My Daughter Was Meant to Be a Boy

How one mom is navigating parenthood with a transgender child.

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I clearly remember the night I went into labor with my first child. It was around 6 p.m. on July 6, 1991—my 5th wedding anniversary. The pains started slowly at first, leaving time to celebrate with Thai food (that did not stay with me long) and for my husband to vacuum the house (last minute nesting?). Hours later I found out my doctor was on vacation and hours after that a nurse told me the umbilical cord might be wrapped around my baby’s neck hence the long labor. It was not an ideal birth.

Then at 11:18 a.m., after a suction marathon by a fill-in doc with very strong Popeye-like arms, I heard the infant cry and that fateful announcement, “It’s a girl!”

While I never really told my child, I had secretly wanted a boy. I had grown up a girl, had a sister and I guess I just wanted the experience of having a boy. I had the manly name of “Jack” ready to go on that birth certificate with visions of watching him catch the winning touchdown and put a nurturing arm around me when I had a walker and gray hair. Instead, I had “Hallie.” A healthy baby girl by all biological sex standards, plus all 10 toes, big eyes and an Apgar score off the charts.

My quiet disappointment faded and blossomed into intense love and admiration for my brilliant though different child. Hallie liked playing with dolls (if only to make up stories) and discovered Harry Potter at age 5 before entering a gifted program a year later. The kid liked dresses until about age 7 then came a Gothic black clothing phase with short blonde hair and goofy glasses. While I sometimes wondered about Hallie’s sexuality, I didn’t think much about my baby’s gender again until 13 years later when I heard the words “Mom…I’m transgender.”

Now keep in mind this was before Chaz Bono had come out, or Laverne Cox had made a splash on Orange is the New Black. I chalked up this announcement to adolescence and an article in Oprah’s magazine about a transgender man with a female partner. At the time the response had been rolled eyes; my 13-year-old identified as a lesbian but reminded me that this was not the same as being transgender. Apparently some thinking had been done since then. I later found out that my kid had gone on to do further research and had found a slew of vlogs (video blogs) from other trans youth online—it was those more than the article in Oprah that precipitated this coming-out.

We let this announcement simmer for a while. When high school started, Hallie began to present publicly as a boy and shortened his name to Hal. We sought both psychologist and psychiatrist counseling and diagnosis, putting my kiddo through the ringer with insulting pronouns, denial and far too many sessions at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. He was miserable, and soon became depressed.

Looking back, what we should have done is totally trusted our child. As parents, however, we like to think we know best and are doing things “in the best interest of our child.” We didn’t want to make any decisions that we or they would regret later in life. Eventually, however, we realized that Hal knew himself best. I will never forget the night I questioned him for the zillionth time and he looked at me with tears in his eyes outside karate class and said, “Mom, why would I choose this?” It broke my heart and shut me up for good.

My husband and I sought help, and attended an amazing support group with other parents of transgender children, some as young as 2 and as old as 35. They were all over the gender spectrum: female-to-male, male-to-female, questioning and non-binary. These were our kids and despite societal “norms” of gender, it didn’t really matter what was between their legs that made us love them. It was their personalities and hearts and souls.

From there we got into serious research mode, finding out how to legally change Hallie’s name to Hal; getting the correct gender noted on his driver’s license and passport, about hormones  (long-term health impacts vs. psychological benefits), and eventually, top surgery. It was not an easy journey. Hal was verbally bullied in school, and most of his teachers did not pay attention when he told them that he was trans and wanted to be referred to with “he/him” pronouns. We also had to gently tell our aging parents they had a grandson; and aggressively fight for my son’s right to use the bathroom of his identified gender at his high school (we won!). Hardest of all was facing the mental health of my younger child, a girl, who pretended it was “all OK.” She, at age 11, offered meaningful support to Hal, but did not properly get to process and missed out on parental attention during the years Hal transitioned socially.

Today Hal is awaiting college acceptance letters and has a boyfriend. I am thankful my kids live in a fairly liberal community that is pretty accepting. I know that is not true throughout the country or world over. People are murdered for being trans, especially women, especially women of color. I know of another trans couple who fled their home in the South in fear of having their child taken away by the state. But times are changing. Over the past several years more media focus on celebrities, children’s books, legal cases, school laws and unfortunately violence has resulted in positive headlines about some amazing transgender people.

My son is one of them —and I couldn’t be prouder.