knowledge of gender identity issues themselves. More than one suggested my husband needed to bond more with our son so we faithfully scheduled activities for just the two of them. Others suggested our son needed to have more playdates with boys. Much to my child’s horror, I invited boys from his preschool class to come play. These were boys, I discovered, who didn’t like him and he certainly didn’t like them either. One playdate nearly ended in disaster when, for no apparent reason, the child started beating up my kid.
During this time we tried to let our child express his femininity openly at home, but with limits in the outside world. We did everything to let him know it was okay with us that he liked girl things but it wasn’t enough. One heartbreaking day, my child broke down in tears and confessed that he wanted to go live in heaven. He didn’t want to live as a boy and, maybe in heaven, God lets people choose for themselves.
Then, thankfully, during one of my internet searches, I finally stumbled upon the Gender Odyssey Family conference. I learned they were about to host a first-ever national conference in Seattle for families with stories similar to ours. I have to admit that, for my husband and me, even considering attending this conference made us feel uncomfortable. Did we really belong here? We didn’t know whether a transgender “diagnosis” fit for our child. Was this the path our child was on? Where would this path lead? I decided to attend but wasn’t feeling optimistic, that’s for sure.
After I heard the first few speakers, my fears disappeared. After feeling so alone for so long, the most incredible feeling of relief welled up inside me. For the first time, since becoming a mother, I felt like it was going to be okay…that I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t doing something wrong and my child certainly wasn’t doing anything wrong either. In fact, we were doing most things right! Throughout the conference, I heard other mothers tell their stories. They were telling mine – the struggles, the fears, the sleepless nights of worry – we all shared that.
Thankfully, at the Gender Odyssey Family conference, I also got the reassurances I needed to do what I already knew in my heart was the right thing to do — love and support my child. I needed to allow him to be his (or maybe her!) true self.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it was to our family that we attended the Gender Odyssey Family conference that first year. We discovered there is an entire community out there that will love and accept my child for who he (or she) is on the inside. There were dozens of other children of all ages; transgender children, gender variant kids, and siblings. The joy and happiness they experienced together during the Gender Odyssey Day Camp activities was beautiful to see. At the conference, I found hundreds of fantastic, healthy people who also happened to be transgender. I met many of them as well as their spouses, parents, dear friends, and their own happy children. I met many relieved parents of kids like mine who had felt just as isolated and scared as we had. Leaving the conference, I felt for the first time that my child had just as much chance at happiness as any other child.
To be clear, I did leave that first conference with more questions than I started with! But I also had answers to many of them. Most importantly, I met people who could help me find answers… lend a friendly ear, or even a shoulder to cry on. During this time, I found a voice I didn’t know I had and a resolve to make things right for my child. Attending the conference gave me the courage to follow my gut. At Gender Odyssey Family, I acquired a lot of practical knowledge that I still use daily. There are sessions that cover current research, medical considerations, creating inclusive school environments, how to talk to family and friends about your child’s gender, and so much more.
Today I am the proud mother of a vivacious, outgoing 10-year-old daughter. She has gone from being angry, anxious and defiant to more peaceful, relaxed and cooperative. We proudly affirm her female gender identity; she is our daughter in every way. My child never had anything wrong with her at all. Thank goodness she was patient with her parents! It had simply taken us a few more years for us to understand what she already knew – that she was indeed a girl.
Every year, I return to the Gender Odyssey Family conference and each time I take home valuable new information that helps me navigate this path with my child. Whether your child is gender variant, a “princess boy”, transgender, or just doesn’t fit typical gender roles, please consider attending the Gender Odyssey Family conference. You (and your child) don’t need to feel alone! You deserve to have the support and resources you need to be the best parent you can be.