‘She said, ‘I am a girl in my heart and brain.’ She had to be physically restrained for haircuts. I felt guilty.’: Mom advocates for transgender daughter, ‘She blossomed before our eyes’

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“I never really knew love until my children were born. The first time I held each of them, my heart nearly burst with a million dreams for their future. It was pure, unconditional love. There is no handbook for parenting, no user’s manual or study guide. We simply learn as we go, constantly adapting and shifting based on each child’s needs. As parents, we do our best to honor them and devote our own lives to keeping them safe, healthy, and nurtured.

By the time I gave birth to my youngest child, I felt myself to be a mature and well-seasoned parent, thinking I could handle just about anything motherhood threw my way. I had already endured many sleepless nights, bouts of colic, toddler tantrums, and sibling rivalry. My two older children, both boys, were healthy, joyful, and rambunctious. They enjoyed getting dirty in the mud, collecting lizards, and climbing trees in the yard. In so many ways, they were just like the little boys I had played with in my childhood, and those I encountered on various play dates over the years.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

When Dempsey arrived, the doctors checked off the male gender box and I assumed my youngest child would follow suit in their big brothers’ footsteps. I was a very proud ‘boymom’ with a vanity plate that read: My Three Sons. Little did I know, I was about to embark on a journey through uncharted territory which would alter and shape so many of my views of the world. Back then, I knew nothing about gender dysphoria or transgender people in general. This is important to remember, because Dempsey, my beautiful, sassy, and delightful baby of the bunch, would come to identify as transgender in very early childhood. In this writing, out of respect for both my child and for the entire transgender community, I will use only she/her pronouns for Dempsey.

Around eighteen months of age, Dempsey started to show a strong interest in princesses, sparkly trinkets, and clothing. I was mildly surprised, but not overly shocked or worried. After all, many children have phases with toys and games. My husband and I chuckled about it and casually shrugged it off. We encouraged creativity in play, let her gravitate to items that interested her. We also offered Dempsey more traditionally masculine toys, such as trucks and soccer balls, but she would refuse every single one.  Over time, her fascination with princesses evolved into a passion for unicorns, mermaids, and everything glitter.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

I started to pay close attention to the drawings Dempsey would compose ever so carefully. I noticed Dempsey always, and I mean always, drew herself as a girl with long blonde hair. By the time she turned four, it became exceedingly difficult to ignore the tantrums and complete meltdowns Dempsey would have when we wouldn’t allow her to wear costume dresses to school or be Cinderella for Halloween. Back then, we were acting with good intentions as parents; after all, our child was born biologically male, and we didn’t want her to be a target for bullying and taunting by preschool peers for being effeminate or dressing girly. It broke my heart to watch my beautiful and charming child retreat into herself, becoming depressed and anxious in social settings.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

When we took her to the barber, she had to be physically restrained for haircuts. It was pure agony to witness and participate in.  By then, Dempsey had resorted to fashioning pajama pants on her head every day to simulate long hair, but only at home. She was perpetually sad and uneasy. I felt incredibly guilty, both for stifling my child’s identity and for forcing her to be something she was not. It was clear we needed help. We searched for local support resources for our family and we found a wonderful, thriving community of parents with gender variant and nonconforming children in our area. They became our lifeline. With their help, we found a network of therapists and medical professionals who specialized in both children and gender identity.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

We booked an appointment with a therapist to help Dempsey, who seemed to be struggling. In the first session, she confided she was ‘a boy who liked all girl things.’ More sessions revealed Dempsey was consistent, persistent, and insistent that she identified as a girl, and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Gradually, we started allowing her to wear hair bows and girl accessories to preschool. By the time kindergarten rolled around, my husband and I mutually agreed we could no longer cut Dempsey’s hair, as it was damaging her emotionally. As her hair started to grow out, she was visibly ecstatic. Dempsey came to us at five and told us, ‘I am a girl in my heart and my brain.’ We wholeheartedly accepted what our child so bravely voiced to us.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

