Shortly after I published my open letter to Ivanka Trump, in which I asked her to consider the plight of parents and their transgender children, I heard back from a reader with the following advice: "Prepare for hate mail. Ignore it." Sure enough, the emails started pouring in, and while most were supportive, a clear contingent were rough. At first I ignored the vitriol, but I soon found myself searching for the hateful missives, drawn to the ugliness like rubbernecking at the scene of an accident.
What happened, I always wonder when I see a car crushed like an accordion on the side of the highway, shattered glass on the asphalt, an ambulance pulling away, sirens blaring. Could something have been done to rescue the victims from such an awful fate?
Just as our road-safety specialists exhort us to learn the rules of the road before we get behind the wheel, as I read (and then reread) the various accusations leveled at me, I felt an increasing desire to respond to my detractors in an effort to avoid any further catastrophes that could have been circumvented with a little more understanding.
Below are some of the emails I received, followed by my responses.
"There's no way your son could have know he was transgender at the age of 8. Obviously either you, or your equally deranged husband, brainwashed the poor kid."
Actually, our child knew there was an incongruity between the way he felt and the way he was being dressed long before he knew the words to explain himself. As soon as he could gesture, he pointed to girl dolls, dresses, and mermaids. And once our child discovered language, he put together sentences like, "I'm a girl kitty," or "I'm a girl bunny." He was 3 years old. And recently, when asked at what age she realized she wasn't a boy, our daughter answered, "I don't understand the question. I've always been a girl."
Not every transgender child has this level of awareness at such a young age, but many transgender children do ... or perhaps more parents are listening and responding to their transgender children, which in turn is bringing the number of cases we know of to light.
Exactly why some children are transgender and others aren't isn't fully understood, though recent studies point to differences in the brain composition of transgender people, which supports my belief that people who are transgender do not make that choice, but simply are transgender. It's been my observation that you can't make someone, or prevent someone, from being transgender. A person either is, or isn't.
As far as brainwashing goes, aside from the fact that in our case we already had a daughter and didn't need to brainwash our son to become another one, this comment begs the question: Why would we wish our child to have an identity that is so often attacked and disrespected by others? While my husband and I completely embrace our daughter for who she is, it is clear, from comments like the one above, that others in our world do not afford transgender children the same dignity.
“There is no way your child could understand sexuality at the age of 8, let alone 5.”
Absolutely! When someone is transgender it doesn't mean that person is gay, straight, or bisexual. In fact, it has nothing to do with sexuality. Being transgender has to do with identity -- who you ARE -- not who you love.
"It's sad to know that there are evil parents in this world who turn their children into perverts."
Being transgender is not a perversion -- just life in all its glorious diversity.
"Your child has an illness and needs medical attention immediately!"
As a parent who was confronted by her 4-year-old's severe depression, I can assure you that my husband and I did, indeed, seek medical attention from a trained and experienced professional. We did not, however, seek the kind of medical treatment those would obtain if their child had a disease.
Being transgender is not the same as having a viral or bacterial illness, nor is it a psychiatric affliction. Others can't catch it, or be treated for it with rounds of drugs, electroshock therapy, or reconditioning.
Luckily, what can be treated with medication is depression and anxiety. Pediatric specialists can prescribe a variety of medications that can relieve the worst symptoms. If children are so distracted by their gender dysphoria that they can't get through the day, I strongly recommend looking into this option. Happier children will make stronger adults. We need to get over any stigma we may attach to meds and, instead, focus on their benefits. It might not be the choice you make, but at least you should know it's an option.
If your child, like ours, meets the criteria for gender dysphoria (in which one is insistent, persistent, and consistent in one's gender identification regardless of one's anatomy), the specialist you see can assist both you and your child in coming up with solutions that will improve all of your lives and minimize emotional discomfort.
"You should beat the sh*t out of your kid and tell him to deal with the fact that he has a penis. You can't get everything you want in life and your little brat better learn that right now!"
I don't believe in corporeal punishment (and I pray to god you don’t either!). In fact, I'm pretty sure most states now consider it physical abuse or assault when you beat your kids. That said, we do seem to share at least some common ground. Like you, I wholeheartedly agree that children need to learn that disappointment is part of life and that you can't get everything you want. Nevertheless, if your child is suffering from gender dysphoria, like mine was, that child needs compassion, reassurance, advice on how to best manage distress, and access to a community that shows them it's okay to be who you are.
Family acceptance, rather than family violence, is clearly the best form of protection we can give our children. My gender counselor, Jean Malpas, told an audience at a recent gender rally that an accepted child is eight times less likely to attempt suicide later in life. You tell me: What's better -- a dead child, or a transgender one?
"The fact that you forced your child to cross-dress just goes to show how mentally ill you are."
Not all transgender children insist on changing all gender markers --like their name, hairstyle, and fashion -- but many do. As a parent, you have to follow your child's lead. We never insisted that our son become our daughter. We always let her show us the way. Our only motivation was, and continues to be, having a happy child. In our case, we had a seriously distressed son who sobbed when we put him in a suit for formal family gatherings. We allowed him to dress like a girl … et viola! We had happy child. The end.
"You should be jailed for mutilating your child!"
There is definitely no mutilation going on with transgender children. Wipe that idea right out of your mind.
When the parents of transgender children say their children have "transitioned," or are "an affirmed transgender boy/girl," this means that the children are now being recognized by the pronouns that correspond with his, her, or their preferred gender. It does not mean they have undergone gender confirmation surgery. Actually, until children hit puberty, and often well beyond that, nothing medical or irreversible is done beyond fashion and grammar.
"You need help."
I agree! Any parent who is raising a transgender child should get help! There are gender specialists everywhere. Contact the Gender & Family Project at the Ackerman Institute, or the Trans Youth Equality Foundation. Join a transgender family community either in person or online. Educate yourselves (and your friends) by watching and promoting Katie Couric's brilliant new documentary made with National Geographic called Gender Revolution. We are, indeed, stronger together.
"Are you being funded by George Soros?"
"What kind of pussy parent are you? If your kid has a penis, they should pee in the men's room. If your kid has a vagina, she should pee in the girl's room. Don't force the rest of us to have to witness your depravity."
To that one, I will simply say: Maybe those who are upset by the sight of the unexpected in their bathroom need to examine their response to diversity. When we encounter difference, which is inevitable given the plurality of our nation, we have a choice in regards to our response to it. We can make it go away, or we can welcome it and realize that beneath our skin, hair, and clothes, past our breasts, vaginas, and penises, we all have beating hearts, rushing blood, lungs breathing in and out. In short, we are all the same.
This photo was taken on the day Sadie chose to become a girl. All day long, she kept hugging herself and touching herself, as if she couldn't believe the miracle of her own transformation.
I hope this brief show-and-tell has offered some insight into the level of misunderstanding that's out there.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all come to terms with the huge spectrum of gender that makes our world such an interesting place? Wouldn't it be refreshing to focus on the beauty of that diversity rather than fear it, accuse it of something it isn't, shame it, or, worse, run it off the road and send it careening into a ditch?
We each have the opportunity every single day of our lives to look at those things we fear and either turn away and pretend they aren't there, or ask ourselves why we fear them.
And now that I've addressed some of that detritus on the shoulder of life's highway, I want those naysayers and pundits to know that my little happy family won't be looking back in the rearview mirror anymore. We're gunning it all the way to a horizon of joy and acceptance. Lucky for you, we're very open-minded, so if you change your tune, you're welcome to join us.