Many parents of transgender children (youth and adults) express sadness about feeling like they’re going to lose their child in some way when their child transitions. I’ve heard several parents say this impending loss feels like a death, and they prepare to grieve accordingly. It’s never really that they are feeling that way; usually they are scared they are going to feel that way when their child transitions.
I tell them most parents end up not feeling that way, as their child will still be here, but they won’t know this until they go through it themselves. Really, the parent is not losing their child. The child (again, I’m talking about “adult children”, too) is going to be the same person they always were. The parent is only now beginning to understand what pronouns and gender identity go along with who their child really is. The main loss is that of pronouns and a mental image of who the parent thought they were.
Recently, a father made it clear he had not experienced loss as a result of his child’s transition. I wanted desperately to bottle up his words and give them to each parent I see who is struggling with a sense of impending loss in regards to their transgender child. So, I did the next best thing; I asked him to write a blog post about it! Without further ado, please read these words from a father who has gained so much.
“Anti-Loss – By Peter T.
Emma was our second child, born from the love her mother and I shared and wanted to manifest in the world. In the days after we learned she was pregnant, my wife and I had no idea if she would give birth to a boy or a girl – and to both of us, it made no difference, whatsoever. Whether our baby, our child, our young adult was a boy or a girl was pretty much irrelevant, as long as they grew up happy, strong, knowing they were deeply loved and accepted for their unique and beautiful self.
Our baby was born in the body of a girl… but in this baby, nature decided to do an interesting thing. Somehow, the heart and mind and spirit of a son was inserted into the body of a girl. We as parents, being such literal and visual creatures, took the visual presentation of our baby to be all we needed to know about gender. The doctor said “It’s a girl!” and we believed. We went about dressing our baby and our child as a girl… giving “her” girl activities… and investing in our expectations about what “she” would grow up to be.
As our child grew up and was able to begin to make choices in clothing, friends and activities, it was gradually apparent that our ideas about “being a girl” weren’t really fitting this small person. Still, we took our child to ballet lessons and set up tea parties with classmates, bought cute dresses and imagined the life-ahead for “her” – and our child seemed to participate in these things happily… up to a point, but beneath the seemingly-accepting exterior of this small person, inner turmoil was brewing.
We, as parents of transgender teens, all have our stories of how our child made their truth known to us and how we initially – and then eventually – reacted to their needs. I won’t lengthen this writing by sharing mine in detail, but I will acknowledge that I definitely had to go through my own reprogramming… adjusting in some fundamental ways, how I perceived my child. The child I had known for 13 years as Emma now was to be called Andrew… “she” was to be “he” and a whole new world of concerns for his welfare appeared – in addition to the ones that come standard with every teen.
I have been so very fortunate to be included in my son Andrew’s counseling sessions. All sorts of truths rise to the surface there that “real life” often doesn’t allow time or space for. A few weeks ago, I said something to Andrew in counseling that I’d said several times before – but this time, he finally made it clear that what I’d said was hurting him. What I’d said was that he was at something of a disadvantage in passing as male, because, as a girl, he was quite pretty – and that gave him an obstacle to overcome in looking masculine. Andrew shared with me that when I said things like that, he felt as though I was saying I had lost something – that I had lost my “pretty daughter”… and clearly, it hurt him to feel that who he truly was inside – and now, outside was something “less” to me.
I was very sad to know that my observation about “what he used to be” caused him to feel I had lost something along the way. The truth is so entirely opposite – for me it has been “anti-loss” – ONLY gain – as I have seen my child stand up and speak his truth and claim his real life – against all odds, despite peer pressure, despite fear of ridicule, in the face of the certainty that his road ahead would be so very hard. I told him then… and I will remind him often… that he is so very much *more* than I ever could have hoped for in a child, in a son, in a young man who I am so entirely proud to have in my life.
What was it again? What did I wish for… back in those days before his mother and I knew his eye color or his name? What was it that we had hoped for, above all? I had wished for a child who would be able to grow up happy and strong… who would face difficult challenges with integrity and intelligence… who would know himself deeply - and from that knowledge, live a life filled with love and joy and passions-abounding. In my lovely son, I have found examples of all those things that I, myself, can only hope to aspire to. His process of becoming himself is such an incredible honor to participate in and I hope, as he grows into the amazing man I know he will be, that he always knows that his parents accept him and love him deeply and completely.
There is nothing here but gain.”
Thank you, Peter, for your beautiful words and sharing your perspective. Thank you also to Andrew for letting me share part of your story. <3