Cristina's daughter knew she was transgender from an early age. And rather than ignore the situation, Cristina listened. How would you have reacted?
When I was pregnant, I learned I was having a boy, and as every mother who finds out her child’s gender, I celebrated. When I gave birth, the nurses took my baby away, and I lay there worrying about how my child was doing. The nurses came back with my baby and told me: “What gorgeous eyes she has! She looks like a little ‘ranita’ (ie.female frog in Spanish)”. The comparison to a female frog was confusing to me, not because of the ‘frog’ but because of the ‘female’ part. My child was born a boy, after all.
With time, it was almost like a premonition that those same eyes and lashes spoke for themselves ever since she was a baby. Every time she was in the stroller, people would approach her and say: “What a beautiful little girl!”. And she would always have a smile on her face, as if hearing that made her so happy. And then I would have to answer: “No, he’s actually a boy!”.
As she grew up, she expressed “it” for the first time when she was almost 3 years old. At first, I just thought my child must be overly sensitive. I thought he was probably just gay. I was too unaware of gender identity, and how it could be expressed from an age as early as 2 or 3 years old.
When I wanted to look deeper into it and find information to help me understand, people would tell me: “Are you insane? That’s just impossible!”. Someone had even advised me to just slap it out of her, that it was just a phase and she would get over it. And fortunately, I have never laid a finger on my daughter. I knew violence was not the answer to my questions. I knew discussion and an open conversation was the way to go.
When Erika, my daughter, was 3 years old, she would already wear girly clothes when she went to her friends’ houses for play dates. When she turned 4, she asked me one morning, crying: “Why do you dress me up to go to school? Why do I have to dress differently from the other girls in my school? Why can’t I be like them?” I then told her that gender was assigned to someone based on their genitals, and that’s what I had been taught. “What if the doctors got it wrong?”, she answered.
It then hit me that she needed help. When she would go to sleep, I would stay up and look for more information about gender identity, transgenders and so on. Back then I couldn’t find the proper information I was looking for. I was hopeless, tired. The following year, as her birthday approached, she told me she was ready to have a proper girl birthday.
I would tell her: “Honey, how do you expect me to explain this to people, to your school? They’ll never believe me!”. She answered: “I know, Mom. But I’m tired of only being a girl at home. I want to be a girl anywhere I go!”.
I was scared that by letting her be the way she wanted to be, people would think I was crazy. I was scared that people would call social services on me for being a bad parent, and take her away! It was really complicated for me. Then one day, everything changed. The school director came to speak to me after school one day, and told me he had seen a really interesting documentary “El sexo sentido” (ie. ‘The feeling of gender”), and so I watched it that night. I was shocked to see that the story in the documentary, that of a young 5 year old transgender girl, was exactly what was happening in our household! The Spanish family in the documentary was so cool and open about it, it really gave me hope that mine would be too, and that we would deal with this as best as possible. I didn’t want my daughter to lose her childhood. I wanted her to be happy, and to be able to walk in a store and buy herself a dress if that’s what she wanted to do.
I have learned a great deal from adult transgender people - their lives, their experiences, what they had to go through. Many of them told me about the hardships they had to endure in coming out, the rejection they faced. I knew I didn’t want my child to face all of that.
Erika was a little girl who didn’t leave the house much, and when we did leave the house, she begged to go back. That was her safe space, her comfort zone. I knew she couldn’t keep living this way - even when we went to our friends’ house for dinner, she wouldn’t feel comfortable unless she was holding on to something that confirmed her gender identity, like a dress, a skirt, a girly handkerchief. “I’m a princess! I’m a princess!”, she would say. At this point, she also knew something wasn’t right with her.
“Mom, if I’m a girl, when will I be able to say that I am a girl?”
-When you’re older you can be whoever you want to be! But you need to wait to be an adult.
-Once you turn 18.
She would count her fingers desperately, and see how many years it would take her to reach 18 years old. It would make her cry, a lot. She didn’t understand why she had to wait to be whoever she really was. I knew whoever she wanted to be wasn’t just a superficial thing - it was a real gender dysphoria. It was real.
We decided to go see a psychiatrist and see what we had to do from there. The first visit there was chaotic. The psychiatrist hinted that my daughter was the way she was because she slept in the same bed as her father, because she slept better that way, and that therefore she was trying to play the part of a girl. I told her that theory was ridiculous - we never saw that shrink again.
