|"...like every other parent, our goal is for Riley |
is to feel loved, accepted, and safe"
People often ask us how we came to the conclusion that Riley was a transgender girl.
But the interesting thing is that question only comes from people that don’t know our family well. For our extended family and friends Riley’s social transition at the age of five came as no surprise.
Since the age of three, every time people gathered in our home, or we went out to a dinner party, Riley wouldn’t be seen without wearing one of her costume dresses. It was such a natural instinct in her brain, that when people were around enjoying themselves, she needed to be seen in her most elegant dresses. At the time these were only dresses that we purchased as dress‐up costumes (e.g. think Cinderella and Elsa from the movie Frozen).
At the same time, when we picked her up from preschool, she would often be wearing one of their costume dresses over her regular clothes, which she would wear for most of the day, despite occasional ridicule from her classmates. This was just the more public extension of what she did at home.
Every day, as soon as she got home from preschool or swimming lessons, or even grocery shopping with us - off came her “outside world” clothes and on came her costume dresses. This resulted in a wardrobe of dresses that were mostly falling apart. But this was not a concern to Riley. With no alternative, she had to be in those dresses as often as we would let her.
But the motivation for her “transition” to a transgender girl goes way beyond just the clothes. Or the fact that since an early age she has almost exclusively gravitated toward toys associated with girls, such as princess dolls, doll houses, Barbies, and the like. The transition was motivated by her sense of true identity—how she felt inside.
From an early age if you asked her if she was a boy or girl she would say girl. She has been 100 percent persistent and consistent in this declaration.
It’s one thing to accept Riley’s sense of self as a member of our family and quite another to make it a public declaration. And as I’m sure many parents of transgender children will say (and agree) ‐‐ sometimes this becomes more of a forced declaration. Once we started buying Riley more comfortable girls’ clothing (that we could wash!) it was all she wanted to wear. Then the question became: are we comfortable with her wearing these clothes in public and at school on a daily basis?
Though for a time the answer was decisively no, after seeing how happy she was at home and how frustrated, sad, and disappointed she became when she had to change, the answer quickly became yes. This corresponded with Riley’s long‐desired wish that we allow her to grow her hair “down to the floor like Rapunzel,” and that we let her have a girl’s name. In addition to the clothing, we eventually accommodated both of these other wishes (though, there will be a length limit on her hair - that stuff is hard to style!).
In some ways, it's easier to make this adjustment now (so we are really glad that Riley was confident enough and brave enough to help us understand) and if something changes it’s easy (well, easier) to transition back. We have discovered that the bottom line is to let Riley take the lead on gender issues, and by all current indications living as a transgender girl makes her far and away the happiest. Moreover, after watching her grow more confident and content over the last eight months since her transition, we could not even imagine forcing her to transition back. She is finally living as her true self, as every child should.
Since the beginning of this transition Riley and our entire family have met with a renowned transgender therapist. The interesting thing about these meetings is that once a diagnosis of gender dysphoria was established, they were less about Riley and her gender and identity, and more about helping us navigate a world where transgender children are uncommon, gender issues are misunderstood, and Riley is and will always be susceptible to both physical and emotional bullying by the outside world.
Because, like every other parent, our goal is for Riley is to feel loved, accepted, and safe as she navigates her childhood. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that happens.
What is Gender? (from Gender Spectrum)
For many people, the terms “gender” and “sex” are used interchangeably and thus incorrectly.
This idea has become so common, particularly in western societies, that it is rarely questioned. We are born, assigned a sex, and sent out into the world. For many people, this is cause for little, if any internal conflict. Yet biological sex and gender are different; gender is not inherently nor solely connected to one’s physical anatomy.
Gender is made up of three parts: (1) gender biology (our bodies or biological sex – our sex assigned at birth based on appearance of genitals), (2) gender expression (how we dress and act), and (3) Gender identity (how we feel inside). For most kids, these three facets of gender line up and the kids are typically gendered boys or girls. For other kids, however, these three facets of gender align differently; these kids are Gender‐expansive, which includes transgender kids.
Although our society teaches us that there are only two genders—male and female—there are really many genders. Not all children fit neatly into a male or female gender identity. For some children, the sense of being “both” or “neither” best describes their reality. Some of these kids speak of being more of one some days and more of the other on different days; these children might best be described as gender fluid. These are all normal variations in human gender and do not mean something is wrong with a child. A child’s gender is not what others tell them, but who they know themselves to be.
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of a person’s identity, gender deeply influences every part of one’s life. In a society where this crucial aspect of self has been so narrowly defined and rigidly enforced, individuals who exist outside its norms face innumerable challenges. Even those who vary only slightly from the norm can become targets of disapproval. Yet this does not have to be the case forever.
Through a thoughtful consideration of the uniqueness and validity of every person’s experiences of self, we can develop greater acceptance for all. Not only will this create greater inclusion for individuals who challenge the norms of gender, it will actually create space for all individuals to more fully explore and celebrate who they are.