I am Parenting a Transgender Child

The moment I knew J was transgender was on a camping trip to Vancouver Island. It is a special place that I spent annually with my family growing up, and now my husband and I take our two children every year to camp, search for crabs, and make summer memories. It is certainly my happy place, and I hope it will be the same for my kiddos when they look back years from now.

That summer, J was six years old and had just finished Kindergarten. It was what I can only call a terrible first year of real school. J struggled with anxiety that school year and when the summer came, we could tell, he was so much happier and freer.

J had been gender creative ever since he could express himself clearly around three years old. As a new parent, I was always pretty clear that I would raise my children from birth in a way that they wouldn’t feel the pressure to fit into a gender box. At least not from me. So the line between how much was coming from inside him and how much was my influence as a parent was very blurry.

Up until that camping trip, I thought I was raising a super-awesome future Feminist. And I guess I was, but he isn’t my Feminist daughter, he is my Feminist son.  

As is usually the way, my kiddos made fast-friends with a couple kiddos in the neighbouring campsite. It is something I love about camping, the fast-friendships that are formed while running through the forest. And just as J experienced in Kindergarten, when he meets new kids, there is always the same question.

“Are you a girl or a boy?”

J was a kid with a feminine name and a masculine expression, so for young children who love to categorize the box was blurry and that just doesn’t fly with 4-7 year olds. Ha! J liked to fly under the radar, avoiding answering the question. But his brother piped in,

“J is a girl,” he said.

Poor J was noticeably upset with this and his behaviour started getting what I call “goofy”. He became uncomfortable in his skin. He started to make funny noises, play in over-the-top ways, and react very sensitively to the ups and downs of regular play.

I have seen this over and over. The spike in anxiety, behaviour and emotions that comes when J is not comfortable in who he is or how others see him.  But that day was the first time I connected his anxiety with his gender non-conformity. I always thought his behaviour and worry was separation anxiety and distinct from his gender expression. I was wrong.

That night in the tent, emotions ran high. J could not settle down to go to sleep. All of us were frustrated. Any and every tiny thing would set him off in a fit of anger and sadness so intense, we were beside ourselves. This had happened before for sure ... everything is harder at bedtime … anxiety is high at bedtime.

But tonight we were in a tent, with thin tent walls that didn’t hide anything from neighbouring campsites. I was embarrassed and impatient, and that only heightened the emotions for him until he finally blurted out,

“Why can’t I just be a BOY?”

I froze as it hit me like a truck. I wasn’t frustrated or impatient anymore. It was clear, clear as day. I heard him, I saw him. I calmed my body and voice and looked him in the eye and said,

“Oh honey, you can be whoever you want to be. You can be a boy.”

The next day we went for lunch to an Italian restaurant. It was fancier than we would normally bring the kiddos to, but we needed good food and maybe a glass of sangria. J and R were colouring the supplied colouring pages, and when J finished he asked if he could write his name on it. I said “of course”, confused because he knew how to write his name. I wasn’t sure why he was asking permission. Then he says,

“How do you spell JACK?”

I looked at my hubby, looked back at J, and spelled it out. Just like that. It was that complicated and that simple all at the same time.

-- Lucy

Want to hear Ruby’s story? Check out Episode 1 of the Gender Diaries Podcast.