Transitioning early in life: Stephanie's advice

(ed. note: Stephanie is helping her 8-year-old transition and is involved in her local PFLAG chapter. -A)

To all parents struggling with a child with gender-variant behaviors….

My name is Stephanie, I am the mom of 8 and a half year-old twins Riley (born Richard, m2f) and Ali (born Alison, just f). We knew early on that 'Richie' wasn't like most boys; he played more like a girl and he always wanted to be dressed like a girl. By the age of 3, he insisted he was a girl. We spent the next few years trying to teach him why he was a boy and how boys were ‘supposed to’ act. But all along, somewhere deep down inside, I knew that you didn't have to teach this, it was 'just known'.

I used to let him play in dresses when no one was around, especially his dad. It was our little secret. But as time went on, dress-up extended to outside, then to the neighbors, etc.; dad had to adjust. Little by little 'she' was emerging, at our pace, not her's.

When he entered kindergarten, I spoke to the teacher the day before school started. I told her that Richard liked to play with 'girls' stuff and that was ok with us. That year, he dressed in boy's clothes.
The summer before 1st Grade was a turning point. Richard was becoming more and more angry/emotional. He used to say things like 'You don't know what it's like to be me' or 'I wish I just didn't exist'. He cried easily and never seemed happy (unless he was expressing as ‘her’). Friends and family thought I was encouraging the 'feminine behaviors' by allowing 'her' freedom. I would tell people that it was like there was a little girl trapped in a boy's body; I had to let her out sometimes.

About 3 weeks before school started, I was tucking Richard into bed and he told me he was 'mad at God', he said 'Mom, every night when I say my prayers I ask God to make me a girl, and every morning I'm still a boy. God made a mistake.' Talk about your heart breaking; that was a long night, but I knew I had a mission. I told him that I understood, and when he was big, if he still felt that way, we would find a doctor to change his body into a girl’s. He slept that night with a smile on his face.

I spoke to Richard's 1st Grade teacher, again, the day before school started, and told her how this had progressed. I told her how emotional and angry he was and to let me know if there was any bullying. That year, Richard wore 'gender neutral' clothes (all bought in girl's departments). It was a little better but he was a social outcast and became suicidal within 7 months.

After months of phone calls and explanations to anyone who would listen (at least 30-40 pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists declined to see such a young child), we finally found a doctor that understood. She explained transgender children (the first time I ever heard the word). She had no advice; she didn't know of any parents allowing such a young child to 'express'. We were on our own.

In 2nd Grade (again I talked to the teacher) we had started to call Richard 'Reggi' (his initials are REG and Reggi is the girl on Rocket Power!). By suggestion of the teacher, we made arrangements that she use the nurse's bathroom. She was so understanding and willing to help and always referred to Richard as Reggi; she started getting the other staff to do the same. Soon the name stuck. Everyone avoided using pronouns - they all talked like Elmo! The kids asked questions like 'Hey, is your kid a boy or a girl?' and I'd say 'Whatever Reggi wants to be is okay with me!' He was still wearing gender-neutral clothes but his hair was growing and we had both ears pierced (his choice).

Unfortunately, Reggi had been so overwhelmed in 1st Grade that he was virtually unable to comprehend; he started 2nd Grade testing on a early Kindergarten level.

By March of his 2nd Grade year we found www.transfamily.org. I joined the Parents E-Mail Group and was immediately relieved to know that we weren't alone. Here, parents with children of all ages, some as young as ours, in all stages of transition and acceptance, shared their stories, pain, happiness and experiences. Members of that site directed me to a site with a beautiful document on it; it changed our lives forever. This document was written by the Transgender Pediatrics Unit at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC:

http://www.dcchildrens.com/gendervariance

http://www.dcchildrens.com/dcchildrens/about/subclinical/subneuroscience/gender.aspx

It's called "Parent Guide: An Educational Booklet" and it's in Adobe Format.

http://www.dcchildrens.com/dcchildrens/about/subclinical/subneuroscience/subgender/guide.aspx

Parents Guide PDF mirror [via tsroadmap.com]

I highly recommend this pamphlet to all parents facing gender-variant behaviors in their children.

Within a week, we started using female pronouns, so did the school; they were beyond supportive. Everything started to happen so fast. Soon there were bobby-pins, then barrettes, then little pony-tails. By April she was wearing skirts to school. She was now our little girl! That year she completed 2nd Grade testing at a 4th Grade level.

Reggi didn't change schools so some of the kids who knew her in the past became a problem. She didn’t always tell me about the bullying; she just absorbed it. I usually had to find out about it from her sister. I suppose that she just didn't want to cause anymore hassles; she just wanted to be accepted. Now, months later, she hangs-out with a small clique of girls and she's very happy.

This didn't come without consequence though. The school is great with it but the bus-drivers don't know - they get a bus pass for Richard sex: (M). To avoid future discussions and mistakes, this past summer (2004) we applied to legally change her name to Riley Elizabeth (hence Reggi will work). With a legal Birth Certificate, the school system must change her name on all records. I am hoping to get the district to change her gender status to 'F' possibly using a 504 to get this accomplished. In this way, bus drivers and substitutes will be none-the-wiser.

Before Riley began her 3rd Grade year (2004-2005) our district paid Riley's doctor to come and speak to every staff member about trans-issues; how to recognize them and how to handle them. Riley began 3rd Grade as Riley, and short of a few problems in the first two weeks, life seems to have settled-in for all involved.

I have found that children can transition in their current environment, it is hard, but life will be hard for these kids. I choose 'Protection through Education'. I openly speak about Riley’s trans-ness and I have found that people, for the most part, are supportive and accepting (although I am sure they are glad its not their kid - but then, so am I). I feel we are very lucky that Riley has transitioned so young. And if 'he' emerges again - we'll just do the reverse.

To anyone facing some of the same issues, I encourage you to let your child lead the way - stay strong - this isn't that hard. What we face with our children is not any different than what other's have faced trying to mainstream their children with conditions such as Tourrette's Syndrome or Autism; not that this is a 'condition' but our children are 'different' from the rest. They have special needs and we just want them to have a 'normal' happy life.

I am now the Trans-Coordinator for the Philadelphia Chapter of PFLAG. I do parent workshops and support seminars as well as providing information to medical and educational professionals. Please contact me at stephanie@snip.net for further information.


Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.