‘You’re their voice to the outside world’: what it’s like to raise a trans child
Raising a trans child isn’t always easy. Author and mother of a trans child Jo Hirst details the journey many parents go through in a society that hasn’t yet caught up.
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When asked to write an article about what it’s like to parent a young transgender child, I’m tempted to say it’s easy.
And in a way, it is. You love and accept your child for who they are. It’s what most of us as parents do.
That’s why I’m frustrated when people say to me “you are such a wonderful mum for supporting your trans child”.
While it’s often said to parents of trans kids with the best of intentions, it does somehow insinuate that it’s harder to love a trans child or that supporting them wouldn’t be the natural instinct of any loving parent.
It’s not a parenting choice I’ve made, it’s just the reality of who my child is. He happens to be transgender and he’s gorgeous.
But in today’s world, with limited resources and a lack of education around gender, it’s not always easy.
On one level, it’s exactly the same as supporting every other child.
It means letting your child know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you love them for who they are, that you are there for them, and that you are there to listen.
Supporting a young trans or gender diverse child means making sure they know they can wear the clothes that make them feel comfortable and play with the toys they enjoy.
That’s support that all children can benefit from. That’s the easy part.
However, while I can’t speak for every family, there are a lot of things that parents of trans kids commonly face that other families might not.
There is a steep learning curve for almost all of us. I know there was for me.
When I finally realised my child was trans I had no idea what that really meant.
Most parents go on a journey that involves a lot of research. They talk to health professionals and parent support groups, and hopefully have the opportunity to speak to trans and gender diverse adults.
It’s a journey that usually begins with letting go of any preconceived ideas you may have had about your child based on the gender they were assigned at birth.
Hopefully, it’s a journey that ends in understanding that gender is a spectrum.
When your children are young they rely on you to make sure they are safe in the outside world.
As a parent of a trans child, before you have a clear understanding of where to turn for advice yourself, you quickly realise you are your young child’s advocate. Their voice to the outside world.
You become vigilant, making sure your child’s identity is known and respected wherever you go.
Whether it’s an upcoming family party, your child’s dance class, or the dentist. It’s up to you. Every single time.
Suddenly, you find yourself the person everyone looks to to explain “why your child is trans”.
Believe me, this is not always an easy task in a climate where trans children are used as political fodder in the media and an understanding of gender diversity in children is sparse.
For some, parenting a trans child can mean giving up work to homeschool them because there is no school in your area where they can be safe.
Some trans children have medical and health appointments to attend. This can involve overnight travel for country families and time off work for most others. Part of our journey can mean having to see a therapist ourselves.
Some parents find themselves ostracised from family or friends. Some find themselves inexplicably dealing with feelings of loss, grief, or guilt.
It might sound illogical to be grieving for a child who is still with you but for some parents it’s very real.
Others feel as though they must have done something wrong.
But by far the most difficult part of parenting a young trans child is fear.
We have a medical and health community who are doing their best to support our kids but we have a society that has not caught up.
In a situation made worse by an anti-trans political climate and relentless anti-trans social media campaigns, many children still have no support at school.
Many families are isolated from extended family and friends who refuse to include them.
It’s gut wrenching to send your child off to school or out into a world that does not always understand or respect difference.
Obviously I don’t want my child to have to face hate and discrimination. No-one would.
But I wouldn’t change who he if is if I had the choice.
He is a diverse and unique human being. A creative, brave, individual child. He and his brother are enthusiastic about embracing difference in others.
It’s because of my kids and all the other trans and gender diverse young people I meet, along with their siblings and their friends, that I have so much hope.
The young people I have the privilege to mix with have a strong sense of social justice and equality.
They are curious, empathetic, and driven to create a fairer society in the future.
It’s my pleasure to parent two kids like that.
Jo’s latest book A House for Everyone is out now. For more information visit: www.johirst.com