On this day four years ago, we found one of our kids was trans.
It was the eve of a national anti-bulling campaign, recognized in many schools by sporting pink shirts. I had completely forgotten about it, of course, until an email from the teacher came in and I made my patented panic-at-the-iPhone-screen face.
So out we I went, at the very last minute, with the two kids I knew as our middle and youngest boys, frantically running to whatever nearby stores were open, searching for anything pink they could wear to school in the morning.
Because otherwise they'd be wearing a non-pink shirt. And then would we be... pro-bullying? That was not the message I wanted to send.
That night, which involved an exhaustive search and two acquired shirts, I would discover two important things:
1. Finding pink in the boys' department in 2014 was next to impossible, and,
2. One of those two boys wasn't a boy.
On February 25, 2014, our middle child came out to us as trans. It was the day that changed everything, and we recognize it in some way each year.
Normally, on Alexis' trans-a-versary, I write something sappy and put it up on my blog to thoroughly embarrass her. It's one of my great joys.
But this year feels a little different. This afternoon, I asked our now fifteen-year-old how she feels on this special day, and she said, "Good. But, you know, pretty normal."
"How so?" I asked, a little surprised. Because, like, for the first three years, she wanted to celebrate the hell out of this day. We'd go out for a meal and get her a card and talk about how much better things have been since she's started living as herself. She relished every moment.
"Well, it's been four years since I came out," she replied, "And it's exactly one year and four months since I've been on estrogen, too. I just feel like a typical girl now. My body feels right. My brain feels right. It's really nice and normal. Yeah, normal."
I smiled and hugged her. Because what else is there to do when your kid feels right? Isn't that what we all want?
"Normal" isn't a word a lot of teens would use to describe themselves, but Alexis seems to own it. I couldn't be more thrilled about it. This is exactly what we had hoped for; that the 11-year-old we knew as a depressed and isolated boy, who felt anything but normal, would find a way out of that darkness.
A lot of people still don't understand trans children or the parents who choose to affirm them. They tell us our kids are too young, too naive, or too confused to be making decisions about their gender. We get accused of everything from blindly following a liberal agenda to outright child abuse. And no matter what, we're clearly leading them down a path of great regret.
If only you'd just let them be! If only you'd just let them live as the gender they are!
Well, I'm here to tell you we're doing exactly what you're asking:
We are letting them be. We're letting them be themselves. This is who they are.
We are letting them live as the gender they are. Not as the gender we assumed they were.
And in doing so, we're making their lives better.
Our kids are not actually making any big decisions about gender, unless you count telling their parents we've been sadly misinformed this entire time. What parents are doing is listening to them.
And in doing so - a little louder for those in the back this time - WE'RE MAKING THEIR LIVES BETTER.
Not following me? Rolling your eyes? I get you. I'm going to take a guess that on this day, four years ago, when I was moments away from receiving that coming out email from my child, that I knew about as much on trans issues as anyone rolling their eyes right now.
But don't worry, I had opinions on gender. They were big, strong opinions based on solid evidence, such as:
- 80's and 90's depictions of trans people on TV and in movies (super accurate!)
- Some internet articles (source of all pure knowledge)
- Discussions with friends and family who knew as much as I did on these issues
- Basic biology (because doesn't the study of biology end in grade 11?)
And here's what those super strong opinions were not based on:
- Learning from actual trans people. (Because who needs to learn from the people you're learning about? That's a dumb idea.)
Right around this time - 7:30 p.m., four years ago - I read that email, and everything I thought I knew about gender and trans people lit itself on fire and jumped off a cliff.
I had two choices at that point: I could either scale the side of the cliff and collect those useless opinions of mine to make my ego feel better, or I could leave them there to die and listen to my child so that she could feel better. Today, as my beautiful, smiling daughter came into the kitchen and told me how perfectly normal she feels, I was reminded, once again, that those opinions can suck it.
It took a village to get her here: family, friends, neighbours, teachers, counselors, and medical professionals. Alexis did the hardest work, of course, but we all played a role in helping her achieve this new normal. We all had to actively choose to believe, affirm, support, and care for that brave little girl.
(You know, the one whose growing up into a mighty woman - however normal she might feel.)
Right around this time - a few minutes after that email was sent. - my spouse and I told Alexis our love for her is unconditional. We promised to learn with her and do everything we could to help her be the person she really is.
I'm glad we did. She tells us she's still here today because we chose to love her.
So, that's my message tonight. Rather than writing a big sappy letter to the girl who changed everything, I'm instead going to use this moment to say something to the people at the beginning of this journey.
Some of you reading this will have a loved one come out to you at some point. I ask that you love them - hard.
If you don't understand, that's okay. You can still love them while you're learning.
If you have opinions that go against what they're telling you, set those opinions on fire and toss them off a cliff. (I know a really high one.) Don't let old views cloud a new picture. You now have a person with lived experience to guide you, so keep an open mind and learn from them.
One day, I hope your loved one will walk into the kitchen full of strength and smiles like mine did today, and you'll see any work you've done to help get them there reflected back at you. It's a beautiful thing.
And I promise you, if you lead with love, this will all feel wonderfully normal soon. For them, for you, and hopefully for society at large. Because the more of us who love unconditionally, the more it makes it okay for others to do so.
Here's to, like, totally normal.
Happy four years out and proud, my amazing daughter.