Parenting blogs flourish on WordPress.com, and today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Gendermom, whose site tagline, A chronicle of fun and fear, or, daily life with my young trans daughter, says it all. Gendermom’s daughter M. was born a boy. He knew early on that he should have been born a girl. Gendermom writes anonymously about the challenges and joys of raising M. Her site is a great example of how bloggers can educate, inspire, and build supportive communities.
Your son approached you at age three to tell you he believed that he should have been born a girl. How did you come to terms with him as a transgender person?
Well, it’s taken time. As far as I knew, I’d never met a transgender person before my child came onto the scene, announcing shortly after his third birthday that he was actually a she. I spent many months resisting, offering alternatives (“Couldn’t you just be a boy who likes girl stuff?”). No dice. The idea of remaining a boy was intolerable to her, and she never once wavered in her insistence that she was a girl who had been born into the wrong body.
My ex-husband and most of my family, friends, and neighbors accepted it before I finally did. I dragged my feet for the better part of a year. Some of this resistance was born of grief — I had fallen in love with my baby boy and I didn’t want to let him go. But most of my reticence had another source: the knowledge that I was facing perhaps the most important decision of my life. I am the last word for this kid. I’m Mom. What I decide now will impact the entire course of his (her?) life. I can’t afford to get this wrong.
How did you embrace raising your son as a daughter?
I hedged and resisted for months and months. While my child went ahead and transformed into the girl she knew herself to be, I read books and consulted experts and found a support group and second-guessed myself a thousand times, until I was finally as sure as I was ever going to be that this was the right thing to do. When she was four years old, I got fully on board and I haven’t looked back.
It’s been almost two years since then. She is happy and confident and thriving, so I believe that we are on the right path. But it has been a long and difficult journey so far, and I know we are not out of the woods yet. She just started kindergarten at a new school where only her teachers and one other family “know.” I wonder every day when this will change, and what’s in store for us when it does. Life remains extremely interesting.
How have readers responded to your blog? How would you describe the support you’ve received?
The anonymity provided by the internet can be a dangerous thing (cyber-bullying comes to mind). But in my case, it has been such a gift. Through my anonymous blog, I’ve been able to connect (without exposing my child’s identity) with people around the country (and around the world) who understand me and my child in a way none of my cisgender friends (with their cisgender children) ever will (cisgender = not transgender).
Through the safety of our mutual anonymity, I’ve connected with transgender people I could never otherwise have found. This is particularly true in the case of older generations, who transitioned in an era when trans folks were required to hide their status completely, burying their pasts like participants in a witness protection program. One woman wrote to me:
When my age group transitioned more than 40 years ago, we were told…to blend into the woodwork. We were not to identify ourselves as transsexuals. I have only revealed myself to my family and a very few very close friends. Everyone else I know considers me as just like every other woman.
No questions asked. I admire the young transgender girls and women (and boys and men) of today who are bold and in your face and let the world know their situation. I admire that because that is really the only way things will ever change for the better.
Earlier generations of trans folks also lived in a time when a transgender childhood was simply not an option. Their stories frequently leave me humbled and heartbroken, as well as keenly aware of my child’s good fortune to have been born when she was:
I was born in 1960 and I was first spanked for wearing female clothes when I was four years old. All throughout my childhood I was beaten and humiliated for trying to dress or act female — because I was born with a male body. None of the beatings or humiliation tactics did any good — you ARE who you ARE and that cannot be changed!
Like most transsexual people born when I was, I transitioned late in life — at the age of 48. At this point, my transition is complete. Since I was NOT on hormone blockers as a child my body developed with male features.
Because of this I had to undergo years of very expensive, painful electrolysis. I have also had facial feminization surgery (FFS) where my entire face was basically removed so the doctor could reshape the bones in my face — bones that had been disfigured by testosterone.
To have parents like you and to be a trans kid today is the stuff my dreams were made of!
There’s a vein of envy running through many of these comments. They know all too well that my child will dodge many of the horrors they have endured. Early medical intervention to stave off the wrong puberty will mean she’ll never have to worry about being perceived as “a man in a dress.”
