Wednesday, 22 January 2020

My Worries & Fears As The Mum Of A Gender Questioning Child

 Last week, I saw an old friend announce on social media that a mutual friend of ours had just given birth to a new baby.

Always a fan of newborn photo spam, I immediately headed over to this person's Facebook feed to offer my congratulations and maybe find out what name she'd chosen for her newborn son.

After a quick scroll through the profile, sure enough....I found the name I'd gone in search of. But I also stumbled across something that I hadn't expected to find there.

A handful of rants from this person which were undeniably transphobic in nature.

Rants about their disappointment with sanitary pad companies changing their packaging to be non-gender specific, the use of slurs like "freaks" when describing transgender people and all manner of other things which left a bad taste in my mouth.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I always find it particularly shocking to stumble across this sort of thing from younger people - people under the age of 40, people who've been raised in what we like to think of as a more accepting time.

And let me tell you - as the mother of a child who may very well fall under the transgender category, that rant broke my heart.

Because not only is it devastating to casually scroll through the Facebook profile of someone you once considered a friend only to realise that they actively discriminate against a group of people that your own child may well belong to, but to then see that a whole host of their friends had chimed in with similar transphobic commentary -  ALL of whom are parents to children the same age as mine  - brought home the all-too-familiar fear and worry of what my child will have to face throughout the next few years, and quite possibly for their whole life.

Because how can there be any hope that we're raising kind, inclusive and accepting people when there are children being brought up around these attitudes?

I've wanted to write a post about all of my many feelings on this topic for a long time, now.

I've had variations of it in my drafts for months, never quite feeling able to properly articulate my many muddled feelings. Never quite able to untangle them enough to produce anything that will make sense to an outsider. And also, full of fear at the thought of going ahead and sharing it. But that fear is the very reason it needs to be discussed.

Because when those of us experiencing these situations firsthand keep quiet out of fear of judgement, the more isolated we all feel. And the less understanding there is out there for kids like ours.

By kids like ours - I mean gender-variant children. Gender-variant being the title I've currently adopted for it - in the last year or so I've also used titles like gender-creative, gender-questioning...all sorts of titles rather than the one that would probably be most fitting - transgender.

The reason I'm reluctant to use this title is not because I don't think it's the correct one. I 100% do believe that my child is transgender. But I'm very aware that people on the outside don't agree.  I know that using this title will invite judgement from those outsiders. People without any first hand experience of it but a ton of opinions regardless. 

People who will insist that a child as young as mine can't possibly be transgender and that labeling them as such is damaging. 

A sentiment I don't at all agree with - but here I am pandering to those people anyway, and trying to avoid the term until it's something a medical professional agrees to bestow upon our child.

Because only then might people accept it (and let's be honest, probably not even then).

To these people, my experience as the mother of this child means nothing - despite the fact that I'm the one who has raised this child for the past 5 years, despite the fact that I'm the one who knows better than anyone that this child has never identified themselves as anything other than female since they could speak, despite the fact that I'm the one witnessing this childs upset and turmoil at realising that their body parts don't align with the "them" they feel they are.

Those experiences are dismissed along with accusations of "forcing it on them" and "wanting" it to be this way. 

Over and over again I'm told that I "shouldn't label it" too soon.

That I shouldn't discuss it because "it's private".

 That I should go through all of the worries, fears and uncertainties of parenting my way through this in silence - without support, without trying to connect with other parents going through the same things. 

How many other situations would you expect a parent to go it alone and keep their fears quiet through?

How often do most parents have to scroll through Facebook and find their friends writing hateful rants about something that applies to their child?

When something potentially life-altering is facing your child, would you be able to just keep it all to yourself and battle through it alone? Without ever needing peer support, or someone who understands, or just a space to vent your fears and feelings?

Every day, the statistics regarding the incredibly high suicide rates among transgender youth ring in my ears. It terrifies me on a daily basis. And yet I'm expected to just deal with that quietly, not to want to find ways to connect with other parents facing it, not to need to express my feelings.

