Raising a Transgender Child

Eight months ago, my 9-year-old son tearfully shared with me that “his whole life, he had wanted to be a girl”. Pressed by the therapist (who, thank G-d, was in the room with us) to clarify whether he wants to be a girl or is a girl, George immediately replied that he is a girl. And so began a crazy-ass adventure that I never, in a million years, expected to find my child or, frankly, myself, on.

To be clear, my husband Rich and I always knew that George (who is now Jessie) was different from not only our older son, but from other kids — male and female alike. With sparkling eyes and a wildly observant and funny personality, he was known by everyone everywhere we went. Never one to shy away from a conversation or situation (particularly if it involved dolls, dresses, wigs or mermaid tails), he captured the attention of anyone he came into contact with. When behaviors that concerned us in preschool and kindergarten — including, but by no means limited to his self portraits (a frequent drawing assignment) consistently depicting a girl in a dress with long, flowing hair — continued with even greater vigor in first, second and third grades.

We concluded that he was probably going to grow up to be gay, yet didn’t quite buy it ourselves. He was a boy who greatly appreciated a beautiful girl and what she was wearing. He never met a doll, wig, dress or mermaid tail that he didn’t feel a total compulsion to own — no matter how strongly he had to fight for it. And despite the fact that he was not even slightly effeminate, there were several occasions that he harassed and harangued me for hours on end requesting everything from hair extensions to wigs to dolls. It never added up. And then he asked for (and by “asked for” I mean “demanded”) a pierced ear.

Our initial reaction to the earring request was that “little boys don’t wear earrings”, but he was having none of it. As he obsessively pursued this request, it became increasingly clear that it was not a desire, but a need. Since growing out his traditional little boy haircut was going to take some serious time (we had agreed to allow him to grow his hair — anything to stop hearing about hair extensions or wigs), a single pierced ear seemed an easy enough allowance in hopes of placating him. Of significant note was, just prior (and I mean as the alcohol was being rubbed across his lobe) to the piercing, he implored the piercer to be sure to do it in the ear that doesn’t mean “gay”… clearly he was building up the courage to tell us something, we just didn’t know it yet.

It was not long after the newly-pierced ear that our confusion was put to rest and we were told of George’s truth. It took me about a minute and a half to absorb what he was saying and to give myself a virtual whack upside the head. It all started to make sense now, except for the part when I told myself that this happens to other families — not mine. Wrong.

We continued along with our “if-it-was-ever-normal-it-isn’t-now” lives for a few weeks, noticing a huge change in our child’s mood and temperament. Clearly, an enormous weight had been lifted. And then there came what we refer to as “the article”. It was a Sunday in December, which also happened to be George’s tenth birthday. On the front page of The Boston Globe there was an article about identical twin boys, one of whom had identified as transgender and was now living fully as a girl. I, not surprisingly, was raptly reading the story when George came up behind me, noticed the photo and asked who they were. Upon telling him he responded, with his mouth agape, “You mean I’m not the only one?” It was at that moment that Jessie was born, moved in and has since made herself comfortable in my house.

The following day, I dropped George off at school and told him to be cool; we would come up with a plan. He was cool. Until 11 a.m. (not bad considering the school day starts at 8 a.m.), when he simply could not keep the truth to himself and, without fanfare or drama, told one of his teachers about his “secret”. The cat, ladies and gentlemen, was out of the bag. The next day, as it happened, was pajama day and, after a hasty, late night trip to Target, I successfully outfitted my “son” in head-to-toe pink, purple and green polka dotted pajamas in which he ran (not walked) into school with zero hesitation and without so much as a glance over his shoulder for support. Jessie had been waiting her whole life for this day. I almost wonder if that was why she felt the need to share when she did… just to ensure the perfect little girl pajama ensemble for what will likely (hopefully) be her last school sanctioned pajama day ever.

Since those first crazy days, we have had her second ear pierced and have had countless meetings, discussions, questions, plans and concerns hurled in our direction. At times we have laid low: mostly at the beginning, when we were nearly immobilized by the mere thought of what it meant to have a transgender child. Other times we have been “out there”: when, for example, we announced on Facebook (with her encouragement) “George becoming Jessie”, complete with a photo of her in her inaugural dress. This was a means of survival for us and done mainly so that we weren’t forced to explain the situation to everyone, everywhere, every time we left the house. But no matter how people learned of Jessie having identified as transgender, the response has been consistent: total acceptance with a healthy and appropriate dose of trepidation — both for us and, frankly, themselves.

Our family has been lucky. We know that we are just getting started, but are grateful that Jessie’s social transition, thus far, has been as seamless as we ever could have hoped for. She has that sparkle in her eye and a new confidence which is the envy of many an adult. We take each day as it comes and have as little an idea as to where this will land as we did eight months ago… but at least now her self-portraits make more sense.

PS: At this point, it is noteworthy to tell you that it felt strange to refer to my child as George or to call her a “he”. “New normal” surprises me every day…

This post originally appeared on George.Jessie.Love.

Julie Ross

Julie Ross

Julie Ross blogs at George. Jessie. Love (http://georgejessielove.wordpress.com). She is doing her best to raise two kids - Harrison who is 18 and perhaps the nicest guy she knows and Jessie who, until her 10th birthday, was George. 

  17 comments for “Raising a Transgender Child

  1. Sundance Rismoen
    June 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    This article is so full of awesome and win I am overwhelmed. Having been raised in a violent environment it is so nice to see parents get it right.

