I thought the phrase “coming-out” felt weird for my child. I guess because that phrase is so synonymous with the experiences and stories of people coming out as teenagers or adults. It felt like a grown up experience that just didn’t apply to my child and our family situation. We were simply learning who he was at the same time he was, and moving forward as a family with correct pronouns and name.
But as we lived it, I started to see how it fit for us too. Specifically, how I identified with the phrase. Since my son is so young, he still doesn’t understand the phrase “coming-out” and he certainly doesn’t identify with the act of telling others who he is as some revelation that could be taken in many different ways. At least he didn’t at just 7 years old. J was just J and needed everyone around him to simply understand that.
However, the feeling that I needed to come-out for my child did come. And it came on suddenly. I felt the rush … the all-encompassing and overwhelming feeling that I needed to explain my child to everyone we have ever met AND everyone we will ever meet. These words don’t even accurately describe that feeling. It was debilitating. I shut off a lot of parts of myself as we sorted through this part.
I can only speak to my story. That of a mother of a young child. My child did not know when, why, or how he may need or want to share who he is -- the weight of the responsibility, the weight of the advocacy, fell directly on mine and my partner’s shoulders. We needed to immediately become advocate, teacher and navigator on the who, why, and when we would share. It was not a 7-year-old’s job and we needed all the adults in our life up to speed and 100% onboard quickly so that our son could live happily without having to field questions for himself. He had already done enough of that.
I felt like I was keeping a secret I didn’t want to keep, so I decided we should reach out to extended family and friends. I found some great resources on the GenderSpectrum website on writing a letter and sending it out in an email, and decided this would be the best way to go about it. I’d like to share it with you all here:
Hello to our dear friends and family,
We are writing today to fill you in on some changes in our family, and to ask for your support and unconditional love in the coming days. As many of you know, and others may have observed, J has been gender-fluid for some time now. To most, this simply looks like J dresses and expresses herself as a boy. To our family, this has been a time of exploration. And for J it has been a much stronger internal struggle causing more anxiety than a small child should ever have to face. As parents, we have worked very hard to support J and recently this meant reaching out to professional help with our family doctor, a psychologist, and Trans Care BC.
With the support of these professionals, J revealed, in her own words – “My brain was confused before, but he has made up his mind now, and he is a boy”.
J now identifies as a Boy (or Trans Boy), we have switched pronouns to he/him/his, and we are using the name J as opposed to his birth name. This may sound quick to some, but for J and our family, it has been a steady and consistent process taking one step at a time. We have learned a lot from the medical help we have received and I would like to share a few points here in hopes that it answers some of your initial questions/concerns
> Studies have shown that most children realize their “true gender” between 3 and 5 years of age, as has been the case with other transgender men I have had the privilege to speak in very open terms with.
> We have also learned that our child’s transgender identity is not a result of our parenting style, family structure, or environmental factors, and that there is nothing anyone can do to change a child’s gender identity.
> Gender identity is different than gender expression or sexual orientation. I will attach a PDF document to this email for anyone who would like a quick read on the differences … it helps!
> And lastly, that this is not just a phase for J or something that he will outgrow. Children who are so clear at such a young age rarely “change their mind”.
We would also like to share the amazing differences we have seen in J since changing pronouns and fully accepting J for who he is inside. J does not struggle with sleep as he used to and falls asleep quicker and stays asleep the whole night (yay sleep!), he is more social at home and at school, more affectionate with us, and happier! The difference is clear for us, and we couldn’t be prouder of who he is.
Statistically, transgender children and youth have a 48% greater risk of self-harm, suicide and mental illness. BUT, if they have full support from their parents, family and friends, that risk drops to just 4%, which is the same chance as any other child/youth. So we ask you from the bottom of our hearts, for your full support of J and our family by changing pronouns to he/him, using his chosen name J, and identifying him as a boy/brother to R.
We know this will take some time, and we will all make mistakes as we navigate the new pronouns/name together. As long as you are making an effort, we know J will feel so seen, heard, and loved for who he is. It will really make a difference in his life. Some of you have young children, and you may find it difficult or confusing to share this with them. Please reach out to us. We are happy to help you with the best language to use. And we don’t expect this to happen overnight. Take your time. If at our next gathering, your kids do not know, or understand yet, there will be no hard feelings.
One thing to note, please do not bring this up with J. And when you do share this information with your children, please request that they do not ask questions of J unless he brings it up with them. It is a sensitive time for him and he is not quite ready to face the questions. Don’t worry! We are working on that as well. But if the adults in his life can make the switch, it will help a great deal. Any supportive questions or comments you do have can come directly to RJ or myself.
To put all of this simply … Seven years ago a little girl was born, but do you know what?! We were mistaken. J is a boy and we are so happy to have two boys in our family. Please join us.
Lucy and RJ
I sent this to about 45 people one night and waited for the responses … and drank some wine. Hear all the details on Episode 2 of The Gender Diaries Podcast!