When my son Leo came out as transgender, I was blindsided by his news. Because I didn’t know that he had been hiding his true gender since middle school, I felt it came out of nowhere. I went to bed thinking I had a daughter, and the next day I woke up and had a son. None of it made sense. If my child were transgender, I should have known, right? Wrong. Coming out is more than just the actual telling, which I did not realize at the time. Because of this, I let myself carry the guilt of thinking I should have seen some kind of signs or clues over the years that told me Leo was transgender.
Our kids hide from us what they don’t want us to know.
Once Leo had the language explaining why his body didn’t match how he felt about his identity, he kept it to himself. He wasn’t ready to share that truth about himself with the world. As he began to prepare for college, he slowly changed how he presented himself to the world. He cut his hair short, then shorter, then shaved it off. He began dressing in a more gender-neutral way. None of this seemed out of the ordinary for Leo. He had been changing his hair since middle school. He was trying out different hairstyles and then different colors. And fashion was something that Leo flipped back and forth with, and also, Leo was a teenager. Teenagers are all over the map with how they dress and do their hair. None of this raised any red flags that something was amiss.
We can only know what we know when we know it.
When Leo was in high school, the word transgender wasn’t on my radar. I wouldn’t have associated it with my child if it had been. I wouldn’t have pieced together what was going on with him and put it together with him being transgender. And that’s because I wouldn’t have known what to be looking for.
Just because a person changes their hair and clothing doesn’t make them transgender. Once I knew Leo was transgender, I could see how he was slowly experimenting with his gender presentation before he came out. How he was trying on different looks to see how they fit or maybe how they made him feel. I wonder if he was looking to see how people reacted to him.
For years I felt guilty that I missed those signs. If I had seen them sooner, maybe I could have done something differently.
It took me a long time to understand that I didn’t miss anything. There wasn’t anything there for me to see because Leo wasn’t out yet. He wasn’t dropping hints for me to figure out. It wasn’t a puzzle that I was missing pieces of. Leo had one conversation with his dad that would’ve raised a red flag with me had I known about it. It had to do with men’s wallets. His dad never shared that conversation with me until after Leo came out.
Here’s the thing, though. Even had I known about that conversation and asked Leo about it, he may not have given me a straight answer. There’s a good chance I would’ve gotten some vague, nondescript response that redirected me away from looking too closely at him and why he made that comment to his dad.
So even if I had picked up on any of this then, I don’t think it would have mattered. I may have known it differently. For example, I may have had some clue that something was going on, but I don’t think I would have done anything differently. We can’t go back and change what we did or didn’t do.
At the time, we do the best we can with the information we have available to us.
As more information is made available to us, we take that information, and it informs how we respond going forward. When our children come out, we spend time learning what it means for them to be transgender and how to support them so they can move forward, and so can we.
But as parents, we spend a lot of time looking backward. This is especially true if our children didn’t show any signs of questioning their gender before coming out. We look for signs to help us make sense of what is going on. We think that reflecting on the past will help us better understand the present.
Reflection is useful in that it gives us perspective.
It gives us the ability to see what we weren’t able to see during a time when it wasn’t being made available to us. Reflection allows us to have a better understanding of what was going on during a time when we didn’t have the information to be able to understand it. It allows us to make sense of previously confusing things.
Reflection is not good for looking back and creating guilt about what we find. Let go of the guilt about what you think you should or should have done differently about things you think you should have known. That kind of guilt isn’t productive. It isn’t serving you, and it isn’t helping you support your child.