‘I want to transition,” my son repeated, a little more tentatively than the first time he’d spoken those words just moments earlier, no doubt unsure of how I was going respond.
But there it was. And for a few moments, it was just the three of us – Skye, me and that sentence – in the car on the way back to our home in Eastern North Carolina.
I paused for a moment and nodded contemplatively before responding. Then, in what I hoped was a calm and measured tone – but probably with a dose of disbelief – said, “Uh, OK.” Another pause followed. “Wait a second. You changed your mind not fewer than seven times yesterday in Kohl’s just picking out a shirt to buy! And you’re sure about this?”
In short, yes. Skye, who had been our daughter for 14 years, was quite sure. I was the one now playing catch-up, as was everyone in the family. I was fearful of the unknown. I was grieving the “loss” of my daughter. I struggled with pronouns. The questions rattled around my head. What would happen to my child? What would people do and say? I struggled to find a way out, but none was apparent.
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A boy all along
Fortunately, nuggets of insight have a weird way of hitting us out of the blue, and often when we’re looking the other way: We had a boy all along, and we just didn’t know it. It was this thought that made the difference. After this, a lot of things began to make a whole lot more sense. Which was important because Skye’s mom and I quickly realized that this was our coming out as well.
We now had to meet with the school to cover things like restroom access, use of proper pronouns and, of course, the personal safety issues. But there were subtler aspects, too. How do we respond when someone we hadn’t seen in awhile asks about our daughter? How much do we disclose and to whom? In the end, there really was only one course of action that made sense. Rather than try to keep track of what we’ve said to whom and who knew what, we decided to be completely open and honest with everyone. We weren’t going to try to hide anything because there was nothing that needed hiding. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Transgender kids are just that – kids, first and foremost. And they happen to be transgender. There are parents and families who love them and want to do their best to support them. They want their children to be safe and to thrive, to be at peace in their own skin and ultimately to find their place in this world. This is absolutely the case with my son, Skye.
As of today, the statistics for transgender children are alarming. They need all the love and support they can get. And the more we, as parents of transgender kids, can do to show the world that our children are loved and supported unconditionally, the sooner the public consciousness can begin to evolve and grow. It is in this spirit that I welcomed the opportunity to be a part of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Dads for Transgender Equality” project.
I know a lot of people are still learning about what it means to be transgender. To be clear, the medical establishment has consensus on the issue – affirming transgender children in their transition is critical. But I’m not going to lie. It took time for me to learn and understand, and it continues today. We are all playing catch-up. But we must not lose sight of the humanity of the people at the center of this conversation. People like my son Skye.
Our state legislature and our governor have made it harder for parents like me to raise our children in this state. Contrary to what some politicians say, treating my son with dignity and respect and affirming his identity do not hurt anyone.
I’m not an advocate. I’m just a dad trying to protect and help my child. He isn’t a threat. He isn’t a political point. He’s a kid with parents who love him.
Keith Thomson lives in Winterville.