EPISODE #94

Raising a Transgender Child

EPISODE #94

Raising a Transgender Child

Eight years ago, Marlo Mack (not her real name) gave birth to a boy.

Marlo-Mack-baby-band

Or, at least, that’s what she thought.

Three years in, Marlo’s kiddo was insisting that he was a she. At first, Marlo just figured she had a different kind of boy. A boy who played with princesses and wore tutus and liked to have long hair. But Marlo’s kid made it clear: she didn’t just need girl things. She needed to be *seen* as a girl.

Marlo's daughter

Marlo’s daughter

Self-portrait by Marlo's daughter

Self-portrait by Marlo’s daughter

Marlo wanted to do right by her child, but it was so hard to know what was right. She had all kinds of questions—they’re the questions you’re probably wondering, too.

Marlo-Mack-question-1

Marlo-Mack-question-2

Marlo went into research mode, and ultimately decided that forcing her kid to be a girly boy was not the route she wanted to take.

detransification-frames

But what would it mean to raise a girl who she’d initially thought was a boy. And WTF is a girl, anyway? Marlo started a podcast, to help herself work through these super perplexing questions. It’s called How to Be a Girl. And it’s a must-listen.

Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Marlo talk about mourning the loss of her boy, celebrating her girl, and navigating the minefields of school, playdates, and bathroom bills with a transgender child. Plus, Marlo’s kiddo comes up with one of the best superpowers of all time.

Resources for Parents of Transgender Kids

Marlo felt totally lost when she first had a feeling her child might be transgender. Here are some resources she’s found helpful.

Trans Youth Family Allies provides resources for parents, educators, healthcare practitioners and youth about gender identity and expression.

PFLAG Transgender maintains local chapters of parents supporting LGBT children.

Gender Odyssey organizes conferences on gender variations and provides support for families and communities.

Gender Spectrum seeks to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens through consultations, trainings, and events. They even have a Spanish language support group.

In addition to her podcast, Marlo writes a blog about life with her daughter. Gendermom is a valuable resource for anyone who has a trans kid—or thinks they might have a trans kid—and for people who want to be more informed about the first generation of trans kids who are allowed to live in a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. This post is a great place to start.

And this charming animation tells the start of Marlo and her daughter’s story.

Also check out our series on The Accidental Gay Parents, for the perspective of a trans parent!

How do you talk to YOUR kids about gender? How did your parents talk to YOU?
And what makes a girl a girl? Your thoughts, please.

Illustrations: Marlo Mack

Our sponsors for this episode are Kiwi CrateHooked on Phonics,  Chatbooks, Thirdlove and Horizon Organics. Use these links to access special deals for LST listeners! 

25 thoughts on “EPISODE #94: Raising a Transgender Child

  1. Thank you for a wonderful show and to Marlo for being so open about her experiences. We also have a transgender daughter, one year younger than hers, and it is always quite emotional to hear others going through the same adventures with love and acceptance. I am a big fan of How To Be A Girl.

    Our transgender daughter has a wide range of interests, from trains to princesses to volcanos, and we love that she does not feel tied into a gender stereotype. She even steps outside of gender altogether at times, saying “I am not a boy or a girl, I am transgender.” We also have three year old twins, a boy and a girl, who adore her. Our experiences raising her have helped us be much more neutral with the twins. For example, we identify all of the kids clothing as gender neutral and it is not uncommon for our son to wear one of the gender neutral dresses to pre-school or for our younger daughter to go swimming with just shorts on.

    When we first had kids, my husband and I worried about what people would think of gay parents raising children. Our experience with our trans daughter helped us realize what all loving parents learn – it’s not about us, it’s about the children. That has made it a lot easier to ignore or avoid negative comments or judging. Like all the other accepting parents of trans children, we’ve taken up the responsibility of caring for the children that are in front of us, not some idea of what they should be but what they actually are.

    With respect to discrimination and safety, I have learned to be very open with my daughter, even though it is difficult. We talk mostly about generalities, not specific harmful events (although we do talk about public events when they affect us, such as the shooting in Orlando). Our main teaching is that our family rule is that each person decides for themselves what their gender is and who they fall in love with, but other families have different rules. It’s not her fault or concern if others disagree or are confused, but she does need to know that some people are mean to those that they consider to be different. Our rule is to be kind and respectful whether we agree or not – others are wrong to be mean but we will do our job to keep her as safe as possible.

  2. Wow, this was a tough one to listen to, it hits so close to home. My son is three and a half and since his third birthday, he’s been obsessed with princesses. He started out borrowing a friend’s dress and it’s snowballed into all he will wear is princess dresses. The poufier (is that a word?) the better. He says he doesn’t ever want to wear boy clothes again. I’ve seen kids snub him or laugh at him on the playground and it doesn’t seem to bother him…yet. My husband and I (also splitting up) support him 100%, but I think since he’s so young, we’re in wait and see mode. I know we will need to pull our heads out of the sand sooner than later. I have such anxiety about his future. The thought of kids rejecting or tormenting my sweet little guy tears me apart. I will definitely be checking out Marlo’s podcast. I’d love to find other moms in my situation in my city if possible. Thanks so much for sharing Marlo!

