Trans Children Don't Always "Come Out," You Know

Photo courtesy of Shaina Sheaff.

Today is National Coming Out Day, and it strikes me that my son — a fourth-grader who only recently got a birth certificate stating that he is, indeed, male — doesn’t really have a coming out story. Thanks to the perseverance of generations of transgender people before him, Max, as my son is now known, has never really had to “come out” to the people in his life. He did, however, start using male pronouns and introducing himself as a boy by the time he was 6 years old, but honest to goodness he doesn’t even remember a word of the conversation we had together. Being true to himself is all he’s ever known in this family.

Max has always been a bit of pioneer. He was born abroad, and I’d like to think that the first 18 months of his life, living as a baby and toddler in the Netherlands, gave him a resilient, adventurous spirit that makes him relatively immune to taking personally the ignorant rhetoric surrounding the politics of gender identity. While politicians and extremists are trying to legislate which lavatory Max can use, he’s off having push-up contests at recess with his “Bro Gang,” the friends he’s had since kindergarten (and the friends who knew him “pre-transition,” who also could not care less about any of this).

When he was 2 years old, he told me he was a boy. Being the "woke feminist" that I am, I literally didn’t believe him. “Look, baby. Just because you don’t like My Little Pony doesn’t mean you’re not a girl. There’s LOTS of ways to be a girl, and we’re gonna celebrate the hell out of that. Come on, let’s go get those Star Wars shoes you’ve been asking for.”

Then, when he was 4, he asked me if scientists could turn him into a boy. Those were his exact words. “Mommy, do you think scientists could turn me into a boy?” Gulp.

Thus began a years-long journey to find out how to best support my child in their gender expression, no matter what that looked like. When I was pregnant with Max, I didn’t care if I was having a boy or a girl — all I cared about was having a healthy, whole, happy baby. But after all this time raising a gender-bending daughter, was I ready to have a son?

Back then, in our Texas town, there was hardly anything out there about trans kids. There were some parenting blogs celebrating “princess boys” and “gender-creative kids,” but with a few hard-to-find exceptions, there weren’t really parents using the word “transgender.” Fortunately, at around this same time, there were some scientific articles that were starting to be published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the American College of Pediatricians, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a fringe, extremist, anti-LGBTQ hate group pushing “alternative facts”).

The AAP found that gender identity is something we ALL have, it forms at a very young age, and when that gender identity doesn’t match with the one assigned to you at birth, that might mean you are transgender. It’s not anything anyone chooses (Max didn’t choose to be a boy any more than his sister chose to be a girl), but it’s something you are. Further, they explain, supporting transgender kids in their gender identities (names, pronouns, dress, and even bathrooms) can improve their quality of life and significantly reduce their risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Faced with those facts, I couldn’t deny the truth: Supporting my child could very well save his life, and I’d rather have a living son than a dead daughter. I hate to think of a parent who could justify feeling differently.

My son isn’t trans because I didn’t love him enough. He’s trans, and I love him unconditionally.

This didn’t happen overnight for us. It’s not like one day Max says he’s a boy, and the next day I’m signing him up for bottom surgery. It doesn’t work that way. None of that works that way. There are a lot of professionals to consult, articles to read, other trans-inclusive families to talk to, and lots and LOTS of prayer involved. At the end of the day, as much as my Twitter trolls hate to hear this, my son isn’t mentally ill; I’m not a child abuser, and this is not a case of “Munchausen syndrome by proxy.” (Side note, why is it always the mother’s “fault?”) Sorry to burst your bubble, but my son isn’t trans because I didn’t love him enough. He’s trans, and I love him unconditionally.

As complex as all of this can be made out to be, when you get to the core of it, it’s really quite simple: This is an example of parents supporting their child’s gender identity, instead of expecting him to fit into a neat little pink box because that’s what the doctors told us when he was born, long before Max was able to speak for himself.

When we discovered in first grade that Max had been holding his bladder all day at school because he wasn’t sure which bathroom his teachers wanted him to use, I realized that I finally had to have the conversation I had been simultaneously anticipating and putting off all those years. We talked about bathrooms, sure, but we also talked about pronouns, whether he wanted to be called son, daughter, or something else, and if he wanted to change his name so he wouldn’t be outed every time he introduced himself.

This last part was tough, I'll admit — it was a cute name, and a lot of thought went into our choosing it. But it’s more important to embrace, affirm, and support him than it is to call him a name that makes him cringe every time he hears it, or gives others the impression that it's okay to doubt or erase who he really is.

But here’s the thing: When I ask Max if he remembers this conversation, he gives me this blank look as if I'm crazy. To me, it was a formative moment in our family that forever changed us, and is changing the world. To him, though, it was just another day. If I’m just as loved today as I was on the day I was born, then what is there to get worked up about, he might be thinking. Or not. He’s actually probably thinking about building forts for our cats out of the leftover Amazon Prime boxes in the garage. That’s far more likely than him thinking about any of this stuff, and quite honestly, I prefer it that way.

When people ask when Max transitioned, I have a hard time answering that question. Because I don’t think it’s Max who transitioned — he has always known who he is, and has always been given the space to express that. Rather, I think it’s more appropriate to say that I transitioned. I was the one who found the resources I needed to put the pieces together. His dad and I were the ones who trained ourselves to use different pronouns when referring to our son. His friends were the ones who learned how to call him by a new name. We all transitioned together. Max has always been like the eye of a hurricane: calm and steady, while the rest of the world swirls madly around him. Wherever he goes, we follow, with our energy, our controversies, our struggle for equality. But Max is oblivious to much of that, affirmed in his identity, confident in his abilities, and assured of our unconditional love for him.

Max doesn’t have a coming out story. He’s always just been Max.

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