When Kids Change Sex: Moms of Transgender Kids Share Their Stories​

Denise Andrews, Arin Andrews, Katie Hill, and Jazzlyn Hill

Imagine this: two kids undergoing transgender transformations meet at a support group, develop a friendship, and fall in love. Their moms become the best of friends during the process. And then, when the kids finally feel comfortable in their skin and their love affair goes viral, they break up. That's just part of the fascinating story of Oklahoma teens Arin Andrews, 18, and Katie Hill, 19.

Andrews was in the process of transitioning from female to male when he met Hill, who was undergoing her own transformation from male to female. Their moms, Denise Andrews and Jazzlyn Hill, were there every step of the way ... but it wasn't easy.

On September 30, both Arin and Katie will release memoirs about their transitions -- Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal. The Stir sat down with Denise and Jazzlyn to get their story before the books' release date.

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Did you notice anything "different" about your kids when they were really young?
Denise:
Arin was always a tomboy but it didn’t raise any red flags because I was a tomboy myself. After he told me he was transgender, I started thinking back about his childhood and there were definitely some things that stick out now, things I just couldn’t put my finger on the time. I just thought he had social issues. Other things were more apparent ... like him asking to cut off his hair like a boy at a very young age. I remember hiding all the scissors just in case. I really didn’t think too much about this because a lot of kids give themselves haircuts when they are little ... but they generally don’t say they want to do it to be like a boy.

Jazzlyn: Yes, very much so. Katie used to tell me when she was a little boy that she wanted her privates OFF. She was never into anything for boys, only interested in my makeup, shoes, and clothes. She would watch me time after time putting on my makeup and ask why she wasn't allowed to wear it. 

What was your initial reaction to your child's "I'm trans" confession?
Denise:
When Arin told me he was trans, my initial reaction to him was calm and cool. I will never forget that moment. I was driving us both to his dance recital and we were almost there when he dropped this on me. I still had not come to grips emotionally with the first confession that he thought he was gay, so this initially left me emotionally numb. I spent that evening helping backstage as I had done for the last 12 years of my "daughter's" life. It was very difficult and painful to watch all the little girls running around in their tutus and frilly costumes, knowing deep in my heart that I was going to lose everything that I had ever known. I was really hoping at the time that it just wasn't true.

Jazzlyn: I was shocked, of course. I really had spent many years preparing myself for the fact that my child was going to be gay. When she told me she was trans, the question that came out of my mouth was something like ... "You're telling me you're like the guy in Rocky Horror Picture Show?"

What was the toughest thing you went through?
Denise: 
The hardest thing to deal with was probably my own emotional grief. The loss of the idea of having a girl, not necessarily the child, but all of the things that go along with having a daughter. I had to get over the fact that we would never shop for prom dresses or get our nails done together. Shopping trips with my sister and her daughters and other friends with daughters all changed. The dynamics between friends and previous activities become something new.

The hardest thing besides emotional grief was when he cut 9 inches of hair off. I knew that once I let him cut his hair, I would never see him with long hair again. My heart was truly aching that day, and I will never forget it. That was the first step of many over the next year, and everything after that haircut became much easier for me. I had a daughter for 15 years, and then I had to switch gears in a very short period of time and embrace having a son. There is an emotional realignment as a parent. It becomes not just a transition for your child but for your entire family and friends.

Why did you decide to support your child?
Denise: 
It is plain and simple. I did not want to lose my child to suicide. I was lucky enough to have that wake-up call, and I feel very fortunate that I still have him. A few nights after he was kicked out of school and I learned just how close I came to burying my child is all it took for me to realize that there was no other way. Arin getting kicked out of school was like getting kicked to the curb by society. It was the breaking point for him. It pushed him over the edge to possibly think his life wasn't worth living. This was my cue from God that, as his mother, I have a responsibility to keep him safe and love him just how he was created. He would always tell me that he just needed me to be on this journey with him or he wasn't going to make it. From that point forward, there was no turning back. Even if it was us against the world, he at least had me there with him every step of the way. 

Jazzlyn: Not supporting my child was never a question. Going to visit a grave was the one option I was not willing to accept.

Have you ever second-guessed yourself?
Denise: 
Absolutely not! I have never ever questioned anything, not even for a split second. 

Jazzlyn: Never. Katie has never ever looked back on her decisions, and neither have I.

What was your family's reaction?
Denise: 
I have not had any negative responses from family. I can't say the same about a few "friends," but, overall, it was surprisingly not that difficult for anyone in my family to understand. There may have been a few awkward months during the beginning of his transition. But once we talked and they knew what was happening, it went pretty smoothly. Some family I don't see as often were full of questions once they found out and were so supportive and loving. That was a nice surprise.  

Jazzlyn: My family had no choice but to accept my daughter. The day I told them, I also told them they will respect her and they will not treat her differently. And if they didn't comply, then they would never see me or my children again. My mother and sister took it very well; my brother and Katie's father didn't. But both have come around and agree she is the person she was meant to be.

