When it comes to the subject of transgender and the LGBT community, I think that there are three different types of people. The first (and the fastest growing) group of people are the fervent supporters….YAAAAA! These are our “peeps” and we love them! Then there are the (I like to think smallest) group of people who are convinced that being gay or transgender is an abomination….BOOOOOO! These are NOT our “peeps” and I personally prefer to avoid these people! Then, there is the third group of people, the group of people who aren’t really sure exactly how they feel because they have never really thought about it or haven’t personally known anyone in the LGBT community or maybe they were taught that being gay or transgender was a sin or wrong but aren’t really sure if they believe this or not. These are the people that I am most hoping to reach. Through exposure and education, I am hoping to inspire this particular group!
I am not a therapist or a doctor or a transgender specialist but I have done a lot of research on the subject and I am definitely an expert on my family so I thought I would address just a few of the questions that have come up since Ashlyn’s transition. These are not clinically, medically or psychologically based answers, they are simply my beliefs from having researched the subject and, of course, having lived it.
What is transgender? Let me start by answering what transgender is not, transgender is not sexuality, they are two completely different things. I want to stress this because I think that is where we get into a lot of trouble, especially when we are talking with and to children. Parents are often nervous to talk to their children because they are thinking of this as a sexual issue and therefore inappropriate for children. This is also where educators often get confused and nervous. Teachers need to understand that this is a protected class just like race or religion and with more and more individuals transitioning as children (as opposed to transitioning later in life) this is a subject that is going to come up in the school setting. It is not inappropriate, it is not sexual, it is simply a matter of gender. I actually looked up the definition of transgender and I think it explains it pretty succinctly.
trans·gen·der – denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform to conventional notions of male or female gender.
Exactly, does not conform to conventional notions! If society did not dictate so strictly what it means to be male or female, there may actually be no such thing as being transgender. But, I am not someone who believes that we need to create a gender neutral society, we just need to get our heads out of our butts and realize that the world is not black and white, there are many wonderful shades of grey (and pink and purple and green and blue…etc…etc.)! Our genitals are not the only factor that determine our gender. I know that this is what some people want to believe but then how do they explain people who are born intersex, which is by the way, about 1 in every 1500 births? And for those of you who aren’t familiar with what it means to be intersex, here is a brief explanation courtesy of Wikipedia:
Intersex is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.
I share these facts in the hope of shedding some light on society’s narrow definition of gender and what it means to be male or female. In EVERY way, with EVERY fiber of her being, in her heart and soul Ashlyn is a girl through and through, she just happened to be born with male genitalia. It may sound controversial to say, but if it helps you to understand, you could think of it as being born with a birth defect. I am NOT saying she is defective in any way, I am just saying that some may say that a girl being born with a penis could be considered a birth defect.
Why let Ashlyn transition so young? This is probably one of the most common questions we get. “She is so young, how do you know for sure this is the right thing?” Just like any decision you make as a parent, you do your research, learn all of the facts, take all of the factors into consideration and follow your gut. And, in doing my research I have come to believe fully that this is the right thing to do. First of all, I had to feel sure that this was not a “phase” as some people sometimes think. I am sure of this not only from knowing my child her whole life but also from the research I have done on being transgender. Now, having said that, I also thought about the worst case scenario. What if, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, she all of a sudden says to me, “You know, I don’t think I am a girl, I want to be Trevor again.” what would I do? Well, first of all, I doubt VERY seriously this would happen but if it did, ok, we will deal with it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Now, knowing in my heart that she truly is a girl, there are so many advantages to her transitioning earlier rather than later. Letting her transition now, we (me and Todd) are taking on a lot of the burden and stress of her social transition. If there are any haters or critics, they are going to hopefully be focused on us, not her. Let any of those haters think that we are horrible parents and she is just a poor innocent child, I am fine with that! I am not saying that she will not have some anxiety and stress as a transgender child, just that it will not be nearly as much as she would have if we did not support her, if we made her wait until she was older. I also truly believe that the amount of stress and anxiety she may feel as a transgender child pales in comparison to the stress and anxiety she would feel if she were not supported and was not able to truly be who she was born to be, right now! By the time she is 18, she will have lived half of her life as her true authentic female self which is going to make life so much easier for her!
