Mom's Inspiring Story of Accepting Her Transgender Child is Something Every Parent Should Hear

Adrienne Anzelmo

Maddy Anzelmo
Adrienne Anzelmo

There are some journeys that parents simply can't make with their children. Sometimes they can only watch from a distance, cheering their children on, as their kids face their own obstacles and challenges. Being the parent of a gender nonconforming child can feel like this tightrope walk between wanting to honor your child's feelings and protecting them from the leering eye of society. Unless you've transitioned yourself, it might not always be clear how to do this -- let alone how to do this well.

That was the struggle one mom from Massachusetts faced when her son started telling her that he wanted to be a girl. Adrienne Anzelmo wasn't sure how to guide her child through his journey, but ultimately it was her love for her child that saw her through.

  • Even at a young age, Matty's parents could tell that this child was going to be different from their first son. 

    Maddie Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    As first reported by Love What Matters, Adrienne explained that the differences between her older son, Bejamin, and her younger son, Matty, quickly became apparent.

    "He didn’t play with toys the same or get excited about the same type of things," Adrienne said. "Matty always wanted things that were pink and items that sparkled. He loved his cousin’s headbands and dress up clothes. As young as 3 Matthew was constantly asking to watch Disney princess movies."

    Although Matty's interests didn't upset his mother, she knew that her son "had no idea what society expected of him as a boy, nor did I really care." 

    She loved her "feminine eccentric son" no matter what his interests were.

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  • "The problem was, the older he got, the more he did not love himself."

    Maddy Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    Despite having the support of his parents, Matty would have outbursts of anger that shocked his mother. "He was always angry with an explosive personality beyond that of a normal toddler," Adrienne said. "He would flip chairs and tables at preschool and be quick to drop to the floor screaming when things didn’t go his way. He was clearly misunderstood, but to what degree I had no idea."

  • "Around age three and a half was the first time Matthew asked when his penis was going to fall off."

    Maddy Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    The older that Matty got, the more he began to say things that confused his parents. He would say things like “When I grow up and I am a girl ...” and Adrienne and her husband would have to correct him. 

    “'You are a boy hunny' I would say to him gently," Adrienne recalled. "By the age of 4 he was flat-out denying that this could be true."

    The mom said that the line between making her son happy and the pressure to conform to what society expects of him wore on her, but that was nothing compared to the anger that "felt like it was consuming Matthew and everyone around him into this dark hole."

  • The Anzelmos weren't sure what was going to make their son happy, but they decided that allowing Matty to wear the dresses he begged for was a start.

    Maddu Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    The parents told their son that he could wear the dresses at home but not in public. "We were hoping this would validate some of his feelings and allow him to let some of that deep-rooted anger go," Adrienne explained. But still the mom worried about what the world would think of her son with his love of pink and sparkly dresses.  

    Will he feel like we are essentially hiding him from the world by only allowing this at home? she wondered as she lay awake at night.

    "How could my 4-year-old know what was best? He thought it was a brilliant idea to have spaghetti for breakfast and run into oncoming traffic because his ball rolled away. He didn’t yet understand the world, how could he understand himself? Aren’t I suppose to parent my kids? Give them boundaries? Set limits? Trust me these expectations played over in my head like a broken record for months," she said.

    Adrienne said that some people didn't even try to accept her son. "I heard things like 'Well if my child said she was a cat I wouldn’t feed her out of a dish on the floor and put a collar on her. You shouldn’t entertain Matty thinking he’s female,'" and another person "offered to pay Matty $5 to 'lose the pink shirt.'"

    "No one was celebrating this child, not even me," she admitted. "I was sad, confused and angry. I had to grieve while also being an advocate for my 4-year-old. Saying things to people I didn’t even sometimes believe myself."

  • Adrienne and her husband, Keir, decided it was time to seek help. "I was ready to face what was next."

    Maddy Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    The Anzelmos made an appointment with doctors at the Disorders of Sex Development and Gender Management Service program at Boston Children’s Hospital, but it was only when a doctor shared some eye-opening statistics that Adrienne realized the full scope of what was happening to her son. 

    "The doctor slid across the table to my husband and me a sheet of statistics," she remembered. "I remember hearing the words she spoke as if she was 100 miles away echoing each sound as it made its way to me." 

    The doctor told Adrienne and Keir that "1 in 2 kids are at a risk of committing or attempting suicide if not supported with their gender nonconformity." That fact terrified the parents. "I vividly remember my husband turning to me and saying it felt like a death sentence for our son if we kept on like this," she said.

    Adrienne had had her doubts about her son's condition. She often felt guilty because she sometimes wondered if Matty enjoyed the attention of being different, but this visit was the hard truth that she needed to accept: Matty would never be happy as a man.

    "My love for [Matty] and desire to understand him rose above it all. Matty made me realize that I didn’t have children so they can be what I expected or hoped they would be. I had children to nurture, love and support the people they chose to become," she said.

  • "Matthew became Madison one February day only months before she started kindergarten." 

    Maddy Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo
    The Anzelmos chose not to tell Matty's classmates about the change but informed teachers and administrators at her school about the change in her pronouns. And like that, Matty became Maddie. 
    "Some kids asked questions," Adrienne recalled, "and the teachers simply stated 'in Maddie’s heart and brain she is a girl.'" 

    The mom took her daughter to a dance class, and both she and Maddie were nervous to see the other girls reactions. "As we entered the waiting room a little girl in Maddie’s class gasped. ... I thought, My god here we go. The little dancer proceeded to tell Maddie for a solid 3 minutes how much she loved her boots ... her boots! No one in class worried about what she was wearing ... she was just Maddie to them."  

    Adrienne said that since Maddie has transitioned, the reaction from other children has far exceeded her expectations. "Maddie is lucky to be growing up in the world today and not a world years ago when it seemed no one made space for kids that felt like this," she said.
  • Now Maddie is 7 and her parents no longer see the same anger and despair that had plagued their child for so long.

    Maddie Anzelmo
    Adrienne Anzelmo

    Once the Anzelmos accepted their daughter and allowed her to embrace what she truly desired, her entire life changed. "[Maddie] is not explosive, she doesn’t throw chairs in her classroom or act angry and misunderstood," her mother said. "In fact her teachers describe her as sassy, caring, passionate and ... happy." 

    But Adrienne is realistic about the challenges her daughter is sure to face. "It’s hard for me as a parent to think about the hate my daughter will receive regardless of how progressive we are becoming as a society. It is hard to think about the struggles she will face and the path that won’t be easy to walk. 

    "I know I am giving her the pride and strength to stand up and walk it as her true authentic self ... and for that we are both holding our heads high."

    Adrienne has written a book to help other families with gender nonconforming children. You can purchase it here.