One Parent's Surprise: A Transgender Child

By Kate Willoughby Hall | February 1st, 2017

The toughest conversation of my life was the one in which our teenage son told us he was transgender, meaning he identified as a female. The second hardest was when I had to tell my family, especially my 70-something mom who I knew would struggle with it, as I was.


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The toughest conversation of my life was the one in which our teenage son told us he was transgender, meaning he identified as a female. The second hardest was when I had to tell my family, especially my 70-something mom who I knew would struggle with it, as I was.

Rewind to over one year ago, when this news stopped us in our tracks. My husband and I had little knowledge or exposure to anything transgender (that we knew of) outside of seeing Caitlyn Jenner’s story unfold in a circus of tabloids. I guess you could say that the first transgender person we ever met was our own child.

We cried, we feared, and ultimately we grieved. We grieved for the little boy who did not feel comfortable in his own body, and for the hopes and dreams we’d envisioned of the man he would someday become. But we supported. Internet research and two amazing local support groups – Side by Side (formerly ROSMY) and He, She, Ze, and We – quickly showed us that transgender youth have a higher than 40 percent chance of committing suicide. At this point, and after a period of denial, we pushed our grief and fear aside to support our child, who, after months of counseling socially transitioned as a female nine months after she came out to us.

But back to my mom. I still remember telling her between sobs over the phone, being so despondent and confused because I had no understanding of what my child was going through. “It’s a phase,” she reassured me, and I wanted desperately to believe her; but a nagging feeling told me this was nothing my child would ever experiment with. I guess that’s why it’s said we should always trust our gut.

There were many times when “Grammy” didn’t know what to say, and once she said what I felt was the very wrong thing (I didn’t hesitate to tell her); but through it all she has been a rock of support during what I can only describe as the rebirth of our eldest child at 13 years old. I cannot imagine what it takes for someone in their 70s to try to wrap their head around this issue, because for a 43-year-old it’s certainly no picnic. But she’s pushed aside her personal challenges and has been there for every painful step. The lift her support has given us is even more impactful because of the change curve she had to ride generationally – from a time when the initialism “LGBT” was unknown and people kept their feelings under wraps to present day when we often see LGBT pride celebrated.

The lessons we’ve absorbed over the last year are plentiful. My family and I have learned how to be patient, especially when facing something that we can’t relate to directly. We learned that it’s the essence of who we are that truly matters, not the package. Most importantly, we learned how to love deeply and unconditionally.

For any grandparents or parents out there who may be facing similar challenges, please know that you’re not alone and that your feelings are valid. Please know that your love for the child can transcend what may feel like reason and sense, and that your willingness to ask questions and seek education are the best tools in your arsenal of support. Please know that you’re important, now more than ever.

For more information about Side by Side, please visit SideBySideVA.org or call 804-644-4800.

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