Guest blog: Coming to terms with having a transgender son(28 Posts)
Since April, All About Trans have been encouraging greater understanding in the media of young transgender people. In today's guest post, the mother of a young trans man shares her experience.
"When we become parents, few of us are prepared for what lies ahead: the unexpected changes and challenges that test us every step of the way and the deep joy and unconditional love we feel for another human being. It is that love that keeps us going when are faced with extraordinary challenges in our children's lives.
Our story starts during my second pregnancy, which was planned to produce a sibling for my then 4-year-old son. At a regular check up about 12 weeks in, it was confirmed I was carrying twins. Six months later I gave birth to two beautiful (and big!) twin girls. They both arrived accompanied with individual medical conditions, involving years of hospital visits, operations and medication - but nothing that could not be treated. I mention this here purely because I remember thinking how out of control we are with many aspects of our lives.
First signs of a tomboy
I had never heard of Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) in 1992. I doubt I would have distinguished or even considered the difference between a transsexual and a transvestite, and my perception of both would have been of a 'middle-aged man in a frock'. I would not have been aware of female to male (F2M) transsexuals either. I am now.
The first sign was when the girls were about 5 and starting to assert their preferences. Izzy started to reject dresses and anything remotely gender-specific to female. Their infant school allowed girls to wear trackies in bad weather, and somehow Izzy got away with this year round. I wasn't duly concerned and accepted I had a tomboy for a daughter, who reveled in wearing her brother's hand-me-downs. Having an older brother, she had instant access to stereotypical boys' stuff, and this is what she chose. The bedroom the girls shared would have looked, to an outsider, the room of boy/girl siblings, with Barbie and Action Man sharing the same space.
Around age 6 I got the first sign this was perhaps more than being a tomboy. One night I found a note on my bed, which read: "Mum, I want to be a boy...". These little notes became her way of communicating important and difficult messages to me over the following years. Sometime during the same year, a documentary was aired about the plight of a British family who were taking their adolescent child to Holland in order to receive treatment for GID. I put the note and documentary together in a compartment in my brain, hoping I would never have to open it up again.
Gender variant adolescence
Middle school proved more difficult, as my child struggled to find her place. She didn't 'get' the girls or share their pre-adolescent interests, and wasn't particularly macho or sporty so wasn't accepted by the boys. She wasn't a typical tomboy either.
Towards the end of Middle School, I finally gave in to the pressure and let my daughter have her long locks cut off. The image I have of her when she emerged from the hairdressers is of someone who had a great weight lifted.
I had resisted her requests for a short hair-cut, partly because her hair was the last indication she was a girl; I also suspected that once her hair was short she would be mistaken for a boy, and I wanted to protect her from ridicule. Of course, I was right, and from this point on strangers often assumed Izzy was a boy - which made using ladies' loos and changing-rooms interesting!
The following few years were horrendous. Adolescent angst mixed with gender dysphoria must be the worst torment a young person can experience. She confided in a classmate that she wanted to be a boy, but this 'friend' decided to share the news, and Izzy was rejected and bullied. This is when the depression, self harm and bad behavior began.
We began weekly appointments at CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). Unlike many families, we were blessed with the most wonderful family counselor - but at 13 the GID was still not being addressed: my daughter had decided (we discovered later) that the only way to fit in was to conform by wearing feminine clothes, and experimenting with make-up.
To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief: I knew puberty was the crucial time when children with GID are most distressed and either stay dysphoric, settle into their born gender and/or perhaps identify as gay. My daughter declared in one of her little notes she fancied a girl in her class. Hurrah I thought, I have a gay daughter, I can deal with that.
"Mum, I know who I am..."
Then one dark November evening, I received a call from 15-year-old Izzy, who was in her bedroom, asking me to come quickly. I found a very distressed child with a bloodied wrist. While we waited for the ambulance, I held my child and tightly wrapped the wound. It was thankfully a superficial cut: an expression of her unhappiness.
We spent the night alone in the corridor of the children's ward, eventually being allowed home on the proviso we went back to CAMHS the next day. That was a dark night - I don't think I have ever felt so alone; but knew I had to protect and help my child no matter what.
Over the next month or so Izzy started to open up at CAMHS. I didn't know what was being discussed, but I did know I was witnessing a positive change in my child.No notes were needed this time. Izzy had something to tell me: "Mum I finally know who I am. I'm a boy, born in a girl's body." From this point on 'she' became 'he' - and I had a son called Matt.
Those who doubt GID as a valid condition will often be heard asking how someone so young can know they are born in the wrong body. Extensive studies of older transsexual people show 80% knew something was not right before the age of 12, the most common age is 7.
Seeking support and coming out
The impact of having a transgender child reverberates in every area of your life. How do you tell friends or family, not to mention acquaintances who enquire how 'the girls' are? First of all, you have to get used to using the correct pronouns, as slip-ups are very distressing for the trans person. To avoid repetitive explanations I emailed those that mattered in our lives with the news, attaching a useful NHS link that explains GID, and left if up to them to educate themselves.
I went in to robotic mode for about 6 months. I wrote off my car and had another minor accident, because my mind was elsewhere. I went to work, did what was needed to hold the family together. I was grieving and I was terrified. I found out who my real friends were - and in turn made fantastic new ones. I have my son to thank for these friendships.
Four months into this journey we went with trepidation to a gathering of families from the support group Mermaids. Meeting other people whose experiences mirrored our own was a turning point for us both.
During the last four years we have relentlessly battled the system to get the treatment he needs to feel more comfortable in his own body. Reversible hormone blocking treatment is now available at the start of puberty to delay the onset of unwanted physical characteristics, but by the age of 15 it is usually too late as development has taken place. There is a gap in treatment available before a young person is referred to Adult services and prescribed hormones that will produce characteristics of the desired gender. If Matt had taken blockers at 16 he would have effectively been in a menopausal state for a year before being considered for testosterone. We turned to private care for a brief period so he could begin hormone treatment and move forward in his life. If we hadn't, he would likely have become an Internet recluse.