When something is weighing heavy on my mind, my way to process and work through it has always been to write. And I'm done holding back out of fear.

Fear is something I'm very familiar with these days. If I had to sum up my feelings about Noah's gender questioning in one word, "Fear" would be the word I'd use.

Fear of judgement - of myself as a parent for how we're handling it, of Noah both now from peers and in the future from society as a whole.

Fear of what sort of future Noah will have and how difficult life might be for her - whether her peers will accept her, whether she'll be discriminated against, whether she'll have trouble finding love when the time comes, whether someone will ever try to physically hurt her because of who she is.

Fear of the statistics - of whether Noah will struggle with accepting herself through puberty, through the teenage years, whether her mental health will suffer.

So much fear.

Endless, endless fear.

I worry constantly about when and how the moment will come when Noah realises that outside of her happy, comfortable, supportive bubble - there are people who will despise her simply for being herself. And worse...that there are people who want to hurt her for it. 

Trans people are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and that fact fills me with terror every single day.

I worry that we're not doing enough to advocate for Noah's rights and the rights of all LGBTQ+ people. I worry that I don't know enough about what exactly I should be advocating for, and how to do it.

I worry that there are situations where we need to be careful so that people don't realise that Noah wasn't born a girl - trips to the swimming pool are no longer simple family fun, they're anxiety-inducing experiences of worry over what she should wear to feel that she's allowed to be herself but also that won't draw any attention to her body parts or "give away" her secret.

I worry because I don't want her to grow up thinking that being transgender is something that should be a secret or that she should be ashamed of, but I also worry that if she tells everyone she meets then something bad will happen.

I worry about when and how the moment will come that somebody bursts this bubble of acceptance that Noah currently lives in.

I worry about every day mundane things that most parents take for granted - like will we be able to go through passport control at the airport when Noah's passport says she's a male but she's presenting as female? Will she be able to join brownies and ballet and wear the female uniform?  If  a child in the park takes a shine to her and calls her his girlfriend, will his parents freak out if they realise that Noah is transgender?

I worry about the etiquette of being a parent to a transgender child - because there's nobody to tell you how you're supposed to handle things - do I need to tell class leaders at ballet and rainbows that she wasn't born a girl? Do I need to put her sex down as male or female on forms?

 When I meet new parents at playdates and they ask me "Do you have boys or girls?" am I supposed to respond? Because to tell them I have 2 sons and a daughter feels like a lie...I've never given birth to a daughter. But to tell them I have 3 sons looks kind of ridiculous when they come running over to me, with Noah dressed in girls clothes wearing pigtails. But blurting out "I have two boys and a transgender girl!" gets you some very raised eyebrows at soft play - trust me, I've tried it!

When parents on our Home Ed groups are looking to arrange playdates for their children, do I tell them that Noah is a girl or do I tell them she's transgender? The anxiety of not knowing how to approach it leaves me choosing not to respond to playdate requests at all...because I simply never know if the other parent will be accepting of Noah or not.

I worry....I worry...I worry. All the time, every single day, about more things than I could ever possibly list here.

And yet still, people assume that this is something any parent would ever wish upon their child? Or even upon themselves. They think this is something you would choose to force on them?

I would never want to change a thing about any of my children, Noah included, but trust me - no parent in their right mind would ever want to force a future so full of worry and fear on their child.

And nobody would choose to put themselves through the every day anxieties and worries that go hand in hand with raising a gender-questioning child.

This is not something I would willingly choose...I love who Noah is and I don't want to change it but I would choose the easiest possible life for every one of my children, every time.

We didn't choose it, but this is how it is and it's something I am trying my best to find my way through, to try to find the best way to help my child to be happy and content, and live a full and free life.

Being a parent is never an easy job. But being a parent to a transgender child is more complicated, worrying and emotional than I could ever have imagined.

So please, before you decide to air your transphobic views on social media just because you can - think about who might stumble across them, and how overwhelmed with worry they may already be.

And choose not to add to that.

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