We stopped challenging her and started questioning the gender biases we ourselves had been taught. It was time to learn something new. We decided we had to be ‘trans-parent’ (pun intended) in this journey, so others could see gender nonconforming and transgender children are absolutely normal and should be embraced in all environments. Dempsey officially changed pronouns at age seven, and her new birth certificate has been amended with documentation from her medical providers. She has gone through a social transition, which entails changing appearance, wardrobe, name, and pronouns. From the moment she was allowed to be her authentic self she blossomed, and continues to right before our eyes.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

She is loved and accepted by her family and supported by her peers and teachers. The suicide statistics for transgender youth are bleak. 58 percent of unsupported trans children will go on to attempt suicide, versus just four percent who are in supportive homes. These staggering statistics should scare the hell out of any parent! Many people who haven’t walked in our footsteps are quick to judge. Some believe she is too young to know who she is. Others confuse gender identity and sexual orientation, which are two different things entirely—to be clear, gender identity is who you go to sleep AS, sexuality is who you go to sleep WITH.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

Some assume, incorrectly, we have altered her body through surgery and irreversible medications. This has no factual basis whatsoever. Yet on a constant basis, we are accused of it. Because my child is young, most of the hateful and ignorant commentary are directed to us as her parents. While sometimes this is a terrible burden to bear, I am thankful that, for now, Dempsey is safe in the bubble we have created for her to thrive. The negative comments I hear most are I am abusing my child or I am making her this way. To this I say, I am no magical creature! I can barely persuade my children to eat their vegetables, let alone change genders.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

Nowadays, I am well versed in the frightening statistics of LGBTQ youth, regarding bullying, homelessness, and suicide. Transgender people, especially trans women of color, are being assaulted and murdered in record high numbers. These are some of the reasons I am compelled to be vocal publicly against the inaccuracies and propaganda about transgender people. I embrace and empower LGBTQ youth facing adversity, many of whom are cast out by their own families. I have spoken on panels addressing school administrators, medical professionals, and the public, advocating for the inclusion of transgender youth and their right to appropriate medical care. Most recently, our entire family appeared in a short documentary series featured on YouTube. I do this with hope I can change hearts and minds along the way.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

Lastly, I want to touch on something that is perhaps the most important of all—privilege. While I admit Dempsey (and our family) have been horribly discriminated against because she is transgender and we are outspoken about it, I want to publicly acknowledge we have enormous privilege. Dempsey was born with blonde hair, green eyes, and white skin. She is conventionally attractive, according to our cultural aesthetic norms. She socially transitioned at a very early age and will never have to endure the puberty of her assigned-at-birth gender, thanks to medical intervention. She was born into an upper middle-class family, which allows her access to excellent medical care and treatment. If legislative measures against trans children should pass, we can afford to uproot our family to another state where she can get the care she needs to thrive.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

My daughter has been told countless times by strangers she doesn’t ‘look transgender’ (which is a ridiculous statement, by the way, because trans people all look different, just like cisgender people do). She passes through society largely unnoticed as transgender unless she shares she is. Dempsey, simply put, has an invisible package of unearned assets and advantages. And as her mom, yes, I am grateful these privileges allow her some extra safety and protection from the cruel outside world. However, these are tremendous privileges and advantages many transgender people do not have.

Courtesy of Jaime Donna

Transgender people of color, those transitioning later in life, those with economic hardships, and those without familial support, face incredible challenges Dempsey never will. They fight each and every day to stay alive and be respected with dignity. Let me be very clear—there is no ‘hidden trans agenda.’ Every single day, all transgender people around the world are bravely trying to live their authentic lives. They deserve all the happiness, fulfillment, and joy in life, alongside the rest of the human race. It’s time all of us start embracing, listening, and supporting transgender people everywhere—because lives truly depend on it.”

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@stephsnapsphotography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jaime Donna of Orlando, Florida. You can follow their journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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