I’ve always had trouble with people telling me I’m crazy in believing my own child, that I’m doing it wrong, that I’m not doing what’s best for her. It gives me anxiety. As a mother, not doing what’s best for your child is the last thing you want. My life without her is meaningless. If she’s happy, I’m happy. So if respecting her identity made her fully happy, then that’s what I decided to do, and it made me equally as happy. I don’t tell other people how they should live their lives, so why should others tell me how to live mine? I’m just respecting my child, and listening to what she has to say.
We saw another psychiatrist and got really lucky. She gave my daughter important advise on how to love herself and made her understand that there was nothing wrong with her. She introduced us to another centre for transgender people, and made me realize that my child had the right to hormone blockers, and a potential sex resignation. As glad as we were to hear this, things starting getting complicated.
At first, Erika’s school didn’t understand what she was going through, and they kept giving her grades out assigned to the male name she was given at birth. As much as we asked the school not to do so, they hinted that they couldn’t because of the board of national education. I then asked one of the doctors to sign a document to help Erika be called by her name - I believed adults would consider it legitimate. Erika would have nightmares of teachers calling her by her wrong name. The document to help us arrived, but it came in late. It stated that Erika couldn’t be called so until she was 18 years of age. I couldn’t believe it.
Even so, I never gave up fighting for my daughter’s identity. I thought about the documentary that had helped me understand what being transgender meant. At one point, they had mentioned ‘Chrysallis’, a Spanish association for parents of transgender children. That was my saving grace! I called them and spoke with one of the representatives there, and it was the best 2 hours of my life. The representative assured me I was right to believe my daughter and fight for her identity.
What my daughter Erika needed at this point, was for her father to accept her as a girl, and not as the biological boy she was born. We were at a camping trip where I offered my girlfriends to go to the pool. Right after, my daughter started unpacking her suitcase. She had brought a kitty-patched dress, a skirt, and four other female items of clothing.
“What are you doing?”, I asked.
-Mom, you said this was a girls’ trip! I brought my clothes.
-Sure, from now on you can call me ‘Erika’.
When we got home from that trip, I took her girl clothes and put them in the washing machine. Her Dad came to pick her up to go for dinner at her grandma’s, and asked her to get dressed so they could leave.
“Dad, I can’t find my clothes! I can’t find my clothes!”
-Don’t be stupid, he said while opening a drawer, your clothes are right here!
“No! The clothes I wore at the camping trip! Dad… I’d rather die than keep living as a boy. Can you help me?” , she cried.
So her dad took her to the nearest mall and called me on the way. He said: “Come to the mall,I’m buying our daughter new clothes”. As I arrived, I saw the look on her face. It was her expression, she was just so happy. As she picked some new clothes, we headed to the changing rooms so that she could try her new squirt on. She turned toward the store employee and told him:
-Finally, what?, he answered back.
“I’m finally a girl!”
I think that was the happiest day of her life. As we arrived back home, her father turned to me and asked: “Now what?”. I replied that we didn’t have to justify ourselves to anyone. Sure, we’d have to explain the baker, the butcher, and everyone else, but we could deal with that. At that point, we decided with 5-6 other families of transgender children, that the association ‘Chrysalis’ had to open a new branch right here in Catalunya, and we did!
I wonder many times, why people can’t just see the beauty there is in being human, in breathing, feeling, living. Why do people need to hate so much? Why do they have to hate people who are just people like them? You try putting a cisgender kid next to mine, and tell me if you spot any differences. You won’t.
I want my daughter to be raised with love, respect, acceptance and caring. I want her to be whoever she wants to be. If you don’t give your child love and support, they’ll end up running away from you and they’ll do whatever they feel like doing. You have to understand that you do not own your child - you are life partners. So when your child tries to tell you something, please listen and observe. Be aware of your child’s needs. The only regret I have with Erika is not having found out about it before. She had first spoken or showed me at around 2-3 years old, but it wasn’t until she was 5 that I really stepped in to help. But back then there wasn’t much information. Now there is.
As a parent, it’s normal that you fear for your child’s future. What will happen to them? What kind of life are they going to live? Some parents might look the other way. I would advise them not to. Your child can only live their childhood once, don’t waste it! Listen to your child, take them by the hand and help them out - let them know you’re there for them!