Acceptance and Understanding

We are a pretty nuclear young family; Mum, Dad, 16 yr old daughter, 14 year old trans daughter and eight year old son, We live in rural New Zealand. I have a government job that allows me to work from home two days a week and my husband is a self-employed artist who works from home, and is into his board sports.

Our child never really “came out” to us. From a very young age (around three) we noticed that our child did not like the typical “boy” things. Dad was pretty excited to have a little crusty demon to mould, so bought all the toys, motorbikes, transformers, hot wheels etc… but they never took any interest and spent the majority of the time in sister's room playing dress-ups and barbies. It wasn't until a few years later when I was watching a TV documentary called “I am Jazz” that the reality hit and I realised that our child most probably was transgender not gay as we had often talked about.

There were many issues that came along with having a child not happy in their own body, and adding to that with traits likened to autism such as an inability to empathise, OCD tendencies, and a challenging eating disorder. We were never able to go out as a family as they made it unbearably difficult to have even a small outing, even a birthday dinner - would always end in a screaming fit and one of us parents having to remove them from the situation. There were several years of having “boy and girl” clothes, depending if they were going to be seen in public or not.

We first sought help from psychiatrists / psychologists at ICAMHS around the age of five. We were told it was a phase and that they would grow out of it. We were told to discourage cross dressing and get them involved in after school activities such as scouts and soccer. Which of course made everything worse. I would have loved to have had the support of a parent's group and someone to tell us it would be OK, but there really wasn't much information available back then.

It wasn't until her 11th birthday where we had had enough of the distress of leading a double life. We went back to ICAMHS and had a much better response this time – she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and we were offered counselling and support to help with the transition. We managed to convince her that it would be better to be her real self ALL the time not just at home. After all it was better to be bullied for being yourself rather than being bullied for pretending to be something you're not, right? It took a lot of courage for her to make the decision and that year when school finished we packed up all the stuff that didn't represent her and put it away for her younger brother and went shopping for her new life. It was not easy and there was a big adjustment period but week by week she started to come out of her shell and bit by bit the issues that had plagued us for years slowly started to dissipate.

We were just so relieved to finally have a diagnosis, the validation that this is a real thing and that we could find a way through it together, as well as witnessing the changes within herself as a person was all we ever needed.

We did move schools from a small rural school to an area school up the road. There was no option of going stealth so we armed her with all the tools we could to handle the questions and taunting from other students. We talked to the school and they said all the right things but at the end of the day there is no support and they are big fans of sweeping things under the carpet when it comes to consequences. We worry about her safety and what the future holds for her, but we take each day at a time and just give her reassurance that we are always here for her.

We never had to worry about any friends or family judgement as it was fairly obvious to everyone from a young age that our child was very feminine and wasn't a stereotypical boy, it made perfect sense once we discussed our child being transgender with them. Even my husband's mates who are pretty typical young kiwi blokey types, probably the kind that would be averse to acceptance in other circumstances were very supportive. If there is anyone within our circle that was not accepting, we weren't made aware of it (except my mother – but that's a whole other story).

Nowadays we still deal with bullying daily, but our daughter is so much happier, her personality has completely changed from a very difficult very unhappy wee kid to a compassionate, empathetic young lady. We as parents have learned about acceptance and understanding. I believe we were blessed with having this child teach us so much about ourselves.