I had a moment this week.
Just a little moment. Don’t judge.
It was just a typical morning. I dropped my daughter off at the bus stop so she could head downtown for a robotics class. (Why yes, she is a lot smarter than me. Thanks for noticing.)
As I drove away, I caught sight of her having just settled down on the bench, legs crossed, phone in her hand, long hair blowing in the unseasonably warm autumn air.
And for just a second, I saw her like anyone else would see her. Not as my daughter, who told us three years ago that she’s trans and has been living in a way that honours who she is ever since. No. Not as that powerhouse of a girl who impresses the hell out of me every day.
For that split second, I saw her as an average teenager – albeit an exceptionally lovely one (I will never not be a biased parent, ok?) – sitting at a bus stop with a backpack slung over her shoulder, looking and behaving like many other girls her age.
And my breath caught.
“She’s beautiful,” I said to myself out loud. My eyes filled with tears, my heart filled with joy, the light turned green, and I drove off captivated by the image of Alexis in her typicality.
She just is. And that simply being, that blending, that averageness after all she’s been through, might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
“Have you talked to your child about ‘sex change regret’?”
This was a question I was asked recently in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook post after saying I support my trans child. It’s also a question I – and countless other parents of trans kids – get asked all the damn time. Like, all the time. To the point where I want to get “Yes, I have probably been asked this question before” t-shirts made for all of us.
We call it “concern trolling,” because it’s essentially a very judgmental comment wrapped up in a concerned tone. The person isn’t usually concerned, but they are usually douchey.
“Sex change regret” or “transition regret” are terms used to describe a feeling trans people might experience once transitioning from living as the gender they were assigned at birth (in my daughter’s case, male) to the gender they identify as (again in her case, female).
And it is exceedingly, exceptionally, extraordinarily rare.
In most cases, we get asked about transition regret because there’s a belief amongst transphobic groups and some right-wing media outlets that over 80% of trans children “desist,” or “grow out of” their declaration of a different gender identity.
An argument is then made that if parents affirm the child’s declared identity, they are creating confusion or putting pressure on children stay the course, even if it was simply a “phase.” “Just let your boy wear pink!” or “just let your girl play with tools!” are commonly thrown our way, like we saw little Sally pick up a hammer one day and decided to get her a haircut and call her Simon for the rest of her life.
The Steensma study this 84% number is based on is faulty. While it’s true the majority of the children in this study went on to live life as the gender they were assigned at birth, not all the children met the criteria for gender dysphoria, which means they didn’t meet the criteria for actually being transgender. People who aren't trans don't grow up to be trans, obviously.
A review of that same study by Dr. Steensma in 2013 found kids who actually met the criteria generally grew up to live as transgender adults. Duh.
But what about trans adults? There are cases where people have gone through medical transition of some kind and speak out about the regrets they’ve had. Concerned citizens like to tell us about those stories, too. I have a few links in my inbox. My next t-shirt will say, “Someone has probably already emailed that link to me, thanks.”
Again, this experience is rare. So rare, in fact, that the same handful of media stories are shared, over and over, with very few new ones cropping up. And when you dig deeper into some of these stories, like Amber Roberts did for VICE in 2015, you discover the need to de-transition can sometimes be attributed to society’s intolerance of trans people more than anything else. It can be harder to live, to find work, to find love, to be seen as the gender you really are. Those are huge barriers to happiness.
When people ask me if I think my child will regret transitioning – changing her name and gender marker, taking blockers to stop the damage (yes, damage) testosterone was doing to her body, taking estrogen to create the right changes, and anything else she might do down the line – my concern never lies with her, but with how cruel society can be to people who are just trying to be themselves.
Do I think she’ll regret it? No. But I think, like many trans people, she’ll pay a price for living as herself until society wakes the hell up and stops thinking it knows more about trans people than actual trans people. And that's unbelievably unfair.
“Alexis,” I asked her a few days ago as she was sitting across from me. “Someone on the internet wants to know if I ever talked to you about ‘sex change regret.’”
She paused and put her sandwich down. Her eyes went wide.
“Uh, no,” She said. “I had no idea. Oh my God, this changes everything!”
She cracked a smile. We both burst out laughing.
At least I can say we had the talk now. There you go, internet. Parenting gold star.
She is a girl. Our beautiful girl.
Sitting on a bench at a bus stop, checking Quora on her phone with a backpack slung over her shoulder and her beautiful hair falling half over her face. I can’t tell if she’s smiling from this angle, but I want to imagine she is. I love her smile. We didn’t see enough of it before she came out.
She is a girl who loves shopping and robots, who loves her dogs and her video games. But if she had to pick, she’d always choose the dogs.
She knows who she is, and you can see it in everything she does. In her daily life, she blends in, like any other teen girl. Because she is like any other teen girl. It’s as simple as that. This isn't rocket science (or robotics).
Regrets? I don’t think so. Not for her or for us.
If she had not come out to us when she did and spent another few years in pain, that would undoubtedly be a regret.
If we had shut her down when she came out to us, that would be a regret.
If we had tried to convince her she isn’t who she says she is, putting her through harmful conversion therapy or simply refusing to help her access the medical care she needs, that would be a regret.
If I listened to people who told us our “son” was just “confused” and would grow out of it, that would be a regret.
If we lost our beautiful child because she felt unsupported and hopeless, that would be the biggest regret of my life.
But loving my child for who she is, standing by her, affirming her, honouring her, and watching her thrive? That is not a regret.
Alexis living as herself, taking steps to help her body align with who she is, coming home to a supportive family, and knowing she’s loved unconditionally? There are no regrets there.
There’s just a beautiful girl sitting on a bench, quietly thriving.