What went through your mind during surgery? [Arin has undergone "top surgery" to remove his breasts and is on testosterone shots, while Katie has had full gender reassignment surgery]
Denise:
During surgery, I was really emotional. This was definitely the no-turning-back-now kind of moment (Arin had his breasts removed). Honestly, I just wanted the surgery to turn out perfectly so that he could finally live more comfortably in his own skin. By the time Arin underwent surgery, he had already been living as male for over a year so it wasn't that bad. I'm not going to say I didn't cry when they wheeled him off. It was strange knowing the finality of it, but I also knew the happiness it was going to bring him when he would finally be able to look in the mirror and see a body that matched closer to what he felt on the inside.

Jazzlyn: Not much was going through my mind. I was just ready for her to be happy and complete. I knew she was going to do great in surgery. With the blessing of a donor stepping up to pay for her gender reassignment surgery, I knew it was meant to be.

More from The Stir: Parents of Transgender Girl Are Better Than Most of Us

Would you have handled anything differently, in hindsight?
Denise: 
I guess my short answer to this would be NO except for one very important and pivotal point in the transition. This may be selfish of me to say, but I'm really glad I had the time that I did with the daughter I thought I had. Even though most of his school years were terrible for him to endure, we actually had a lot of fun traveling with our dance team over the years. His best friend was in dance with him. This is the only time he spent with her and other kids socially that he felt like he fit in. I don't think he would be the person he is today without having gone through some of the pain of his childhood. He has learned and grown from every good and bad experience. He is a very balanced and beautiful person, inside and out.

The one single thing that I would have done differently is I would have taken him out of the private school he was attending instead of allowing them to kick him out. Basically being told you are not good enough to attend a school is a huge insult to an already wounded spirit, and I would love to take that pain away for him. I feel like they had too much power in my child's self-worth. They should have had none. No one should feel like a private school gives them that much self-worth. 

Jazzlyn: I would not have handled anything differently. I feel that the choice that Katie and I made as a team has been the right decisions for us.

Did you mourn the loss of your children (in terms of their original sex)?
Denise: 
Yes. And sometimes I still cry when I look through albums or find things that are from "her" around the house. I miss having that quirky unique daughter that made her who she was then. I know I still have my child and I am so thankful for that but, yes, I'm not sure that little pit in my heart will ever completely close. I'm sure this is different for every parent but, for me, he was my only daughter and that is something that will never be replaced. 

Jazzlyn: I really didn't mourn Luke, just because I didn't have time to. I had to deal with what I had to because Katie was going to take her life. But do I miss Luke? I don’t know ...

When I look into those big beautiful eyes of my daughter and see that gorgeous smile, I know that without Luke, I would not have Katie. And so we spend our time looking back on pictures of Luke and laughing and crying about our memories, but we keep making new memories.

What surprising benefits, if any, did you get from your kids making the switch? Are you closer now than you were before?
Denise: 
Arin and I are extremely close. We had a good relationship before, and we have an awesome relationship now. He has always been able to talk to me, and I value that he can trust me with so much. I feel like by coming to me, and letting me know just how sad and awful he felt on the inside, takes a lot of courage and honesty on so many levels. We have shed a lot of tears and embraced all the changes together. I wouldn't change any of our journey. He has made me a better person, mother, and human being.

Jazzlyn: My surprising benefit is that I have a daughter! I had four boys, and now I have my girl. And she is my girl.

How did you form such a tight friendship with your child?
Jazzlyn:
When you go through some of the things I've had to go through, you learn that your life isn't about you anymore -- it's about your children. And so I made sure no matter what price I had to pay, I was going to be there for my daughter. And I made sure Katie knew that. I believe it became very important to her to know that no matter what life threw at her, she had her mommy. That's all any child wants in life -- to know that they have their mom and dad no matter what.

After all of this, your kids broke up. How has that changed things between your families?
Denise: 
It was a little awkward at first for both of us because I think Jazzlyn and I would have loved it if they would have stayed together. They were such a huge support for each other. We are all very comfortable around each other. Katie is like a daughter to me, and I would do anything for her if she ever needed me. Our families will always be close, they are more like extended family to us. Even though they aren't dating, I feel like we will always be a part of each other's family. 

Jazzlyn: The breakup between Katie and Arin had no effect on the families. I still love Arin, and I wish him only happiness. I think that he and Katie will always have a bond that no one can take away from them, regardless of whether they are together or not. As for Denise and me, I think nothing has changed between us. Katie still thinks of Denise as her second mother.

What advice do you have for other moms with trans children?
Denise: 
I cannot stress this enough. Just listen to your children. You don't have to switch gears overnight ... but just listen. I promise you that if you give yourself time to mourn, then everything will fall into place. It is a process and a transition not only for your child, but also for you as a parent. It is okay if you are sad; that is normal. You are all your child needs. Give your child a safe place to be loved and accepted. The world can be a harsh place so this is why, as a mom, you love unconditionally no matter their gender. When children are born, their gender has already been decided -- it just may not be what it appears. We can't decide this for them ... just like we can't choose their eye color. 

Jazzlyn: My advice for other moms is to stay open-minded, to really listen to what your child is telling you. It's a situation you do not get to control; you either have to jump on their side fast and support your child, or you have to be ready to lose your child. I know this sounds harsh, but it's the reality of the situation. This is one thing as a parent you do not get to control.

Are you inspired by Denise's and Jazzlyn's view of motherhood? Should moms support their kids no matter what?


Images via Jazzlyn Hill; Simon Schuster

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