  2. Josephine
    June 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    This world will be a whole lot better if we have more parents that are more loving and understanding of their children. Children need love and guidance to growth into happy people. Only through understanding our sexuality that we eliminate a lot of problems we are facing in the society today. Good job Julie and good luck.

  3. June 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    As a transgender woman, my heart goes out to Jessie and you and your husband. Hopefully she will be put on puberty blockers very soon to stop the male puberty from happening and this will give her a far greater chance of being able to integrate into society without the need for surgery at a later date or the pain and cost of electrolysis to remove facial hair. It will also prevent her voice from breaking and then later, when she is in her mid teens, she can decide on whether she wants to start taking hormones to go through a more female type of puberty by taking female hormones or stop taking the blockers and go through the traditional male puberty.
    I transitioned almost 40 years ago and since then have had a wonderful life – and the love and support of understanding parents is of the utmost importance in this.
    Good luck to all of you.

  4. Miia Faulconer
    June 27, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can honestly say I know how you might be feeling. We’ve felt all those feelings almost 6 months ago now. Our child (also an identical twin) has been living her true self now for 6 months and she’s only turning 5 in a few weeks. She started JK as a boy and was social and intriguing. By Christmas she had a new name and a new wardrobe. I also went through worry and teary stress for the first few weeks. But one day it just stopped. I choose to be thankful and to celebrate her bravery. We educated ourselves and choose to love our child just as she is. And to our biggest surprise everyone has accepted her as well. The school now has practice supporting a transgendered child and we have hope in her education system that they will accept her for who she is as well. Cheers to our evolving spirited children. Good luck on your journey.

  5. June 27, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Jessie has incredible parents, and she will no doubt flourish with the love and guidence of such wonderful role modles. Her epiphany of “You mean I’m not the only one?”, is amazingly so comon, however I wish I had the exposure when i was younger to have been able to voice that feeling. Jessie is so fortunate that the Trans world is making such huge strides and she will be so much better off because of her insistance of who she is. I love this story!

  6. June 27, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Reading this brought a tear to my eye, it’s so nice to see parents being understanding and supporting their children in this way. I’m sure many of us would have loved to have had such understanding parents and support from such an early age.

    All the best to both of you.

  7. June 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    what a wonderful article and congratulations to the family! I too read the Boston Globe article with special interest as Dr. Spack, the endocrinologist treating the young lady and family from Maine was my daughter’s doctor for a number of years. He is my hero and my daughter’s hero for so many reasons (she wasn’t being treated for transgender but another health issue that would have impacted her entire life had it not been treated). I think that it is terrific that young folks are comfortable enough to say who they are and pursue being true to themselves rather than turn inwardly causing self destructive behavior. Jessie – wishing you a wonderful life!

  8. A.Roddy
    June 28, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Devil’s advocate but excuse how can a 9 yr old have enough brain cells to make this decision? they are much too young to be studying sexuality Ghees When your 18 and lived a little maybe. We need more parents to stop letting kids get away with everything and help them be satisfied with the body they are born with. Life isn’t just about sexuality. Kids are over medicated enough as it is.

    • June 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Fair question. First and easiest response: transgender is not about sexuality, rather about identity. It has nothing to do with who you are attracted to, rather who you ARE. Transgender folks grow up to be straight, gay or bi-sexual just like anybody else.

      I am not going to defend our decision as parents to “let our kids get away with anything”…had you lived in my house and seen my child you would never challenge our decision to allow her to do what she needed to do. I am guessing you would do the same for your child.

      jr

    • June 30, 2012 at 5:39 am

      @ A Roddy: Most of us know from a very young age just what we are and keep it hidden for years, constantly fighting the battle within us – and nobody ever wins this battle, it always beats us in the end. So why waste your life constantly in torment when happiness and peace of mind can be achieved relatively easily. By being put on puberty blockers early, it can make life so much easier with no need for expensive electrolysis or painful facial surgery at a later date. No surgery would be done before mid to late teens and the blockers merely prevent the onset of puberty and if later the child decides it is not for them, then they can be taken off the blockers and go through a normal puberty.

    • Allison
      June 30, 2012 at 11:25 am

      A. Roddy…why ‘wouldn’t’ a 9 year old child be able to understand which gender he or she is? Yes, it is true that at 16, 17, 19, even some people at 25 haven’t figured out ‘who’ they are but that does not apply to all teen or even after-teens, does it? How long did it take you to figure out if your gender is male or female? How long did it take before you figured out if you are attracted to males or females or both or none? Whatever the answer is for “you”, do you think that that standard should apply to all others? If this particular child could understand that she IS a she, I don’t see anywhere in this article that implies that that should be the standard for other children or parents. Also, ‘studying sexuality’ has nothing to do with what a person feels and understands about themselves, even a 9 year old child.

  9. June 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you for such positive feedback. I so appreciate it! Keep following the story – it is certainly a wild ride!

    • felice
      felice
      June 29, 2012 at 7:48 am

      Julie
      I wanted to personally thank you so much for sharing your honest story with BA50s’s readers. As you can see from the comments they were receptive and some were relieved to know of your openness and love.
      It is a tribute to you to open your life and your heart through your story.
      We applaud your courage, kindness and humanity
      .
      Most Sincerely

      Felice Shapiro

    • Eric
      July 9, 2013 at 6:07 am

      Julie I would like to say thank you for sharing your daughter’s story with us is an inspiration to us all i myself can never have this life because I grew up with the family full of hatred and to this day I still hide my true feelings about my gender I look at your daughter story and it makes me happy to see a parent who loves and will help them become who they are

  10. Vilma Sceusa
    July 8, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    The greatest gift you can give a child is to love them for who they are.

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