I was not raised in a “liberal” family. To this day, most of my Massachusetts-raised extended family (minus a few millennial cousins) are proud Irish Catholic Republicans… and that’s putting it mildly. Despite being raised in one of the most progressive states in the country, I had a very reserved and conservative upbringing.
Opening my eyes to the larger world outside of straight, white, upper-middle class, suburban America, was a purposeful and thoughtful decision for me. Moving to Washington DC in my early 30s introduced me to so many different ethnicities and cultures (including the LGBTQ culture). So, when I say that I am an ally to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, it is because intellectually, emotionally, and politically I believe in equity for all. When I say I am family to the Queer community, it is because I literally have members of my family and personal community who identify as LGBTQ.
The acts of violence and aggression toward trans, non-binary, and gender expansive people in this country, both on an individual level, as well as a political and systemic level, are truly terrifying. That is one reason I have been hesitant to share our story on a public platform. I also value the privacy of my children, and, even more importantly, the safety of my children. But I can’t allow fear to silence me. There is too much hate out there… too much ignorance and violence to stay silent.
My partner, Will, and I are complete opposites. He was an inked up, punk rock, goth kid who was way cooler than I ever was. If we hadn’t met later in life, we never would’ve gotten along, let alone ended up in a relationship. And yet, at 36 and 42, we were (and still are) the perfect balance for one another. We met online and six weeks later found out we were having a baby. It’s been a wild ride to say the least.
Our eldest is our surprise love child. She chose us as parents and the universe decided to not let us mess it up. Our youngest child, however, was quite planned.
When we tried for our second child, we got pregnant immediately. We then had an early miscarriage before we got pregnant again. So, our youngest is our rainbow baby. Turns out that phrase would end up holding even deeper meaning than we thought.
Our youngest child has always aspired to be just like her big sister. She wanted to do all the same things, wear all the same things, eat all the same things… NOT eat all the same things. She always loved sparkles, tutus, unicorns, and borrowing her older sister’s dresses. We didn’t think much of it. Well, that’s not true. We just didn’t care if it was simple sibling adoration or a stronger statement of self. We’ve always allowed our children a lot of body autonomy. We’ve never forced them to show affection when they don’t want to, we encourage them to wear clothes that bring them joy, style their hair in a way that makes them happy, and be whoever their heart tells them they are.
One of our children is gender expansive. She was identified male at birth, but just before she turned 5, she told us that she feels like a girl. One weekend in early May last year, my youngest, my partner and I had painted our nails, something we often do together. We're big into self-expression (see earlier mention of tattooed, punk/goth husband). Ironically, our cis-gender daughter has never really been into having her nails done, but I digress.
The whole family was in the car on the way home from school the next day, and my youngest said, "I told Jay that I painted my nails like a girl." I responded, "Cool! Anyone can paint their nails though. It's not a boy thing or a girl thing... just a fun thing." She then burst into tears and cried, "No! I painted my nails to BE LIKE A GIRL!" I looked at her and said, "well, that's totally fine too!" We told her that whoever she feels she is on the inside is exactly who she’s meant to be, and that she is beautiful just the way she is.
When we got home, she told us that "she feels like a girl all the time." We told her that we support her being her best self and will help her to follow her heart however we can. We reminded her, as we’ve always told both of our kids, that she should be her authentic self… always, and without apology.
We believe in attachment parenting, we stay open-minded, and we love our children unconditionally. We are also far from perfect parents. We make mistakes, we raise our voices, and too often we aren’t as patient as we’d like. We are learning and striving to do better all the time. We have been praised by friends, teachers, and members of our community for how amazing we are at raising a gender expansive child. Except, raising a gender expansive child isn’t much different from raising a cis-gender child. Or, at least, it wouldn’t be if our country wasn’t filled with so much fear, aggression, and the twisted desire to erase transgender people.
We believe that children should have autonomy over their bodies and their self-expression, be it through their clothing choices, hairstyles, or their chosen names. Trust me, if you see my kids on any given day, it’s obvious that they dress themselves. My eldest has an affinity for power clashing. My youngest was obsessed with the color green for years, and often sported multiple shades of it at the same time. They are not pets for us to train or dress up. They are tiny humans with their own thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It is not our job to mold them into what we want them to be. It is our job to support them to think for themselves, accept and love themselves, and become the best version of themselves.
I asked my rainbow child if it was ok to share her story with the world. She’s 5 (almost 6, she would have you know), but it felt important to seek her permission first. I also asked my eldest child and my partner if they were on board with me sharing our story. Because sharing our support of our gender expansive (potentially trans) child puts us at risk in today’s climate in this country. With so much aggression aimed at the trans community, it may end up painting a target on our backs. So be it.
I think it’s far more important to speak my truth and show my child that I support her. Truly support her. Not just in the relative safety of our home, but also in a very public way. I want her to know that I will stand by her, support her, and fight for her right to exist exactly as she is in the world, no matter what other’s may say.
