Gender dysphoria is difficult to understand. I’m not naïve enough to think everyone who reads my blog agrees with me, or the steps my husband and I have taken as parents. Some folks may be sitting on their hands, refraining from sharing their opinion, or a Bible verse. You may be reading my posts and thinking: this would never happen in my house, or, if this were MY kid, I would….Trust me when I tell you, and I mean this in the kindest possible way, you can speculate as much as you would like to about what you would do, or not do, if your child came out as transgender, however, until you are faced with this situation, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I know this, because I was not prepared. My husband was not prepared. We had no idea what the word transgender really meant. When I think about my initial reaction, about questions I asked my child, and things I said out loud to my child, I’m actually embarrassed at just how ignorant I was.
My daughter and I were traveling to see professionals once a week, sometimes twice. The travel time to the psychologist was 45 minutes, one way. Her appointments were scheduled after school, at 4 p.m., so our ride home was typically an hour in rush hour traffic. After the second appointment with the psychologist, the following conversation ensued,
Me: “Did you have a good visit today?”
Her: “I guess.”
Me: “What does I guess mean?”
Her: “I feel bad because I lied.”
Me: “About what?”
Her: “She asked if I ever thought about killing myself. I said no.”
Me: (NOT in a calm, soothing voice) “Do you feel that way right now?!”
Her: “No, Mom. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
I gripped the steering wheel with both hands and held it so tightly that my knuckles were white. We still had 40 minutes left on our drive. We did not speak the rest of the way home. I couldn’t, there was a huge lump in my throat. My heart was pounding. I concentrated my efforts on not sobbing. At that moment, so many thoughts ran through my head, like, this kid has everything they could possibly want, and this kid got a scout badge for tying knots. Beginning that night, once she was asleep, my husband slept on the floor outside her bedroom. This went on for weeks. I don’t think she knew. I wondered if we would ever sleep again. We slowly graduated to checking on her every hour, then a few times a night, and finally, each morning. Now, any time her bedroom door is locked, I panic. Fact, when you are uncertain about your child’s mental health to the point you find it necessary to conduct a suicide watch in your home, you also find that your capacity to accept and understand ideas that are foreign to you, is much greater than you ever realized. Suddenly, there was a chink in my armor. I began a downward spiral from I know everything there is to know about my child, period, to I feel like I don’t know who this person is, question mark. This is what took me a year and a half to unravel.
My husband and I were lucky. We know that. We know families with transgender teens who have attempted to end their lives. I’ve read stories about transgender teens who have been successful in ending their lives. I won’t pretend to know what that feels like. The pain I carry in my heart is great, but theirs is greater. If your child confides in you that they are questioning their gender identity or have gender dysphoria, please seek professional help. It’s not a phase, they aren’t looking for attention, it’s not something they’ll grow out of, it’s not something you did, it’s not because of who they hang out with, it’s not because of video games, it’s not because they have a smartphone, it’s not because they consumed red dye, GMO’s, nitrates, or non-organic milk. It’s just who they are. They need help figuring things out, and, so do you.
I believed I was a good parent, but clearly, the messages my daughter received from me, from church, and from society, caused her to think, albeit momentarily, that being dead might be better than being different. I have written this before, and I will write it again. I can’t take credit for it, because I read it someplace else. I would rather have a daughter who is alive, than a son who is dead. When it comes to raising our kids, my husband likes to tell me, “do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?” I desperately wanted to be right because, as I mentioned, I thought I knew my kid better than anyone, and, no one likes to be wrong. However, after all my kid went through just to make it to this point in her life, I desperately wanted her to live. And, that became so much stronger than what I didn’t know or understand, and even what my church was telling me.
I’ve read this and heard it on my journey, and it had a profound affect on me, so I’d like to share it as the final thought of this post – if you must lower your humanity to meet your belief system, it’s time to rethink what you believe. Period.
If you are a youth in need of help, please don’t give up! Contact The Trevor Project
It is also beneficial to search your local community for resources. Your local PFLAG chapter should be able to assist you in finding resources in your community.