The five words that meant the most to me on this journey were, “We are just like you.” They were spoken by a woman named Ashley, who is President of the local PFLAG chapter. They were words I desperately needed to hear and they had a profound impact on my journey with my transgender daughter.
A year after my daughter came out as transgender, she asked to begin medically transitioning. It was July and we were in Illinois visiting family. At that time, our daughter was still our “son”, at least in everyone else’s eyes. We were at the tail end of a two-week trip we had made each summer, for the last ten years, to visit family and friends. Being called by the deadname and wrong pronoun was beginning to wear on her. Her younger cousins wanted to play house and told her she could be the Dad. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That evening, she was despondent. The next day, there was a family party. It was crazy and hectic. As I sat outside drinking sangria and pretending life was perfectly fine, our daughter sent me a text. “I want to start blockers.” She had begun a pattern of sending me text messages about important topics while I was surrounded by other people. I’m not sure if this strategy was because of my tendency to overreact, or, because she knew there would be no discussion about it until later. In hindsight, whether intentional or not, the strategy was genius because it taught me to really think about her questions, and carefully consider my response, before answering.
She was a year along in her visits with the psychologist who specialized in gender dysphoria. It felt as though my husband and I had finally just “caught up” with our daughter on this journey and, now, there was a fork in the road. We had to decide which path was best for our child. A blocker is a drug used to halt the development of predisposed sex characteristics. We knew once she began taking blockers, she would eventually ask to begin taking estrogen. Naturally, we wanted to be 100%, absolutely, positively certain our daughter was, indeed, afflicted with gender dysphoria before allowing her to make any changes to her body.
Guess what? Even after a year of intensive therapy, no professional will utter the words, “I’m 100%, absolutely, positively certain your child is transgender.” My guess is those words would never be spoken. Psychology is not an exact science. The psychologist did say, “your child is persistent, consistent, and insistent,” which I must say, was not reassuring. I recalled countless times my child had been “persistent, consistent, and insistent.” We needed more information to make this difficult decision.
Several months before this, in the Spring, we asked the psychologist if she could connect us with a family that was just like ours. She provided me a notecard with two names and told me a little about each family. She also encouraged us to begin attending PFLAG meetings. The first family was a traditional family, with one child, a transgender teen. One of the parents was a therapist. The second family was a traditional family, two teens (one trans, one cis), and was Catholic. I quickly crossed the first name off the list because I didn’t want perspective from another person in the psychology field. I’d like to tell you I called the second person, named Karen, immediately, but I didn’t. I had kept my daughter’s struggle with her gender identity secret for more than a year. I still wasn’t ready to speak about it with anyone. I stared at the notecard on my desk and contemplated connecting with Karen, but a few weeks later I stuck the notecard in a drawer. I just couldn’t do it.
I also researched PFLAG. PFLAG is an acronym for Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The nearest PFLAG meeting was 20 miles away from us. The group met once each month, on a Monday, at 6:30 p.m. This meant a 45-minute drive to get there, on a weeknight, in rush hour traffic. The meetings were an hour and a half, so it also meant giving up an entire evening. It felt like too much effort, especially since I was already driving across town, every other week, to take our daughter to therapist appointments. I gave no further consideration to attending a PFLAG meeting.
By now it was Fall. Our daughter had been texting and asking outright about blockers for months. We continued to stall, saying we were still doing research. Truthfully, we were finished researching and had many questions. I was uncomfortable scheduling an appointment with the pediatrician at the medical practice that had cared for our daughter the previous ten years. I was not certain about the practice’s position on the matter, and frankly, was uncomfortable asking the question. During doctor visits over the preceding year, with both my children, I scanned the office for a rainbow sticker, a sticker of the trans flag, pamphlets referencing the LGBT community, or anything that would hint at the practice’s stance. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if pediatrician offices had a simple rainbow sticker on the office window to indicate they are affirming? This way, parents like me wouldn’t have to guess!
My husband and I finally agreed to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician recommended to us by the psychologist. We were clear with our daughter about the purpose of the appointment – to find out more information about blockers. We made no promise to her that she could begin taking blockers. Coincidentally, the pediatrician recommended to us was a transgender woman. My husband, daughter, and I went to the appointment together. The doctor took time to meet with the three of us together, then with our daughter, and, finally, with my husband and I, alone. While I did not find the pediatrician to be unbiased, I did find her to be knowledgeable, honest, and sincere in answering the questions we had. My expectation was that we would get more information, and return home to discuss what we had learned, before making a final decision. The information we received from the doctor was very straightforward. While my husband and I were still hesitant, we left that day with a script for blockers. Our gut told us it was the right decision. At the very least, it would allow our daughter more time to explore her gender identity before continuing with medical transition. Our daughter was overjoyed.
The new pediatrician also mentioned PFLAG as a resource for us to consider. We knew we needed the support and perspective of parents who were on the same journey. I pulled the notecard from the desk drawer. There was a phone number and an email address for Karen. I wasn’t ready to speak. I was still having a difficult time talking about our journey without crying. I decided to send her an email instead. After a few back and forth messages to coordinate a face-to-face meeting, we decided to meet at the next PFLAG meeting, which my husband and I promised each other we would attend.
When the day came, I did not want to go. It was the next logical step of our journey, but I didn’t want to take it because it meant accepting my daughter’s gender dysphoria was not a phase. The path ahead was going to be difficult and uncomfortable. I was scared. Karen, my husband and I met at the PFLAG meeting location about 30 minutes before the actual meeting began. We (okay, my husband) shared a very abbreviated version of our journey. Karen shared her family’s journey with us. The psychologist was right, our stories were very similar. Karen told us about what to expect at the PFLAG meeting. She assured us that we would be surrounded by affirming, supportive people.
Going into the meeting, I was very nervous. I knew with absolute certainty I would not be speaking. The meeting began with Ashley, the chapter President, welcoming everyone and sharing her family’s journey. Before turning the floor over to the group, she gave a few instructions, and then addressed the new people in the room. She explained if we weren’t comfortable sharing that evening, it was fine. She ended by saying, “We are happy to have you here tonight. We are here to help you however we can. We are just like you.” My eyes welled up with tears at those last five words. In fact, I hear those words at every PFLAG meeting, and they still make my eyes well up with tears. I had spent a year and a half convinced there was no one, anywhere in Charlotte, like me. Here I was, in a room with thirty other people who shared stories just like mine. I did not speak that night. My husband shared our story at the first meeting, and he continues to share our story each month, because I still can’t do it without crying! I rarely give my husband credit, but, between the two of us, he is an awesome public speaker!
My heart was full of gratitude that night and still is. I went home and could not stop thinking about Karen and Ashley. They spoke confidently and candidly about their family’s journey. I longed for the day when I would be able to speak as openly and unapologetically about my family’s journey as they did. I was angry at myself for waiting six months to attend my first PFLAG meeting! I had some very dark days on this journey and it would have helped so much to know, and be able to communicate with, other families traveling the same journey. Whether your child is lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, or any combination thereof, you will find support at PFLAG. I speak from experience when I tell you, it is a difficult step to take. However, I promise you, seeking out this support will change your life! Click here to find a meeting near you!
Karen and Ashley, thank you for changing my life. I am grateful for your friendship, and all the friendships my husband and I have made through PFLAG. Thank you to both of you, and the PFLAG Board, for advocating on behalf of our children!