When she is older, she will know that her parents felt not one moment of shame for the person she is, but only an incredible amount of pride at the honor of being her parents. I want her to know how impressed we are with her ability to tell us exactly who she is. At the ripe age of 4 years and 10 months, she told us that she “wishes she’d been born a ‘real’ girl.” We told her that she can be a girl just like her big sister, and that as she gets older we will continue to support the decisions she makes for her life and her body.
But really… how amazing is that?? How self-aware are our children? As Gen Xers, we are in our 40s and 50s, and we’re still figuring it out… not our kids. They know exactly who they are, and given a safe and supportive environment, they’ll tell you without a moment’s hesitation.
It’s been one year since she told us she feels like a girl all the time. It’s been seven months since she chose a new name for herself (completely of her own volition). And you know what? She hasn’t wavered. Not once. She is so clear that this is who she is. Sadly, despite the love and support she receives at home and from our close community, the last year has still held pain and heartbreak for her, as well as the rest of us.
We have extended family members who are Fox News-watching, Trump-voting Conservatives. Not only do they not understand the journey our family is on, but they have actively campaigned against allowing our child to be herself. We have received hateful messages from them for a year now. They have told us that the “trans situation has been created at home.” That we need to tell our child that “they are a boy; they need to dress like a boy and do boy activities.” They have blamed our school, the fact that we have LGBTQ+ friends, and our parenting for creating, what they see as, a problem with our child.
They have shared all that toxic negativity under the guise of love. They love us so much that they must speak up. They are not attacking us, they are just sharing their opinion that we have purposely made one of our children trans and are, therefore, ruining both our children’s lives (and theirs, of course). How loving…? Or perhaps it’s just fear masquerading as control.
Gender affirming care is the recommendation of every major medical body in the United States, not limited to the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, Endocrine Society, Harvard Health, and more.
Do you know why these capable experts created guidelines for gender affirming care? First, it’s because they create ALL the medical guidelines for the health of the people in this country. (Think pediatricians, cardiologists, neurologists, oncologists… pretty smart people who went to school for a very long time to dedicate their lives to saving others.) Despite what the conservative media would have you believe, gender affirming care and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been around for decades.
However, in today’s climate it also supports gender expansive, non-binary, and trans people. The risk for suicide among transgender people is unimaginably high. In fact, a study published in 2020 stated that “Data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth.”
The numbers may vary depending on which article or study you read, but in the end they all agree that transgender people, and especially transgender youth are at an alarmingly high risk for suicide ideation and suicide. As a parent of a non-gender conforming child who may end up identifying as transgender, those statistics are terrifying.
Did you know that, according to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult in their lives were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. Why would you not choose to be an accepting and supportive adult?? Why? How can any decent human argue that shaming LGBTQ youth for who they are or forcing them to hide who they are is healthy?
My child is at risk for increased violence, and there are so many states in this country that are literally putting my child’s (and my family’s) emotional and physical health at risk. In fact, at this very moment, there are currently 31 states criminalizing gender affirming health care in some way.
Do you know what gender affirming care looks like for a 5-year-old child? It's allowing them to dress however they choose, wear their hair however they choose, honoring their preferred pronouns and their chosen name. It’s showing them the same basic respect that you would show any other human (adult or child). It’s loving them and accepting them for who they are. That’s it. It’s truly that simple.
Luckily, my family lives in one of the most LGBTQ-friendly areas of the country. Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado all rank high on the LGBTQ-friendly list. That being said, there are now several states in which we would not only never visit but wouldn’t even risk driving through. I’m looking at you Florida and Texas… with the list growing daily (Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma).
These are scary times for the LGBTQ+ community, but specifically for trans youth. As a parent of one of those beautiful souls, I must use my voice. I feel compelled to not only create a safe space for my child, but to share my message of support and acceptance on a larger level. Not every child has accepting parents who will allow them to just be themselves in all their splendor.
Some children are part of families that, at best, struggle to support them… or, at worst, shame them or force them to be someone that they’re not. In my mind, that’s the equivalent of emotional abuse. No child should feel ashamed of who they are. No child should feel that they are not fully accepted and loved for who they are. Parents love for their children should be unconditional. Period.
Just the other day, the new manager at my kids swim lessons noticed the name change for my child and was so touched at our support of her that he told me about his own journey into gender fluidity. I believe he's in his early twenties, but he felt embarrassed that he is still figuring it out. I told him that defining yourself in this life is a long and winding road that is rarely linear and should never actually end. If you’re not constantly learning, growing, and evolving in this life, then you’re doing it wrong.
He also mentioned that his mom is trying to be supportive, but is very religious, rather unsympathetic in general, and is struggling to understand him. I told him that he can talk to me or my partner anytime. We are a safe space for him… or any other trans or 2SLGBTQIA+ person who needs parental love or understanding, or perhaps, just a friend.*
If you are gender expansive, non-binary, or trans, I can only imagine how challenging your life is right now (and probably always has been). It is not you that is not right in this world… it is the world who is not yet ready to see your unique strength and beauty.
I see you. You are a beautiful soul. You deserve the right to be the person you were meant to be. I will be a voice and an ally in the fight to change the way the world sees you. You are safe here.
*Will and I are a safe space for anyone in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, or any parents of queer kids who could use support. Please reach out anytime.