Snow is the only child in the family. Both their dad and I are Pākehā New Zealanders but Snow was born in continental Europe, where we lived for ten years. We moved back to New Zealand when Snow was 7, by which time their dad and I were divorced. We all now live in Wellington, and Snow lives with me.
Snow was two and a half when we started to realise their tastes and behaviours distinguished them from kids their age and assigned gender. Snow was fascinated with flowers and pretty things and pink and purple and wanted to dress in full sparkle and glitter. Their teachers at the creche were charmed by how gentle and sensitive they were and pointed out how they always wanted to play with the girls. I guess you could say Snow was conforming to stereotypical expectations of feminine behaviour. I wasn't bothered by this at all, as my feminist ideals led me to keep my child's gender options as open as possible. I had already noticed when Snow was a baby that other parents dressed their babies in football outfits when they were three months old, and I had my child in heart trousers from the girls' section, because I liked the pattern.
I responded positively to Snow's behaviour and preferences challenging gender norms, but it did not even cross my mind that they could be transgender. It was harder for Snow's dad, who struggled with things like Snow dragging him to the girls' section to buy clothes, as he was worried about how others would react.
At first other people took little notice or responded positively, but as Snow grew older reactions changed. We lived in a conservative country, and authority figures like teachers and doctors started to express concern and disapproval. What was seen as harmful cross-gender play as a small child was seen as risky in an older child, even by the age of 4. At the hospital when Snow had a broken leg, a nurse berated them that ‘nail polish is for girls'. A beloved teacher said ‘if Snow doesn't want to be teased, maybe they shouldn't dress like that'.
Even people who were supportive fell into two camps. One camp felt we should encourage Snow to express themself however they wanted. The other camp felt we should constrain their behaviour in order to protect them. At worst, camp two held camp one responsible for any negative outcomes if we did not do this. I was in camp one and Snow's dad was in camp two, as were some of my closest friends. When things got harder and harder at school, I felt increasingly uncertain about where I stood.
By the time Snow started primary school gender norms were firmly and rigidly in place, and Snow's gender presentation was a problem. They were asked every day what gender they were, and they had few friends. They became increasingly stressed and developed a stutter, which got worse when they were teased. Teachers were fond of Snow but did not know how to protect them effectively.
One morning after a particularly bad experience of being teased at school, I sat at the breakfast table with Snow, aged 5, and looked at the pink bracelet they were wearing. I said ‘you know if you wear that bracelet, you might be teased again today'. Snow replied ‘I know'. I continued ‘you have two choices: either you don't wear it because you don't want to be teased, or you wear it anyway'. Snow's eyes filled with tears and they said ‘but I want to wear the bracelet'. This was the moment everything changed for me. I looked into Snow's eyes and decided I would not just support them in their gender diversity but I would encourage and affirm it. If it was more important for Snow to be themselves than to prioritise self-protection, then I would help them be themselves as much as possible, and this has been my approach ever since.
Things did not get easier straight away. Teasing at school turned to bullying and, when Snow was seven, some older children cornered them in the playground and threw stones at them, while asking them what their favourite colour was. This act of transphobic violence confirmed my decision to leave the school and the country and to return to New Zealand.
Back in Wellington, I was very nervous about how school would go, but I needn't have worried. In the school's supportive environment, Snow's stutter disappeared within weeks, and they grew faster and further into their gender identity. I tried to facilitate this evolution by learning about gender diversity and sharing with Snow what I had learnt. Halfway through their first year in New Zealand, they started referring to themselves openly as trans, and we started practising different pronouns. ‘She' felt nice but not quite right, but ‘they' felt just right.
Snow decided they were non-binary and told their friends about it, but we were still flying under the radar officially at school. I was just relieved that everything was going fine. It was one of Snow's teachers who asked them at the end of the year how their pronouns were going. Snow said they had been trialling ‘they', and the teacher suggested a social transition at school the following year. I was amazed that this came from school rather than from home. We started the new school year with new pronouns and a new name, and not a single child batted an eyelid. The school has been 100% supportive and the experience has been like night and day compared to our experience in Europe. Snow has female and male friends and their gender diversity is supported by all their friends.
Watching my child grow into themselves with such joy and freedom made me realise how vitally important a supportive school environment is for gender-diverse kids. Snow is now out and proud and extremely confident in their gender identity. In their confidence they make this gender identity visible and valid in the eyes of others, and all the kids at the school learn about different ways of being and how to respect them. I love to see the freedom and empathy that attaches to a happy trans kid and their social circle.
The hard part for me is not my child's gender identity but how others respond to it. It is this broader social context that we need to work on together as a society.
What would have helped me more in earlier years is to meet other parents of gender diverse kids and share experiences. This would have helped me feel less alone and stronger inour path.
What I would say to someone at the start of their journey as a parent of a gender-diverse child is not to be afraid. Support your child in their instincts to be who they are. Learn and affirm. Make decisions out of love not fear. You'll be amazed at the beauty of who your child becomes. It's a shame to hide a rainbow.