The Gratifying Challenges of Mothering a Trans Child
"Mothers don’t have the luxury of staying confused."
Photo via Negative Space
Mothering, like aging, is not for the faint of heart. As author Jennifer Senior said of parenting, it is often all joy and no fun. Sometimes very little joy as well. Sometimes there's a whole lot of fear. But nurturing a human being from birth to adulthood is also one of the most deeply gratifying and mysteriously wonderful processes that a human being can participate in.
Every child presents its parent or parents with unexpected talents and challenges. The challenges that are the most difficult can test us beyond the limits we ever imagined our fortitude could take us. Yet, especially as mothers, we have no choice but to put that innate motherly love and strength on a course of steroids that makes us equal to the task.
I never imagined I would give birth to a child whose brain was formed, in utero, to the female end of the gender spectrum, but whose reproductive organs were what we characterize as male. I didn't even know that happens. But it turns out that it does—a lot. My child was born transgender.
Mothering a transgender child who was born in 2000, several years before there was any public understanding of the natural process of what makes a baby transgender, was one of those mountains most mothers hope they don't have to climb. They want their children to have an easy path. Confusion abounded about why my little "boy" insisted "he" was a girl, why he made dresses out of blankets, napkins, shirts; why he turned his trucks into dolls and nursed them; why all his little preschool and elementary school friends were girls.
But mothers don't have the luxury of staying confused. Mothers get educated. Mothers fiercely protect. Mothers fight. Mothers nurture. Mothers love. Mothers make sure their children live.
I found online groups of other mothers who had children like mine. I sought out medical and mental health and gender experts. I devoured the latest literature and scoured the scientific articles at the National Institutes of Health. I fought off unending lawsuits from those seeking to assuage their own fear and ignorance by taking away my child's identity and bending her to their ideas of who she should be.
I learned that my little "boy" had always been my little girl, just as she had insisted since toddlerhood. I learned that when transgender children don't have a supportive family or school atmosphere, they experience a suicide rate nine times higher than the general population. They experience harassment in schools, sexual violence and bullying and homelessness at far greater rates than their cisgender peers. Trans students of color experience discrimination and violence at even higher rates than their white transgender peers. I learned that with the proper parental support however, many disparities melt away, and transgender children thrive.
I learned that motherhood was even more deeply complicated than all joy and no fun. Motherhood with a transgender child will push you past where you ever thought you could go and teach you more than you ever realized you needed to know. Mothering a transgender child in the 21st century means that you are part of a huge cultural shift, a new direction in human rights. Your child is a hero—even unwillingly—just by showing who they authentically are, or even by having to live hiding who they are every day. You understand that your biggest job is to be there to support them and to be in awe of them.
This Mother's Day, I want to reach out to moms of kids who aren't transgender or gender non-conforming. Your influence on your children and their schools is vital in ending the violence against children like mine. We are the same: we want happiness, safety, and every opportunity for our kids. Schools in particular are critical to making sure that happens, and it's important for us as moms to make our voices heard and work together in solidarity for the well-being of all of our kids.
Finally, Happy Mother's Day to all of those moms of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender creative kids out there. I feel your pain, I share your joy. I am, like you, in awe of our courageous kids who are changing hearts and minds every day.
Stand up for the rights of trans kids everywhere by supporting the National Center for Transgender Equality.