“Dad, there is something I need to tell you - I'm transgender.”
These are words that a parent never expects to hear. For your child though, there will have been so much soul searching and a conclusion that they will not have come to quickly or lightly. And it must take unbelievable courage fearing the reaction of this bombshell from those closest to them. As a parent, all you ever wish is that your children are healthy and happy, so any parent receiving such news will understandably have natural and genuine concerns.
Why wouldn't you?
But if you truly want nothing but happiness for your child, then the best advice I can give as a parent who has heard these words is to listen to them.
At the time my child came out, to my knowledge, I had never met anyone that was transgender, so my knowledge and understanding was minimal to say the least. But what has become very clear to me is that there is no textbook experience in this expected journey of discovery. I now know of parents whose children aged just 3 or 4 insisted that they were not a boy/girl, but in our case, my daughter did not discover her true gender identity until she was into her early 20's.
As a toddler/young child, my daughter was the happiest, most joyful child and we had no indications of any issues regarding her gender. But as she approached and went into her teens (puberty), her demeanour dramatically changed. She started dipping into some very dark and deep places, shutting out everyone around her, with these episodes often lasting for several days. As she grew older she saw both children's and then adult's psychologists, but other than diagnosing a presence of depression, no understanding was offered or identified to explain the unhappiness she was experiencing.
Her Mum and I always used to say "If only we knew what planet 'he' came from, we might understand 'him’!”
And right up to that night when she uttered those words, we had not seen any clues that the problem she had been struggling with was her gender identity. Even though I knew I had a lot to learn, I naturally feared for the future life that now lay ahead for her, but within minutes of being told I realised that I now knew precisely 'what planet she came from'.
I knew there was now a world and a community where she truly fitted in, and just that knowledge alone gave me genuine hope for her future. She wasn't ill, and she had no life-threatening condition; she was transgender. But more than that, what I also crucially appreciated is that being transgender is not a ‘choice’ that anyone makes.
If a parent discovers that their child has, for example, a life-threatening addiction to alcohol or drugs you will fight as hard as you can to force them to change and reject the self-inflicted poison, but this is totally different. This is who they are - it may have taken time to be revealed, but this is precisely how they were born. Think of it in exactly the same way as with our sexuality. No one knows at birth or chooses their sexuality or who they are sexually attracted to; our gender identity is exactly the same.
There are those in our society that refuse to accept the reality of being transgender. They try to dismiss this simple analogy by claiming that gender and sexuality are different. Well, of course, sexuality & gender are not the same; as that is not what I am saying.
What is identical is that each of us, as an individual, know our true sexuality and our authentic gender identity. Gay people don’t choose to be gay - trans people don’t choose to be trans - it is inbuilt within our brain.
We all understand that there is no physical sign that identifies our sexuality. And even though it was a long-held scientific belief that our body provided the definitive physical evidence of our gender identity at birth, science now understands that our gender is not defined by our bodies, but it is from within our brain.
In 2018 over 2,600 scientists, including over 1,000 biologists, confirmed this in a signed letter to the Trump Administration in America. They condemned Trump's policies to remove trans rights with laws stating that legal gender identity was defined solely by birth sex whilst modern science now acknowledges and affirms that our gender identity is defined within our brains.
So it is critical to understand that being trans is never a choice. It may not be the norm, but it's as natural as being born a redhead. You can colour your hair so everyone sees you differently, but underneath your roots will always be naturally red, and being trans is no different. No matter what changes you make to your outward appearance, you cannot change what's on the inside.
It's how you are born - it is natural, so this is not a choice your child can make.
In the same way, those discovering they are gay can hide this truth and live a life of denial; those that are trans can do the same. But in both cases, this will undoubtedly result in a life full of pain, unhappiness and regret.
Even the most accepting of parents will ask some of the questions that are likely to go through every trans parent's mind when the news is first delivered - how will I tell my family and friends and will they accept him/her?
So I understand the concerns that exist as there is no guarantee that everyone around you will be accepting. What I can say with certainty from both my own experience and the vast amount of knowledge I gained from speaking and learning from so many in the trans community, is that the best chance any trans child has of being happy, of living with confidence, and of finding peace of mind in what can be a very cruel world, is with the acceptance, support and love from those closest to them. The impact this will have on them, and their mental health honestly cannot be overstated.
So I spent time talking to my daughter, learning how she felt and most importantly listening to her and giving her the time and space to make sure she could decide for herself and make every decision with confidence. If she ultimately decided that she wasn't trans, then that would also be here choice and conclusion to reach - I just had to be there to help her find her true self. Over the first couple of years, the most frequent question I would ask her was "Are you still sure?" and in our case, the answer never changed or wavered. If she or any child makes an error or changes their mind, which can happen, they simply need that time to make sure they are making the right choice.
The only changes anyone discovering they are trans can make in their early journey of transition are social changes, and nothing that is in any way permanent or life-altering. They can decide that they want to use a different name, use alternative pronouns, cut or grown their hair and wear different clothes, and just these steps alone will enable your child to continue their journey of true discovery. If these steps do not feel right, then these changes can easily be reversed at any time without any damage having being done to your child.
The greatest damage you can do to your child and your relationship with them is by refusing to accept or support them. And in my case, I witnessed the child who had suffered for so many years, had now transformed into a far happier and much more confident adult.
So what about those around you that won't accept your child's decision - social media can portray a horrifying image of the world and the level of hatred and non-acceptance online and in the media is so easy to find.
However, please do not be fooled into thinking this negative image reflects an accurate picture of everyday life in the real world.
My experience is that the vast majority have no issue whatsoever and are fully open and very accepting. Because this is so new to most people, I never shy away from mentioning my daughter being transgender in conversation, and to date I have only ever met with genuine interest, full acceptance and a simple desire to learn. This is a different world that we live in and today's society is far more open and accepting to the whole LGBTQ community so please do not let this fear cloud your view or relationship with your child.
Since my daughter has discovered her true self and began her transition journey, she has truly blossomed. She is now a different person that our friends can't recognise as she is so much happier and far more outgoing than ever before.
But the reality is that she is still the same person that we knew and loved - you honestly don't lose your child or any of the experiences that you shared just because they may now adopt a different appearance or name. Think of it in terms of a daughter getting married - they may adopt another name and enter a different phase of their life, but they are still your child, and you haven't lost them or erased the memory of the child they used to be.
Ultimately I believe that all parents want is for their children to be healthy and happy.
I have been told that research shows that one of the main foundations for trans kids being happy is having acceptance from their parents. So when any parent is faced with the same situation as we met, my honest advice is that the only way to give your child the best chance to be happy is to accept them for who they are and not who you think they should be.
Just give them the environment they need to enable them to find their true path. There is nothing wrong with being transgender and nothing wrong with having a happy trans child.
As parents of trans kids, we will play a vital role in deciding just how happy they can be, and all that's needed is your love, acceptance and support.