When I was pregnant, I was terrified at the thought of having a son—I didn’t have brothers, and just didn’t know what it was like to raise a boy. So when I saw on the sonogram that my first child would be a girl, I was so grateful.
Early on, my partner, Ben, and I didn’t really notice that our daughter was struggling with gender. But looking back, we now see that the signs were there for at least a year before we learned that our daughter was actually our son.
I went to pick up Heart*, who was in second grade, from school and couldn’t find him (I now refer to Heart as “him” even when I’m talking about before he transitioned) in the classroom. I asked one of his good friends where he was, and she said they had gotten into a fight and that Heart was talking to a teacher. Then she said that I should know that Heart has a secret.
She told me that the secret is that his inner person is a boy, and he thinks I’m going to be mad.
I felt like my brain was exploding, but I just said “OK” and went to see Heart’s teachers, who asked me to sit down. That’s when Heart explained that he felt like he was a boy on the inside.
I remember now that about six months to a year prior, Heart started showing signs. In first grade he asked for a boy haircut, so we let him get one. Kids teased him for being “an ugly boy” and “a weird-looking boy.” At the time, I thought he was upset about the boy part—I didn’t realize that he was just upset about being called weird and ugly.
He also started saying things like, “I feel like I’m half boy, half girl, half gorilla.” Ben and I now think he was easing us into it, and testing what we would say.
In that meeting with his teachers, I finally got the bigger picture. So when Heart said, “I want to have a boy name, and a boy haircut, and boy clothes,” it was clear he wanted to transition to be a boy. The teachers and I said, “Great, you can be whoever you want; we support you.”
I was completely cool, calm, and collected even though inside I felt like my head was spinning Exorcist-style.
We walked out of the school, and as we were walking across the street there was this person who appeared to be a transgender woman walking toward us. It was like a gift from God. This person was just so happy to be themself and all dressed up and looked amazing. My child looked this person up and down and then just looked at me and gave me the biggest grin. And I said to Heart, “If that is not a sign from God, I don’t know what is.”
That weekend, Heart met his cousins for the first time at Ben’s grandmother’s 90th birthday party. We had called ahead to tell the family what was going on. His girl cousin, who’s about two years older, said, “Oh, this is a phase. I liked to wear boy clothes before too because they’re more comfortable. You should definitely not change your name.” That made Heart hem and haw for a day, but he said to us that he still wanted to transition.
The thing you need to know about my child is, he would never rock the boat. He’s a people pleaser and the most empathetic person you’ll ever meet. So the fact that he’s standing up and asserting his authentic self—as this person who never wants to cause a problem—it’s a testament to how important this is for him. There was no other option for Ben and me than to be 100 percent on board.
Although we knew Heart’s transition was real and important, nothing about it was comfortable for Ben and me. We woke up every morning and remembered what was going on. We were simultaneously grieving the death of our daughter and birthing a son, and birthing a whole new language. At first I felt like I couldn’t talk at all because I was trying so hard not to use the wrong name or the wrong pronoun for Heart. Everything just felt so odd, and I had to be so mindful of every word I said.
It was a struggle because I had been really public about my self-love journey previously, when I lost nearly 100 pounds and learned to love myself and my body, and I had included my children in that.
I felt that I’d either have to go public with Heart’s transition, or succumb to shame and fear. I didn’t want to choose fear and shame, so I had no choice but to go public.
I wrote an article for Elephant Journal about Heart’s transition, and there were a lot of negative comments, saying that I’m mentally ill, that I have an agenda, that I’m looking for attention, that this is just a phase. When we say that our daughter became our son, people automatically think we’re talking about something medical, and something permanent. When Heart gets close to entering puberty in a year or two, he’ll go on hormone blockers to stop the process. But the only thing permanent for my son right now is love and acceptance.
Ben and I are trying to create the world we want for our child. If I had buried my head in the sand and said, “La la la, I don’t hear you, you’re my daughter,” I couldn’t even imagine what my life would be like right now. Nor could I imagine what my child would be like.
When Heart transitioned, he became a different kid. He was so much more comfortable, so much lighter, and so much happier. My child is special, not because he is a transgender boy, but because of his profound empathy, bravery, and emotional wisdom. Our 8-year-old warrior is fighting to be himself. And we are standing by him as his allies.
*Name has been changed