I’m getting more of a window into the process of coming out as trans, thanks to my middle daughter. With my oldest, she dealt with all of this by herself behind the scenes, as that was what she preferred.
With my middle daughter, it seems like the initial coming out process has overwhelmed her a bit and she needs to allow herself enough time to catch up and adjust to the amount of progress she’s made already.
Part of it is my fault, though I was very well-intentioned. Once she told me that she was trans, I was so enthusiastic and supportive that I may have unintentionally rushed her a bit. That’s a fine line to walk, since she has repeated several times that she needs a little push even to do the things she wants to do.
Fortunately, I recognized that she was getting overwhelmed and was able to dial it way back and adapt to how she was feeling. But I was really struck by how monumental it is to come out as trans. I don’t think I completely understood that from my oldest daughter’s experience because she didn’t share much of it with me.
See, unlike my middle daughter, who’s starting from zero, my oldest had already been on hormones for more than six months before she started telling me what was happening. I already knew she was trans but that was all she told me. It took seven years from the time she told me she was trans until she asked me to use a different name and pronouns for her.
And I honestly can’t imagine what it must be like to be caught in that in-between space, where you feel extremely uncomfortable in all the trappings of your birth gender, yet also have to muster up all the courage necessary to switch to the gender that feels more like your true self.
Dysphoria is another major component in transition. Imagine knowing that you already don’t feel comfortable as the gender which you were born, and then you go through puberty, which accentuates the parts of yourself that make you the most uncomfortable. I can only imagine that it probably feels a bit like real-life horror to experience all these changes happening to you that are the exact opposite of what you want.
Then on top of that, whenever you think about coming out and living as the opposite gender, your brain constantly lies to you. It tells you that no one will ever accept you (even if you know otherwise) and makes you hyper-fixate on all the things about your appearance that might give away your birth gender.
Fortunately, both of my trans kids have very feminine features already and frequently got misgendered as female long before coming out. But that really matters very little to them when they’re looking in the mirror and focusing on the features they think are too masculine (even features that are clearly genetic and gender-neutral, like the fact that they inherited my large forehead.)
I got kind of a wake up call that switching genders is so much more complicated than just having a family who knows and supports you. First, the trans person ultimately has to get to a point of being okay with themselves, which usually takes quite a bit of therapy with a really good therapist (and my middle daughter will be starting that soon.) Making the trans person feel okay with themselves is certainly something parents can contribute to but it’s really a journey they have to go through on their own. And every step they take toward the direction of becoming their true self just requires a monumental amount of courage.
For all these reasons—not to mention the reason of basic common human decency—I’ll never understand how some people can be so reductionist and overly simplistic regarding trans issues. It’s one thing not to understand; that can take a while to wrap your head around. I admit that I initially didn’t really understand it either and even now, I’m realizing that I still have so much more to learn.
For many or most trans people, I think it’s more of an agonizing years-long process, in which you have to recognize you’re still worthy to exist and you do have the right to pursue happiness. It’s not a process you can just ignore or try to suppress; I dare say that most trans people have already tried that unsuccessfully for years. To suggest that anyone does it on a whim or just because it’s perceived as “trendy” fails to acknowledge the very real suffering many or even most people feel on their journey.
But so many people don’t even try to understand. They shout slogans and try to pass hateful, unnecessary laws, not understanding that trans people are generally pretty terrified to come out. In that regard, I think they face much more difficulty than lesbians or gays (many of whom don’t understand trans people, either.) It’s truly not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding you want to be the opposite gender. It’s deeply feeling in your soul for years that you are the opposite gender but feeling terrified to make the switch on the outside.
As a parent now getting more insight into this process, all I can do is to reiterate my support and be patient on their journey, and remind them that no matter how they feel now, they deserve to feel better and that they can get there.