“I’m not right,” my 8-year-old child with the old soul says, explaining why our weathered mailbox sits empty. Another classmate’s birthday party is on the horizon, and we wait anxiously for the invitation that never comes. Simple yet profound, the words slice through my flesh, piercing a hole in my heart, the pain more than I can bear. Pain I have come to know all too well, raising a transgender child.
It wasn’t always this way, at least not in the beginning. With ten fingers and toes, a perfect Apgar score of 10, and no obvious birth defects, we celebrated the arrival of our healthy firstborn. Yes, on that blue-sky August afternoon, I delivered a beautiful baby, who came wrapped in a blanket of hopes and dreams that were not meant to be. At least not as we envisioned those hopes and dreams when the doctor divulged the secret — “It’s A Girl!”— we had been patiently waiting to learn for the last nine months. Truth be told, no one in our delivery room that day, from the medical staff to my husband and I, would have ever guessed how wrong that statement would be.
From birth until the age of 3, we lived in a state of naïve bliss, a magical land of new parenthood where we believed we were raising a girl. A beautiful little girl who would be Snow White on Halloween, wear red velvet dresses and matching patent leather shoes during the holidays, and go by the name of Samantha. Never mind the fact that this child preferred Matchbox Cars to Barbies and bulldozers instead of baby dolls. Society had graciously given us the “tomboy” label to justify her behavior, which we gladly used as a wishful excuse. But all too soon it became hard to ignore the earnest pleas for the McDonald’s Happy Meal that included the boy’s toy or the innocent requests to wear male clothes, right down to the boxer shorts underwear. Pleas and requests occurred daily. Our child tried to tell us, in the only way she knew how, that there was a disconnect between her mind and body.
“You are pioneers,” we were told, the tone implying we should be proud, as we met with the first group of doctors to discuss the gender atypical behavior we knew extended well beyond “normal.” Pioneers because, as we quickly learned, there was very little research and data on transgender children. I remember my mind flashing back to Little House on the Prairie, a favorite television show from my youth about pioneers and their hardships, which seemed oh-so simple compared to what our family was now facing. Pushing through the mounting fear, not because we were brave, but because we knew the physical and mental well being of our child depended upon it, we hitched up a team of doctors — pediatricians, endocrinologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists — and began to plough the field of medicine searching for answers to help our child become whole.
Over the last five years Sam, as he is now known, has endured innumerable pokes and prods to his body and soul — puberty-blocking drug injections and seemingly baseless psycho-babble questions — so that he can be the person he has always known himself to be, inside and out. At the same time, our family has embraced that pioneer spirit, ploughing not only the medical field, but also the field of education to ensure our child is safe at school. Working with teachers, we have circled the wagons to combat the daily attacks of harassment and bullying from fellow classmates who lack empathy and derive pleasure by inflicting emotional pain.
Equally important, our family has learned to be advocates. Appearing in front of medical professionals, school officials, friends, fellow students and parents, we stand side-by-side with Sam as we explain a subject that is unfamiliar to most people and misunderstood by society at large. With every opportunity to share a glimpse of what it is like to walk in his shoes — shoes that are well worn because of the rough and uncharted road he has already traveled in his short life — we feel encouraged knowing one more person might go forward with a new appreciation and understanding for people like Sam. Indeed, nothing prepares you for the challenges of raising a transgender child, but with unconditional love and acceptance we believe we are showing our child and everyone who knows our family that gender alone does not define the person.