Love is a really powerful thing.
I never knew just how powerful it was until my child came out to us as transgender last year.
She was 11, living miserably as a boy, hiding in her room, hardly smiling, riddled with anxiety, and keeping a secret that encumbered her more and more each day.
When she finally entrusted us – her parents – with that secret on a bitterly cold February evening, it felt like my heart broke in two and landed with a dull thud in my chest. Time stopped. My mind raced.
“Transgender” was a term I only knew peripherally. No one in my life, as far as I knew, was trans. I had always considered myself an ally of the community, but had no idea what transitioning entailed, especially for children. Could this be a phase? (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.) What were the legal implications? What about school? What medical options were available?
I didn’t know what to do. I had parented my three kids through a host of issues, like broken femur, a rare autoimmune disease, hearing loss, mental illness, and learning disabilities. But despite all of it, I still had no clue where to go from here. There was no roadmap for this one. I was terrified.
This is where love comes in – that deep, unconditional kind. The one that slaps you hard across the feels when you hold your child, clings to your insides and never lets go. That love kicked in, and it was mighty strong.
Love miraculously pushed all my worries aside for a moment, so I could wrap my arms around my child and tell her I love her; that we don’t care if she’s a boy or a girl, as long as she’s happy; that we would support her through her transition from living as male to living as female, whatever it took.
And then I left her room, took a few minutes, and cried that heavy, frightened cry.
Unconditional love pushed me to learn. Before I went to bed that night, I had emailed two friends who are experts in LGBTQ issues. By the next day, I had spoken to two leading experts in our city and placed a call with our local children’s hospital’s gender identity clinic. By the end of the week, my partner and I had joined a parent support group and I had read my way through two books, several articles and piles of studies.
I got informed for her. I learned with certainty that this wasn’t a choice, and that supporting her transition could very well save her life. I read worrying statistics (for example, 41% of transgender people attempt suicide in the U.S., 43% in Canada). I went to therapy and dealt with my own feelings so that I could be at my best for her and her brothers.
I became her advocate at school, in our community, and with medical professionals. With her permission, I began writing about our journey on the blog I’ve had for years, in the hopes of helping other kids and their families. This eventually led to writing for other publications, speaking to media, and rallying for policy changes on both a local and national level. The work can be tiring, but so rewarding.
I slipped into this advocacy role with ease, in large part because I, like many parents, have always been an advocate for my children.
The scale of that advocacy varies, but all of us must stand up for our kids at some point in our lives, whether it is in the birthing room or the classroom, the emergency room or the hockey arena.
Without always realizing it, we become accustomed to being our young children’s voices. This is one of the skills parenting teaches us, whether we’re paying attention or not.
My daughter watched me speak up for several months before a natural evolution occurred: she started wanting to advocate for herself.
Now 12 years old and 18 months into her transition, Alexis champions for her rights whenever she can. She gives her own media interviews, challenging long-held beliefs about gender with grace. I am forever amazed by her courage and insight.
I still get scared when I think about Alexis’ future. The obstacles surrounding friendships, dating and adulthood await her.
But seeing how her confidence has grown as she’s found her voice is reassuring. My not-so-little girl is will meet all those challenges head on, and I have to believe she is poised for success.
Advocacy at any level is an important part of parenting. It’s a skill we all learn, use, and hopefully teach to our children. And if we’re lucky, it not only makes their lives better, but the lives of others, too.
Unconditional love. It’s a powerful thing.