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On Being the Parent of a Transgender Child

Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting Marcia and Ryan. Marcia is the mother of Ryan who is a 9 year old transgender child living in my community. Ryan was born with the anatomy of a male, but Ryan describes herself as having "the heart and brain of a girl."
10/27/2015 03:29pm ET | Updated October 27, 2016
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Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting Marcia and Ryan. Marcia is the mother of Ryan who is a nine year old transgender child living in my community. Ryan was born with the anatomy of a male, but Ryan describes herself as having "the heart and brain of a girl." After our first few encounters, I met with Marcia for a more detailed description of the journey Marcia and Ryan have been taking.

It was when Ryan was three years old, then identifying as a boy, that Ryan started to communicate preferences with family. However, Ryan's preferences were not typical, said Marcia. Ryan started to express sadness saying he wishes he was born a girl because then he we would normal. Marcia felt confusion and even thought that perhaps Ryan was gay, but that wasn't it. Being a supportive mom, Marcia explained to Ryan that she loves Ryan just the way he is.

What is a Transgendered Person?
Sex is what it is to be biologically male or female. Gender it is to be psychologically male or female. Legally, gender identity is "a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior...sincerely held as part of a person's core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose." It follows that if gender is part of someone's core identity it is a protected right. There is no reason to believe that there is or should be a perfect correlation between sex and gender identity. Humans are a biological species in the animal kingdom. There is tremendous intra-species variation in nature. Many people often think that variation is bad. Variation is not necessarily bad. It just may be different.

How Does Ryan think of Herself?
Marcia told me that Ryan's confidence in who she is set the example. Before pronouns were switched when Ryan was still referred to as 'him or he', Ryan used to proudly and emphatically say, "It is great to be a girl!"

However, Ryan wasn't always a confident transgendered child. There was a time when she would hide her toys from other children, or she would say to neighborhood children that the girl toys were her sister's toys. Neighborhood parents became concerned because there was no "sister" living in Ryan's home.

Now, Ryan's preferences are fully part of her identity. She prefers to play with traditionally female toys, wear female clothing, and use the ladies room. This is not a confused child. This is a young person who is very comfortable with herself and knows who she is and what she prefers. Ryan prefers to live the life of a young girl. The consistency of Ryan's gender identity is normal, healthy and well adapted.

At school, the administrators, teachers and fellow students are overwhelmingly supportive, said Marcia. Only a few students have a hard time understanding and therefore adapting to Ryan being different than the normal student.

A lot of people wonder: who will Ryan eventually want to date or get married to? Marcia and Ryan recently discussed this. Ryan said that she would like to have a crush on someone who is just like her, only the opposite. What that means is that she would like someone who was born with female anatomy but now identifies as a male.

Ryan finds stories about mermaids comforting. Mermaids, while often thought of as female don't have any biological sex organs that interfere with their identity.

Marcia asked Ryan if Ryan would like to do a 'do-over' if possible, meaning to be born as a biological girl to match Ryan's identity as a girl. Ryan said she would prefer to be born the way she is, and Ryan feels this was because as she says, "No one is perfect, everyone is different and I like who I am today."

How Has It Been Being the Parent of a Transgendered Child?
Marcia is always concerned about Ryan's safety. She worries about Ryan being targeted by similarly aged bullies as well as adults. Marcia does not think that ignorance is the root cause of bullying but a lack of understanding. She was quick to understand things from the point of view of people with limited to no exposure to transgendered persons.

Marcia also worries that some parents may inadvertently discriminate against Ryan to the point that Ryan's personal safety is threatened. She worries about this because other parents may not recognize Ryan as a young girl, but think that Ryan is a perverted boy and threat to other young girls.

Being Ryan's mom, Marcia also takes offense to people teasing Ryan. There was one story that she told me of where one neighborhood parent thought that Ryan needed to be taught how to run 'properly' because Ryan apparently ran like a girl with her hands flailing in an uncoordinated manner.

Ryan is nine and because of her age, Marcia has had age appropriate conversations about puberty and the changes to come. Some classmates at school have asked Ryan is she was planning on "cutting off her penis", a question that initially infuriated Marcia. However, as it turns out, it wasn't bullying or out of cruelty; the question of a "sex change operation", more appropriately called a 'gender affirmation surgery', was a genuine sense of curiosity for adults and children alike.

I wrote in the past about arguments that talk about the safety of children and women using bathrooms with transgendered persons. But what about the transgendered child who wants to use the bathroom that makes him or her feel comfortable with his or her gender identity? This was a point that Ryan's mother made to me; she would like to see her nine-year-old daughter be able to use the bathroom that Ryan is comfortable using.

Marcia agreed to chat with me and allow me to write about her and Ryan's journey so that other parents find support, realize there is help out there, and so that they realize they are not alone and there is nothing wrong with being different.

Why is Ryan a Transgendered Child?
Ryan has two brothers. Some people have questions Marcia's child rearing style with Ryan suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Marcia really wanted a little girl. Maybe it was this desire to have a little girl after having two boys that led to Marcia subconsciously raising Ryan to be a little girl. Marcia is aware of this hypothesis and dismisses it. Ryan's father and two brothers were also a force in Ryan's life encouraging male behaviors. Also, Marcia was confused and even often concerned with Ryan's gender identity.

Ryan's parents are divorced. That divorce must be the reason that Ryan is a transgendered child; Ryan is just acting out the divorce. Unfortunately, that explanation doesn't add up. Ryan started to identify as a transgendered child about four years before the divorce; Ryan was not witness to mom and dad fighting or any tension; and perhaps most importantly, there is nothing in the literature to suggest that divorce causes a transgendered identity.

Ryan's dad is a typical dad. He would wrestle with the boys. Play actively with them. When the realization that Ryan was different started to sink in, Ryan's dad struggled with Ryan being different. But with time, he came full circle and is completely supportive; Marcia told me he is one of Ryan's biggest advocates.

Many people may think that Ryan is just going through a phase. Some people can and will blame anything on anything on why Ryan is a transgender child. Marcia has her own explanation on why Ryan is a transgender child - Ryan is transgendered because that is the way she is. There is no need for an explanation. Marcia also keeps an open mind stating that if Ryan wants to start identifying as a male in the future, she will support that. But Ryan has her own opinion. Ryan said, "Mommy, I'm always going to be a girl."

Paul Heroux is a State Representative from Massachusetts. He can be contacted at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.