My husband and I had two daughters before our son was born. Nothing in her childhood was a clear indicator that she was just born in the wrong body. At the age of 16, miserable and having had 18 months of poor attendance at her all-boys school, she finally told us what was going on in a note left for us to find. At first we were devastated, and mixed messages were being given and received. My husband struggled to be in the same room with her as he felt he would cry, so would often leave the room. My daughter thought he was rejecting her and got really upset. Nothing in our lives had prepared us for the shockwave that reverberated around our home those first few days.
Looking at my family, these wonderful people that I love so much, I reached out immediately for help. Within five days my husband and I were in front of a counsellor who deals with a lot of gender and sexuality issues, who spent two hours unpacking what we were feeling – our very real fears, devastation and also misunderstanding of what we were dealing with. She was calm, steady and gave us a small glimpse of hope that grew as we worked together over the coming months to sort out a pathway forward.
We really had no idea though of what was ahead, what to do, where to go. I went to Rainbow Youth and they were wonderful, and we also took our daughter to our GP. This was a first for her, but she was tremendous – seeing we were in crisis and knowing she could support us if she were to educate herself, she jumped on board and reached out to all sorts of people who were able to upskill her on what we might be facing with hormones and other treatment options.
Our daughter stopped going to her all-boys school within a few days. She completed her year 12 with Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – Correspondence School, managing to scrape through Level 2 with enough credits to continue into year 13. The following year we enrolled her in a co-ed school that was welcoming, accepting and gave her the strength to grow into her new self without judgement or ridicule. Getting her into this school was problematic – we had to go through the lottery process and were lucky, but having been in education I was getting geared up to go through the process of obliging the school to take her, usually reserved for students who have been expelled from other schools. I am looking forward to the day when transgender students get priority admission to the best school for their well-being.
It was really challenging for us to cope day to day for the first few years. Even getting her name and pronoun correct were huge – and painful for her when we got them wrong. We asked her to be patient, but sometimes it was tiring and hard to remember. We had to steel ourselves to do something that felt really unnatural at first but now we no longer struggle at all. We needed time though, and asked her to be patient with us as we learned.
Last year, after a huge business plan was presented to me by my daughter, along with lots and lots of conversations, imploring and other excellent nagging tactics over a 12 month period, we boarded a plane and headed to Thailand where she underwent gender re-assignment surgery. This was not a decision taken lightly – we were terrified of something going wrong, of her changing her mind, and so many other things. The expense too was enormous and yet it was the best option we could find. I had spent many hours researching other possible destinations, and emailing surgeons around the world to compare costs.
In the end, the doctor we went to was amazing. He was so kind and caring, and had done over 5000 of these surgeries over the years, so was a real expert at this very exacting surgery. Our daughter spent four days in the clinic post-surgery, and then three weeks in our hotel room slowly recovering before we returned to NZ. She now feels so much more herself – she still wishes to have some other plastic surgery around her face, but this can wait for another time. For now, she feels normal, which is just what she wanted.
She is now 22 years old. Life is still not easy – she is still finding her way in the world very slowly, and the pandemic this year has not helped. However we are hopeful – she is alive, she is a cherished part of our family, and we feel so much stronger than we did at the start. I am constantly advocating for her and I often meet with a couple of friends who are in a similar situation, offering friendship and understanding as they go through similar journeys. Our children need us to be the strong support for them, even when we feel that we will be swept away with the storm of emotions that this can bring. Being able to love our kids unconditionally is my hope for all parents of transgender kids.