Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 7, by Halle Sheppard

Coy Mathis

GID Reform Advocates respond to the question, “When a child identifies with the other gender, what to do?” Dr. Jack Drescher’s commentary on the Coy Mathis Civil Rights Case in Colorado appeared in the Sunday Dialogues Feature of the June 29, 2013 New York Times. Here is the discussion that the Times did not publish.

A Guest Post by
Halle Sheppard,
a Colorado Mother
Transgender Youth Education & Support
PFLAG Boulder County

A little girl!! My husband and I so wanted this girl. We had a son and all our siblings had sons, and as long as we had decided to adopt, why not have a girl?! All her aunts bought her the cutest girlie clothes, and I loved to dress her in them. But as soon as our daughter was 3 years old and could tell us what she preferred, she wore her brother’s hand me downs, definitely not dresses, and a boy’s bathing suit. Though my husband struggled with this a bit, it made little difference to me. This was a child with some pretty big attachment issues. All I wanted was a happy kid who would sleep at night.

Imagine my surprise, when during a routine follow up 15 minutes at the end of my 6 year old child’s therapy appointment (which she attended to deal with some attachment issues), the therapist mentioned that she suspected that my child was transgender. She said she had no formal training in diagnosing this but did have some experience working with another family.

What does that mean to be transgender?? As a well educated 40 something living in liberal Boulder, CO you’d think I should know. And maybe I knew a bit or heard about it, but not really. Not really what it meant to have a child who didn’t just dress and act like a boy, but who wanted to be a boy.

We did not treat our daughter any differently after the mention of this from his therapist. At first we were definitely in denial. Eventually, after suggestions from the therapist (so we could be more prepared), my husband and I bought some recommended books and started reading. It was certainly possible our “tomboy” was in fact transgender: the boy’s bathing suits and boxer shorts; the toys and play mates; the absolute distress at being told she would have to wear a dress to a friend’s wedding. The therapist was specific that our child would come to us with her feelings, so we followed that advice and did nothing and just waited.

We did not have to wait long. A few weeks after school (1st grade) was over in June, about 3 to 4 months after the first mention from the therapist, my daughter marched into the kitchen and declared “I would like to be a boy. Not just dress as one, but really be one.” (Oh, did I mention when he was almost 4, he asked me “when do I grow up to be a boy, mom?”) It was all coming together now. Because I was so prepared for this day, and my husband and I had read enough and discussed enough to understand where our kiddo was coming from, I was able to look him (from here on as I write I will use male gender pronouns) in the eye and tell him that this was fine. We could find a new name immediately and make the transition. I hugged him and held him, but as a parent what I really wanted to do was cry (which I did often privately) and tell him what a difficult life choice this would be; how I would always worry about him being socially accepted…..but of course, not something to worry your 7 year old with.

Why would a parent choose a difficult path for their child? And not just for that child but for the whole family. Difficult decisions, awkward conversations with parents on the little league field and your child’s older sibling having to face his 10 year old friends with this news. Life was pretty rough for all of us for a while. We face strife all of the time. Each time we travel and have to use our son’s legal name, which is a girls’ name, or walk into a doctor’s office and worry they will call him the wrong name. Often, friends and relatives we do not see regularly still use the old name. My husband and I have spent considerable time and energy learning about medications and hormone treatments. It stresses our marriage and our finances! We have both had to have considerable talks with our family members to help them understand. It is a huge burden and some days I want to cry and say “It isn’t fair!!! Why me?! Why do I have to deal with this?!”

But we have also learned the alternative to not letting your child transition and be who he or she wants is devastating and can be fatal. So if you love your child and want them to be happy, why wouldn’t you let them transition? That is our plan. We will help with this, support him, allow the use of blockers to prolong the time until a more permanent decision has to be made. We will share all the options with our child. When he seems unsure, we remind him that he does not need to make any decision yet and that we are ready to help him either way. And that if he chooses to be a boy we will love him the same as the girl we adopted.

He is now 9 years old and has socially transitioned to being a boy. He uses the boy’s restroom and a family changing room. His school mates and friends have been 100% accepting. We know it will get harder and more challenging when we leave our small, open elementary school, but this is his choice and we, as his parents, are here to support him.

About Kelley
Dr. Kelley Winters is a writer and consultant on issues of gender diversity in medical and public policy. She is the author of Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays from the Struggle for Dignity (2008) and a past member of the International Advisory Panel for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care, the Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE) Expert Working Group, and the Advisory Boards for TransYouth Family Allies (TYFA). She was recognized in the 2013 Trans 100 Inaugural List for work supporting the transgender community in the US. Kelley has presented papers and presentations on gender policy issues at annual conventions of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the Association of Women in Psychology. Kelley wanders the highways of America in an old Mazda, ever in search of comfort food.

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