  3. Marlo, I was so inspired by your story and you search to be the best possible parent for your girl. As a gay parent, what you said about play dates really hit home with me. Though it’s not the same situation, I worry so much about my son making friends with someone who will not be allowed to come to our house because he has two moms. I got out of my way to come out to every parent I meet so we can know right away who is comfortable and who isn’t. It can be uncomfortable, but I don’t know how else to protect him.

    A year ago we had to explain to him that some people really hate families like ours and wish we didn’t exist. He had a kid in his first grade class who kept telling him “my family prays every night that your parents get divorced so you can have a dad.” And once we started answering his questions he had more and more and soon we were talking about the long history of violence and discrimination and hatred and it just broke my heart wide open. The desire to protect is so strong. And yet, like you, I don’t want him to hear this stuff from someone else in an even more hurtful way.

    So thank you for sharing and for reminding me that we’re all in this together, trying to raise kids who will stand up for themselves and each other.

  4. I was relieved to find out my twins were boy/girl when I was pregnant. It meant that by default they would have access to toys and clothing of both genders. I strive to find items for the kids that are gender neutral which becomes extremely frustrating after the baby stage. By default it seems that gender neutral really means boy gendered items. It is more acceptable for a girl to be boyish than for boys to wear or like girl items. I love to see parents supporting their children’s choices. Every day I strive not to impose gender stereotypes on my twins, but it does happen without noticing sometimes. The blessing of boy/girl twins is seeing how little the “typical” gender traits matter. They are kids.

  5. I appreciate you doing this important show. One point that I think is important to clarify. The drugs that stop puberty, hormone blockers, can have long lasting side effects. I am a physician and felt like it would be irresponsible for anyone to think there are no potential short term or long term side effects from these strong pharmaceutical medication.

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Thanks so much for your feedback. Can you let us know what long lasting side effects you mean?
      -Abigail, LST producer.

  6. Such a wonderful and important show. Very grateful that I heard it and grateful to Marlo for sharing.
    My husband and I also live in Seattle. We are raising two young children. One of whom is (currently) a boy (1) and one of whom is (currently) a girl (3). I am a sociologist and understand gender as something that is socially constructed. We chose not to know the sex of our first child because we wanted to avoid early gendering–and we were relatively successful, in my opinion. Despite all of my beliefs about gender as socially constructed and efforts to encourage some amount of fluidity with my children, after my son was born, I found myself heaping my daughter’s “girl” outfits in a giveaway pile. I stopped myself and saved some of our favorite dresses for our son. After all, if we tell our daughter that both boys and girls can wear dresses, it is incredibly hypocritical of me to remove that option from my son. It’s moments like these that I realize just how deeply ingrained our conceptions of gender are.

  7. Thank you so much for this episode. It was completely amazing and thoughtful and brave and confusing and thought provoking.

  8. A friend told me to listen to this episode because it reminded her of my son, Eli. I have to say, I had a block against it and took several months to actually listen to the whole episode. Why? Because I’m jealous of the certainty this mom and her daughter have about her daughter’s gender. Sounds crazy, right? Our story fits this one in so many ways. Eli has consistently, persistently, and insistently, worn ‘girl’ clothes and played with ‘girl’ toys since he could express his wishes, even before he could talk. Actually, he’s never even gone through a phase where he showed ANY interest in boy stuff, much to his Star Wars-loving older brother’s disappointment. BUT, he’s never said he’s a girl. We have always been supportive and accepting of him, and I have to believe in my heart he knows he can live the life he knows to be true, but for now at least, it is not as ‘simple’ for him as picking a gender. I am so thankful for the recent increase in education and support for the transgender community, but every time, I get a little twinge of jealousy because for us, it’s still something we’re figuring out. I love sharing Eli’s story (with his permission, of course) so that others know gender can be so very-heartbreakingly-complex. Thank you, for sharing this story with such positivity. I did, of course, listen to its entirety, and although it doesn’t fit our story completely, it’s always good to hear other parents navigating these tough issues with love and reflection.

  9. Powerful episode, definitely heart-wrenching.

    I must say, though, that comparing this experience to that of an African American mother with her daughter completely threw me. Yes, both situations have nuances and struggles, but–at least for the time being, pre-puberty–the fact that a child is transgender is not visible to the world, whereas someone’s skin color is up for people to judge and react to without being told anything. There is a real danger there that Black parents don’t get to hide from their children because these kids live it everyday from the time they are born.

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