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What I Learned as a Parent of a Transgender Child

Once I accepted my child’s gender identity, I had my own ideas of what transition meant. I stepped in and orchestrated various appointments for my daughter according to how I thought her transition should be. While my daughter was eager to begin medical transition, the pace of all the appointments involved was overwhelming at times. Transition can involve social, medical and surgical options, or a combination thereof. Not every trans person chooses every intervention available.

I’ve spent a lifetime expressing my gender in different ways, like choosing a pantsuit some days and a frilly dress on others. Most days I wear makeup, but some days I don’t. Gender identity is not a choice, but how we express our gender is. Don’t impose your choices on your child or make assumptions that they will want to explore procedures to help them look or sound more like they are cisgender. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ first policy statement on the comprehensive care of transgender and gender diverse kids outlines a multidisciplinary approach, emphasizing “there is no prescribed path, sequence or endpoint.” Ask them what they want, listen and go at their pace while providing support and being an advocate. Leave the doors of communication open.

Fear had my husband and I paralyzed with indecision and inaction for months before I reached out to another mother who had also been blindsided by her child coming out as a teenager. I heard her speak at a Moth storytelling event, and was moved and inspired by her journey from bewilderment to acceptance.

She gave me an invaluable lesson that every parent can practice, whether or not they have a trans child. She told me that at every decision point, she would ask herself if she was deciding based on fear or love. If you’re asking yourself, “Should I let my child take the next step toward transition?”, the fear choice and answer would be, “What if she regrets it or changes her mind?” The love choice and answer would be, “Is this the right decision for the child in front of me now? What does my child need from me today?”

Multiple studies have shown that supporting transgender teens in their identity significantly improves their mental health and decreases their threefold risk of suicide to the same rate as that of their cisgender peers.

When your children are newborns, you meet their cries minute to minute. Let that parental instinct take over again. Initially, concern over how reactions of elderly relatives and friends would impact my parents also held me back. While my parents are progressive, I worried that gender variance would be beyond their level of understanding given their age and the conservative culture they grew up in. Then I realized that I had an obligation to do what is best for my child over an obligation to protect anyone else.

As a pediatrician, I’ve always supported parents in making decisions for their kids based on their own beliefs rather than those of extended family or friends. Pretend that there is no fear or hate in the world, and ask yourself what decision you would make. Then do that. Sometimes, it really can be that simple.

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