There was so much I didn’t know the day I learned my son was transgender. In addition to not understanding what the word transgender meant, I didn’t know what it meant for my son. Because I learned Leo is transgender from a social media post, I had a lot of time to overthink what that meant before I had all the correct information. I knew Leo had a new name and pronouns. I also thought Leo would be a different person.
Looking back on that morning, I can see this idea was based on fear.
I was afraid of what I didn’t know. And I didn’t know what it meant for Leo to be transgender. I didn’t know what his transition looked like, or his next steps. And I didn’t understand the difference between gender and sexuality at that time. I didn’t know there was a difference between gender identity and gender expression yet. I was a complete novice.
So my lack of knowledge left me feeling anxious and worried for my child. For his future. For what it looked like for him to be transgender (are you getting the picture?). All those thoughts that swirled through my head in those few hours that I overthought all the things that morning, came crashing together. And suddenly, I had this idea that Leo would come walking down the stairs a changed person. I don’t know how I got from point A to point B, but there I was. Anxiety sometimes comes with worst-case scenario thinking, which is true for me. And it was true for me that morning. And I thought about all the worst-case scenarios for Leo, and then I landed on the worst-case scenario for me.
My worst-case scenario was that I would no longer recognize my child.
I was already grieving the idea of no longer having a daughter (I hadn’t come to the realization yet that I never had a daughter), and the idea that I wouldn’t recognize my own child devastated me. And I know that sounds awful, and I’ve never shared it before.
But when you don’t know what you don’t know, your brain fills in its version of the truth until it has better information.
Leo came downstairs that morning the same person he’d been the day before. The only difference was his name and pronouns. He still looked the same, ate the same foods, and liked all the same things he always had. Fundamentally, he was still the same person.
When our children come out as transgender, what changes about them is how they present themselves to the world. They explore their fashion style and how they will dress in different situations. They think about their hair and what that will look like. Will they present in a more feminine or masculine way? Will they wear makeup or jewelry, or nail polish? Will they do those things all the time or sometimes or only in certain places and with certain people?
In many ways, they are no different from the rest of us. We all go through those same decision-making processes at different points in our lives. For our transgender children, those decisions come at a much higher risk. How they present themselves to the world and when can put them in danger. We often don’t have to think of that.
Learning our children are transgender often comes as a shock to us. We get information, and it seems to us to come out of nowhere. Then all of a sudden, we have to start using names and pronouns that feel foreign to our brains and tongues. This is especially true if our kids are older. The muscle memory of our body has had a long time to practice using one name and set of pronouns, and then suddenly, it has to learn something new.
When our children change their outward appearance, it can feel shocking because we aren’t used to it.
However, in time, we adjust, and it becomes a normal part of who they are. Just like we get used to a new name and set of pronouns, we get used to a new hairstyle and new fashion sense. Our child might look like a different person outwardly, but the difference becomes their new normal.
It might seem that your child is different inwardly as well. That could be due to mental health challenges or a battle to accept their true gender. It could be they had a lot tied to the gender they identified with before they realized they were transgender. Coming to terms with that is a lot to process and brings with it a lot of emotions. It’s good for your child to process all that with a trained professional. In the meantime, it might appear to you that your child has changed in a way you don’t recognize. It’s easy to say that it’s because they are transgender. That coming out was the trigger for the change. One plus one does not always equal two. In this case, there may be more going on beneath the surface.
Continue to support your child the best you can. If you need to, seek support for yourself so you can work through your emotions.