How do I tell my kids about being transgender? This question has come up with some of our friends and with parents at school and it’s not really a question I can answer except to say that it depends on your child and it depends on your relationship with your child. As a parent, it is really up to you to decide what is appropriate for your particular child. I can tell you that kids are the best! They are so accepting, not yet having as much social conditioning as we have had as adults. All of our friend’s kids and the kids at school have been amazing! And, again, remember, this is about gender, not sex. We told some of our friends that they may want to simply tell their kids that Ashlyn was born with a boy body and so was living as a boy but once she was old enough to really know who she was, she realized that in her heart and mind, she was really a girl so she changed her name to Ashlyn and is living as a girl and she is so happy now. Some kids may be totally fine with this and of course, some kids are going to want to know a little bit more. Now, again, what you tell them is going to depend on how old they are, how mature they are and how comfortable you are.
I will say that I was surprised when a few of our friends, who are totally supportive of us, told us that they were afraid to tell their kids because they didn’t want their kids to think that this was an option for them. To this I say, quite simply and without judgement, whether you want to accept it or not, it is an option. If your child is going to be transgender, they are going to be transgender and not telling them about it is not really going to make difference. We have also had people tell us that they were worried that if they told their kids, their kids would be afraid that they were going to want to change their gender. I don’t think that kids would really think that but if they did, I would hope that you would see it as a learning opportunity to let your child know that this is something you are born with and if they don’t feel that way now, they most likely won’t in the future but, if they did, you are always going to love and support them.
Will Ashlyn be put on hormones? Yes, but not until she is much older. When she does start showing signs of puberty, she will actually be put on hormone blockers which will delay puberty. The hormone blockers will give us time and get her to an age that she (with our help and guidance) can make a more mature, informed decision about then being put on female hormones. This is one of the more controversial aspects that people sometimes focus on but I truly see it as any other, say, medical condition that a child may be dealing with. We do our homework, weigh the options and follow our hearts. I have read that one of the most stressful things that any transgender youth can go through is puberty in the “wrong” body. Imagine as a women if, all of a sudden, you started growing facial hair or your voice deepened or as a man, you started growing breasts! That is what it is like for a young transgender person who is not given the option of being put on hormones. In my opinion this is the biggest advantage of transitioning younger, Ashlyn will never grow facial hair or have an adam’s apple, her jaw and shoulders won’t widen and her voice won’t deepen. Her life, particularly socially is going to be so much easier living in the “right” body from the start.
I recently did a post about a Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her life and this is one of the things she actually mentioned in her suicide note. Her parents did not support her and therefore, hormone therapy was not an option for her. She was going through puberty knowing how much harder her life would be trying to live as a woman with her more masculine features. I know that there are many happy transgender people out there who did transition later in life but I am sure that they will all agree that their transition and their lives would be a lot easier if they had transitioned before puberty.
Will Ashlyn have gender reassignment surgery? I’m not sure. This is something that although she is only nine, she is aware of, but is something that she will have to decide for herself when she is much older. I would imagine that she is going to want to have the surgery but I also know that she is very comfortable in her body so, who knows? When she gets older, we will do more research and discuss it with her in more detail and ultimately let her make the decision for herself once she is an adult. We will, obviously, support her in whatever decision she makes.
What can we do to help? There is a change happening and I feel fortunate that I get to be personally involved and help in any way that I can. As our friends, family and supporters who want to help with the “cause” I simply ask that you continue to love and support us and one another. As simple as it sounds, it is all about love! I don’t like the fact that there are still people out there who hate and discriminate but I don’t think that the answer is to fight fire with fire. I don’t think of this as a “fight” at all, I think it is a movement and it takes each one of us to keep moving forward, whether that means continuing to ask questions and gain knowledge, spreading your own message of love and acceptance or simply setting the example by choosing to live your lives and raise your children from a place of love instead of a place of fear.
I hope my Q&A has helped to shed a little light on the subject and I encourage you to keep asking questions, I am happy to answer what I can. I think the more we can keep the dialogue going and the more light is shed on the subject the closer we can get to the kind of society and world that I want to leave for my children, one of love and acceptance for every wonderful shade of grey and pink and purple and green and blue…etc…etc.