Matt waited until the school prom to reveal his new identity, and attended in a suit and tie - for which I was full of admiration. He then went on to attend College in another borough where no one knew his past and, despite all the disruptions to his education, is now at University.
Next month, aged 20 years and 8 months, Matt will finally be having the surgery he has been waiting for. Next year I hope to take my family somewhere sunny, where Matt can take his shirt off and swim in the sea with the rest of us. Such a small pleasure, which many take for granted - but one that will mean so much to us.
Medical care for gender variant children and young people: answering families' questions - NHS PDF document
All About Trans: encouraging greater understanding between the media and transgender people
Thank you for sharing. I can't comprehend how very difficult it must be to go through this. Let's hope for a future where everyone can easily have access to any medical treatment they need to support them and that we become an ever more understanding society. My heart goes out to those who have to battle just to be themselves - a freedom the rest of us are able to take for granted.
Just echoing what Fuzzysnout said. This is so far outside my experience I would never know without reading pieces like this. Thank you for sharing it.
Testament to your family that he felt he could tell you so early on. Good luck, Matt.
This is so moving and so well written. I have lived with friends and also worked with transgender men and women. Your son is so lucky to have such an understanding mum.
I met lots of transmen last year at work and was impressed by all of them - they were so open and their stories really moved me. I think in some ways transmen have better support groups than transwomen, who don't quite seem to have the same networks. (They also seem to make very handsome men ... !)
One of my trans-men friends married his fiance last year and they looked so beautiful and happy.
Matt has had a great start with the support you have given and I hope he finds a happy place in the world.
Much love to an amazing mum. xxx
that is beautifully written and I agree it is a great testament to you that he was able to confide in you from such a young age.
I have seen a school friend go through this, so know a little (albeit only a little)of what a big journey it is and what a battle.
How lucky he is to have you as his mum. You have both been through an incredibly tough time but so lovely and lucky that you have had and still have such a wonderful relationship. I sincerely hope my own dcs will feel able to confide in me. Wish you both all the best for the future.
Wonderfully written, you are obviously a thoughtful and caring mum. Best wishes to Matt!
I hope mumsnet will include something written by a trans* person themselves, in or outside of the gender binary, and acknowledgements that the medical approach and GID are quite controversial and hotly debated within the trans* and medical communities. As a trans* person, most within my circle find it only useful for those that want/need access to official paperwork and procedures; however, it leads to many treating it as a disorder and to some thinking there is a specific path to being 'cured' when we take many paths to finding acceptance with ourselves - as do cis people.
With this trans* information, MN might want to look into making it's gender choices in the profile and surveys more inclusive .
Love reading this. What an amazing journey for all of you! Beautifully told story.
Thank you so much for sharing this. My nephew is now on hormone blockers and testosterone to go from female to male. It is exhausting and that's just for parents and family, can't even begin to imagine how he feels but so so much of the post resonates with him and what he has been through.
It is so hard because when you are in the cycle it seems perfectly natural with the process and everything you all go through but yet there is still so much predujice (sp?) and misunderstanding of the situation that results in people being rude, horrible and just plain nasty. This is what I find hardest of all.
I am also a member of Mermaids. The group has been a lifeline for me over the last 2 and a half years. My son (FTM) is now 16 and is happier now than in all his life before he started living in his true gender. He has lots of friends now and is doing well at college, both of which would have been impossible before he transitioned.
The number of young transgender people seeking help is increasing. This is because society is becoming a bit more accepting so people do not feel the same need to hide away as they used to. There is a long way to go however. There is still discrimination against Trans people and the health services still have to change their protocols in order to become helpful to these vulnerable people who have a recognized medical condition for which they may require treatment and support.
Matt is lucky to have such a strong mum. My heart goes out to you and your family for the hard times you've been through. I know several transgender people and the hardships they go through are heartbreaking. Matt has already proven how strong he is and I wish him love and luck as he moves through life.
Interesting Blog. Thank you for sharing.
I wish the best to you and your son
A very interesting read. Thanks so much for sharing and wishing your family the best for the future
If anyone would like some further reading, Andrew Soloman's incredible (and huge) book 'Far From the Tree' has a fantastic chapter on the experiences of trans children and their parents.
I am full of admiration for you and your family.
That is a fascinating blog. I've never really thought about transgender as an issue very often, but this has been very thought provoking, thank you for sharing
Really interesting story, thanks for sharing. I attended a conference run by a man and woman who were both trans and I've been really interested since.
There's a good blog on the Guardian from a trans woman who recently completed her surgery. Highly recommend it.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
Kim147 thanks for your supportive message; meeting and hearing the stories of older trans people has really helped me accept and come to terms with what was happening. Hope you are well and happy
Sparkle101 , thanks for yr message sharing your story, Yes it is exhausting for all involved but your nephew is so lucky to have supportive family around him. Best wishes to you all
Thank you all for your lovely supportive comments. There is still a long way go to change perceptions and raise awareness but I believe every small step leads to great change and we are all part of that.
He's a very lucky man to have you for a mum.
I wish you and your family a very happy future.
I have just become aware that my son is transgender. He has finally been able to tell me aged 17. He is desperate for his referral when he turns 18. He has recently told his close family members who have all been wonderfully supportive. At the moment though we are in the dark as to any services or support out there. If anyone can help that would be fantastic, both for my new daughter and for myself.
Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing.
I'd be very interested in hearing about how your oldest son and the twin sister reacted/coped/dealt with being Matt's sibling.
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