Sunday, 4 July 2021

Raising A Trans Child: Our Experience

Although I have written occasional posts here and there about my thoughts and feelings since finding out that my middle child identifies as transgender, I recently came to realise that I haven't written anything that would tell our story so far in full to anybody who didn't already know it.
If i'm completely honest with myself, that's not accidental.

Although I've always been supportive of my childs choices and decisions, I have to admit to myself that - when we first told people that she was transgender - I tiptoed around the thoughts and opinions of others a lot.

I was always nervous about how people would react. Truth be told, sometimes I still am. I've been putting off my idea to hold a Pride picnic for the local Home Ed community for weeks now due to fear of confrontation with those who don't agree with our choices to support and affirm our child.

There have been a fair few occasions when I've pandered to people who felt comfortable in sharing their "disagreement" with our choices -  I've found myself almost apologetically explaining the reasoning for our decisions to these total strangers and seeking their approval, rather than telling them to mind their own damn business like I should have done from the very start.

Perhaps part of the reason for that is the fact that I already know the extent of the hatred and evil that exists in the world toward children like mine, children that don't conform to gender norms.

I guess this is where our story began.

My middle child, Noa, was never interested in anything that could be stereotyped as "boyish". As a trained nursery nurse I was aware of the harms of gender stereotyping from the start and so I always gave my children total freedom of choice when it came to their toys, hobbies, movies they watched and dress up costumes they played with. 

My first born son could not have fit the typical "masculine" stereotypes more perfectly. He loved toy soldiers, nerf guns, rough and tumble play....He was about as "boyish" as kids come.

But my second two sons were very different from him - they both preferred playing with dolls and dressing up in Princess outfits,  watching Disney movies like Frozen on repeat and dancing their days away happily.

I never thought anything of this, of course. Because I am very aware that the toys and clothes that children choose are based purely on personal preference, and have nothing to do with gender identity. 

But as Noa got older and started to talk more, they would always speak about their future self as female. "When I'm a grown up lady...." and so on.

Of course at the time we thought this was just typical toddler mistakes, so we'd correct the language and not think much more of it.

When I look back, I suppose there were a few other little signs but nothing big enough for me to really pick up on at the time.

As I blogged about recently, an incident occured when we were going to Disneyland Paris on holiday whereby Noa was refused a Princess experience on the basis that she was a boy - I blogged about that experience and my post went viral, which resulted in an onslaught of angry emails containing death threats and the most vile hateful comments from people all over the world. 

Since then, I live every day knowing that these hateful people are out there, so full of anger venom   toward a child for simply not conforming to gender stereotypes...something that no doubt encouraged me to keep trying to appease people once Noa has vocalised her truth to us.

It wasn't until Noa was 3 that the truth was finally vocalised. 

One day, when we were going out to the park, all 5 of us were in the car  when all of a sudden Noa SCREAMED from the back seat....words that will stay etched into my memory forever.

"I don't want to go out wearing boy clothes! I never want to! You're making me be a boy and I'm not a boy! I'm a girl!"

I had rarely seen Noa this angry and upset. 

There was no denying it...this child, at 3 years old, was being very clear in what they were saying.

My partner and I discussed it that night. We were quite unsure of how to handle things, of what to do.

We felt so conflicted. We did a lot of reading that night and everything we read encouraged us to affirm and support our childs choices, but at 3 years old we were unsure that they could really know what they wanted in this way.

The next day, we took Noa to a clothes shop and allowed her to choose whatever she wanted. She chose a few dresses, some skirts and tops...and a truly hideous headband with a large pink flower!

She was delighted. From that day on, we allowed Noa to make her own outfit choices each morning...with her "boy" clothes remaining in the wardrobe so that she always had plenty of choice. Everyday she chose the feminine clothes.

For a while this is how things stayed. We kept using male pronouns and referring to Noa as a boy but she wore stereotypically "feminine" clothes every day, by choice.

We took our Drs advice and just waited to see how things developed. Aware that maybe after a bit of experimentation, she'd revert back to "boy" things....or maybe she'd just be a boy who liked to wear dresses, no big deal! Or maybe, it would progress further....we just didn't know. So we waited.

A few months after Noa's 4th birthday, when I was serving dinner one day...I referred to Noa in conversation as "he" like I always did. But this time, Noa corrected me..."I'm a she, Mummy".

There it was. After a conversation, during which we talked about pronouns and possibilities, we listened to Noa explain to us that she was absolutely certain that she is a girl and has always been a girl.  She told her childlike she was a girl even when she was a tiny baby, but she couldn't tell me because she couldn't speak.

From then on, we started using female pronouns and referring to Noa as a girl.  Always ensuring that she knows she can change this at any time, and that she is the one in control in this. And that's the way things have been ever since.

We've always said that we'll follow Noa's lead on everything. She is happy with her name being kept as it is right now, and that's how it will stay unless she decides that she'd rather change it.

It was also Noa who first decided to use the "Transgender" label to describe herself, after discovering it in her now-favourite book - I Am Jazz.

Noa is now 6 years old, and has never looked back. She is the happiest child, and she is so confident in who she is. 

Of course I am filled with worry about what the future might look like for her - trans people are at high risk of suicide, particularly when not affirmed by their loved ones, and trans women in particular are attacked and murdered at staggeringly high rates.  I worry about Noa's safety, about how inclusive the world and society will be towards her, I worry about her finding acceptance and happiness in friendships and relationships in the future, I worry about the practicalities of her transition as she gets older.

And of course there have been our own feelings to process as well. It is quite something to experience a change in gender presentation of one of your children, and something that there's very little guidance on ....very little lived experience accounts to compare to.

Of course there's always the possibility that things may change again in the future, but whatever happens we feel that the most important thing is to affirm and support Noa's choices right now. 

We've been fortunate in that - although some have taken a bit of time to come around to the idea of Noa's social transition and the change in pronouns - our families have been very accepting and supporting. 

We haven't ever experienced any real negativity, other than from strangers online.  Most of which is rooted in ignorance of what it means to be a trans child. There's a huge misconception that trans children are pumped full of drugs and forced to make irreversible changes to their bodies when this is so far from the truth. At Noa's age, her transition is purely social - it involves only a change of pronouns and perhaps hair length, clothes and name for some children. Nothing more.

She, like other trans children, is awaiting referral to gender services when she's at an appropriate age - where she will undergo counselling and support, before any medical transition begins once she's an adult.

All other negativity has been aimed toward me for sharing our experiences...which I again believe to be rooted in ignorance. The belief that trans children should be kept hidden away "for their own protection" is rooted in transphobia - these are normal children, and they have nothing to feel any shame for. Until this experience is normalised and discussed, we can't move forwards.

When we first found out about Noa, I searched for hours online looking for other parents in our situation - desperately wanting to find other lived experiences or some advice, but nothing existed. I swore then that I would be that person for other families. Of course there is plenty we keep private, and it's not something I discuss often ( which is clearly demonstrated by the mere handful of posts I've written on the subject in the last 3 years!)...but we feel its important to be visible and proud of who Noa is.

Of course there are always ups and downs. There have been some family members who have really blown my expectations out of the water with their acceptance of Noa and some who have surprised me with their lack of support - I certainly wasn't expecting my 72 year old working class scouse Uncle to be as accepting and loving toward Noa as he has been! And likewise, there are younger people in our lives that I would have expected to be more open minded who have spoken volumes with their silence.

I know there will be much more to come when dealing with other people going forwards, as Noa gets older. But at least right now she lives in a bubble of acceptance, blissfully unaware that anybody would ever have an issue with her being who she is.

 I just wish that bubble never had to burst.

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