After writing a blog for the Huffington Post debunking myths and misperceptions about transgender children, I was inundated with messages from parents of transgender children thanking me for it. In the conversations that followed, I realized that there was something missing from it though: the perspective of the parents. I spoke with eight parents in detail, looking for what patterns emerged from their narratives. What I found was both amazing, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
1. There's nothing wrong with our children.
"We needed a therapist to help empower us to advocate for our child. Our child did not need a therapist. We did... Transgender kids have a great sense of self. They know who they are and the type of person they want to be. If only we all could be so lucky."
"My transgender child is absolutely no different than a cisgender child. She looks, acts and has feelings just as any other child."
"Our child is no different to any other child -- they just want to be loved and supported and accepted for who they are, not what you might want them to be... He is just a regular boy, like any other boy his age, and deserves to be treated with respect."
2. Younger kids generally handle the idea of transgender children well...
"The easiest part of parenting a transgender child was telling our other children about the transition. None of them questioned his affirmation, or our decision to help him make the full switch. I thought that would take a lot of convincing."
"We thought that there might have been lots of child asking questions he couldn't handle (he was only 6), or lots of people making life difficult for him but it wasn't like that. He left to all the children shouting out 'Bye, Ben' just as though he'd always been known as Ben to them."
3. And "adults" are the worst.
"It pains me to no end that others are more concerned with what's between my child's legs vs. her sweet heart. People's ignorance and hatred hurt me so much."
"Processing the amount of hate and negativity from other people (has been the hardest part). She's a child yet so many adults talk about her like she is a monster or an animal... She's seen the way adults look at her when they know she's transgender. She has experienced more pain and has had to struggle more in her 7 years than many adults do in a lifetime. Be kind. She is just a child."
"A year and a half ago, our extended family cut us out of the family and said they did not want anything to do with us because they did not want to expose their children to our transgender child."
"As a Mom, it is my duty to shelter him from the ignorance, rejection, discrimination and evil that is so frequently is bestowed upon transgender children. My heart has been broken many times because neighbors, friends and family have rejected my child."
4. Access to care experienced with transgender youth is spotty, but nearly universally supportive.
"Finding a therapist that is familiar with transgender children has been a challenge."
"We were referred to a doctor by a therapist who specializes in gender issues so it wasn't a problem."
"The best gender identity support at present would be about 4 hours away in a metro area... It's frustrating there isn't a large enough community of out transgender children and adults in my area and that to find knowledgeable support we have to travel that far for it. As for general healthcare here I've been impressed with the how they have honored my daughter's gender identity as well as her preferred name."
5. Schools are getting it right (most of the time).
"My daughter's school is K-8 and the staff has been amazingly supportive and welcoming to her. She is loved by the whole mixed age/mixed staff and community of those who know her. It really has been heartwarming."
"The assistant superintendent called me yesterday to tell me his name change will be ready by registration day. She also told me he has their full support... Last year when my child told some of his teachers they actually hugged him and said congratulations!"
"Our school agreed to hire a trainer to help the staff understand the needs of our child. We sent a letter from the family to all the parents. Transition was seamless to include use of the bathroom and camping trips."
6. Having a transgender child isn't always the hardest part about having a transgender child...
"Keeping our marriage has been harder than we expected. The strain of family objections continues to test our strengths."
"The hardest thing was the reaction of some of my family members... especially my gay brother, not accepting my daughter."
"My husband slipped into depression after his family rejected us. We never told our son the truth why we had not seen his cousins for so long. We lied and maybe up excuses, which I really hated doing."
"The pronoun change has been very hard. I hesitate on everyone's pronouns now. I even hesitate when I'm talking about the dog! Hopefully that will go away."
7. Trans-feminine children get the worst of it.
"Having a female assigned at birth child made it very easy to have a gender non-conforming child, as our society seems to tolerate, maybe even celebrate, tom-boys. There was never any push back from anyone regarding anything my child wore or who and what she played with. I know this is not true for the girls, and it makes me very sad and I believe causes more dysphoria for them."
"My daughter was 16 when she tried to commit suicide due to the bullying at school. I withdrew her when she got out of the hospital... Watching my daughter feel so isolated has been the hardest part. She has few friends. She is one of the funniest, most talented people I know, but people can't see past the whole transgender thing."
8. Don't judge us when you haven't walked a mile in our shoes.
"I am not any different today as the parent of a transgender child than I was with my cisgender children. I did not parent my child differently, or otherwise do anything to "cause" him to be transgender. This just as easily could have been anyone else's child as mine, and I would like people to recognize that before passing judgment on me, my family, or my child."
"It is not your job to approve or disapprove of my parenting choices. There isn't a single thought or question that anyone can pose to us, that we have not already mulled over day and night before deciding to fully recognize and support our child's true identity."
"I just can't fathom how any parent of a transparent child or adult child could set conditions that ultimately cause a disconnect between parent and child. The rate of suicidality and suicides committed amongst transgender individuals is so high. When these individuals are accepted supported and honored for who they are those rates decrease dramatically. How any parent would ever risk that or put their child through that is beyond me."