You might expect that they’d sound bitter, a little resentful of my child. But there has never been a hint of that. Rather, their words are uniformly supportive and kind. On dark days, I can rely on my anonymous cheering squad to get me through:
A parent as yourself is GOLDEN, cherish your daughter as you both are very special.
I see great things for your brave little girl. She knows she’s loved and supported, and with that she can conquer the world.
Have you encountered any negative reactions to you blog?
No, but I suspect this is largely due to the fact that my audience has thus far been composed mostly of transgender adults and parents of trans kids — people who believe, as I do, that transgender people are a naturally occurring and ever-present branch of the human family tree, found in all cultures and time periods. It’s a friendly audience and so far I haven’t had a single heckler.
But I am well aware that much of the world still believes trans people to be psychologically damaged, or worse. I do hope to eventually reach this wider, more mainstream audience. Some of them are going to say some awful things, and that’s going to be really hard. But if their minds are even half-way open, and they “meet” my child in the pages of my blog, I think there’s a very good chance that most people will come away with a new perspective about what it means to be transgender — one that’s based on real people and real lives, rather than fear and stereotypes. A mom can dream, anyway.
Have you been able to connect with other parents facing similar issues? What influence has that had, if any, on your blogging?
I hear fairly frequently from parents with gender-nonconforming or transgender kids. Their emails often express the same relief that I feel when I encounter other parents who have kids like mine. We might be strangers, but I know them. I know they’re just as lonely and scared as I am, just as exhausted by the well-meaning questions (“What if you just made her wear pants?”), the subtle (and not so subtle) jokes and smirks at our kids’ expense, and the ever-present (and not unfounded) terror that the world is going to hurt our children.
I love receiving emails from these other parents. And they all say pretty much the same thing: “You GET me.”
I have a transgirl too, and she’s five. Reading your blog is sometimes like reading about MY life.
Most of your entries bring tears to my eyes as I think “Yes, yes, yes! I get it!” It is such a gift to have people who really understand.
What’s your advice to others who might be thinking about blogging about (potentially) sensitive/highly personal issues?
I take my anonymity seriously. I’ll never write anything or post an image that might expose my identity or that of my child. This is not because I’m ashamed of her or of us, but because the world still isn’t a very safe place for transgender folks. The statistics on violence against transgender people — especially women — are terrifying. On top of this, I feel strongly that it’s not my secret to share. Someday my child may decide to live openly as a trans person, but that will be her call, not mine.
I actually haven’t even shared my blog with any family or friends. All my readers are strangers. This allows me to feel free to write whatever I want to, without fearing I’ll upset or worry loved ones. I can openly complain about friends who, though well-intentioned, often say absolutely the wrong thing (“You should just keep things gender-neutral until he’s older.” “I’m so relieved my kid is…normal.”) When this happens, I go to my blog and tell sympathetic strangers about it. I write, without holding anything back, about how isolating and terrifying it can be to raise a child like mine. This freedom is fabulously therapeutic, and the supportive responses I receive from readers get me through the tough days.
How do you respond to the typical misconceptions about transgender people that you’ve encountered ?
I live in a very liberal area, so we’ve had a pretty easy time of it so far. People generally fall all over themselves to express their enthusiastic support, but that doesn’t mean that they have a clue about what it means to be transgender. Some people actually ask me if my kid has had a “sex change operation.” No, she has not. She’s five years old!
More often, people assume that a five year old couldn’t possibly know what gender she is. If I’m feeling sassy, I might ask them if they’re sure they’ve got their kids’ genders right. “I mean, little Ella’s only six years old. Do you really think she can know that she’s a girl at such a young age?” That generally gets them thinking.
All sassiness aside, most of the time I try hard to be patient, knowing that I was in their shoes just a few years ago and would have likely asked many of the same questions. I give a lot of little informational “Transgender 101” speeches, explaining that transgender people have always been with us, but have been hidden and marginalized. (“You know, just like gays and lesbians were a few decades ago.”) My hope is that every speech I give will change the world just a tiny bit, and that each of my victims will tell their friends, who’ll tell their friends, who’ll tell their friends… and the world will be that much safer and friendlier for kids like mine.
Which resources would you recommend for parents and families raising non-genderconforming kids?
These organizations provide invaluable advice, resources, and support for parents of gender-nonconforming kiddos: