‘My child is transgender. But she is not the one who changed – I am.’

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“Raising my transgender daughter has not been easy. It has required me to stretch myself in ways I did not know were possible. It has forced me to find strength I did not know I had. It has brought a sense of depth to my soul and made me see the world and my life in a new way. My daughter taught me things I would likely have never learned without her.

When my daughter was born I did not get to pick out a feminine name for her. I did not get to wrap her in pink blankets and put bows in her small growing pigtails. I didn’t get to have her christened in the beautiful dress my godmother made for me to wear on my christening day. I missed out on all of this because she wasn’t born my daughter, she was born as my son.

When a child ‘transitions’ it is a transition for the entire family. My son, who is two years older than her, had to navigate the social terrain of school. All his friends were constantly asking questions. Some kids were sharing their parents’ views and opinions on the topic of transgender youth. Others were just inquisitive kids asking out of curiosity and for clarification. He had to process the emotional transition at home, losing a brother and learning how to navigate, love and respect a sister. My husband and I had to work hard to not allow our emotions to take a seat between us. To not take our frustration and confusion and lack of understanding out on one another. We had to consciously remind ourselves we are on the same team, with the same goal – for our child to be happy and well adjusted. We had to validate each other’s feelings even if we didn’t always feel the same. And through it all, continue to put our family first during this process.

We knew early on Matthew (now Maddie) was different from our first son. Matty always wanted things that were pink and items that sparkled. He loved his cousin’s headbands and dress up clothes. As young as 3, Matthew was constantly asking to watch Disney princess movies. At the time I did not get caught up or worried about gender norms. I loved my feminine, eccentric son… the problem was, the older he got, the more he did not love himself. He was always angry with an explosive personality beyond that of a normal toddler. He would flip chairs and tables at preschool and be quick to drop to the floor screaming when things didn’t go his way. He was clearly misunderstood, but to what degree I had no idea.

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

We lived in this gender gray area for many months, wedged between what my daughter was declaring as the truth and the gender she was assigned at birth. It was a constant game of mental ping pong. I saw how making her appear as a boy was hurting her. The older she got the angrier and sadder she was. When my husband and I finally did decide to allow her to live her truth, I felt more alone than I ever have in my entire life. I laid awake many nights googling things a million different ways. I cried and prayed and wondered if I was doing the right thing. I knew my decision was going put me in the line of judgment by people. Some I would expect it from and some I would not. I knew I would need to drown out a lot of white noise and criticism by those who would not take the time to educate themselves. That I would be accused of being a progressive liberal who was brain washing my child. I knew I would be accused of not being a strict enough parent. That people would use the fact that I didn’t give birth to a female against me and accuse me of taking advantage of the situation to get a chance at raising a daughter. I knew people that did not see the anguish in the daily living before her transition would say I was harming her. I knew I had to choose my child’s well-being over the opinions and judgments of others, but it was hard. I consider myself a strong person with a loud voice but some days this was extremely difficult. It was a lot to carry.

Matthew became Madison one February day, only months before she started kindergarten. It has been a year and a half since my son fully transitioned to my daughter. I am still doing a good deal of emotional work daily. Working hard to understand and support her. To be the advocate that allows her to live as her true self. To be her strength when she has none and provide a safe place where she will always be loved and accepted with open arms.

I am also still grieving my son. Letting go of the dreams I had for my boy. Letting go of the name I so carefully selected for him. Letting go of all the ways I expected life would be with him. Packing away pictures that hold such special memories for me, but that cause so much pain for my child.

I still worry about her future. Sleepovers she has not been asked on yet. Gender specific sports teams she has yet to play for. Proms and dating and all the things that will be difficult territory for her. I worry about her future body dysphoria and puberty and the world that can be so cruel. I worry about the use of restrooms in school when she enters the upper grades. I worry about what her life will be like as a teenager. I pray for social acceptance as she gets older. That she finds a place among friends where she is accepted and loved and celebrated for exactly who she is. I am so tired of worrying all the time and I realize the worry has just begun…

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

I am different now. Since my daughter’s transition my overall social anxiety has increased. Stumbling often when we see friends who ask how ‘the boys’ are doing. I am constantly nervous that someone is going to approach me or one of my children in public with questions or hateful opinions. I have become a more thoughtful person. Every step of the way I am carefully evaluating all my decisions, and I am also a more aware individual. I work harder to empathize with people and the journeys they may be on. I now try to lead with compassion for others rather than judgment of them.

In the past year and a half, I have re-learned unconditional love in its most primal form. I have developed perseverance and learned to trust my intuition. I have been taught to live in a new way because of my daughter. My daughter has transformed me. Her outlook and views and life changed me. I am better because of her. My child is transgender. But in all this time, she is not the one who changed, I am.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Adrienne Anzelmo of Massachusetts. Her book about her family’s journey with Maddie is called “No Matter What.”  Do you have a child who is transitioning? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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