The freedom to love my trans kid as he is

by Jamey Gallagher

Last weekend, my son Alex graduated from Bennington College. I am incredibly proud of the young man he has become. He is much stronger than I was at his age. He knows exactly who he is. He is a poet and a scholar, who happens to be trans and gay. If it were not for gender-affirming care, I don’t think he would be here today.

The fact that the state assemblies in Alabama and Texas are both passing laws that would make providing gender-affirming care a felony on the part of health care providers or “child abuse” on the part of parents is shocking.

I want to stand with those parents whose children are going through what my son went through at 12 years old, and I want to stand with those young people who are trying to become who they know they are. It’s hard for me to imagine how difficult it would be to be a parent of a trans child in one of those states right now. It is challenging enough already.

Prior to going on puberty-blockers and starting to transition, my son exhibited severe symptoms of mental illness. He scratched his neck raw, he knocked on doorways before entering rooms, and he was cutting himself. That time period was one of the most difficult in my life. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I couldn’t figure out how to help my child. I didn’t realize at the time how much those symptoms stemmed from his gender dysphoria.

His transition was a process, and it happened a little at a time. As a parent I came to respect his decisions more and more, because it was clear that they were the right decisions for him. I didn’t have enough vocabulary or understanding at the time — even though I had been to graduate school and thought I understood gender performativity — and hormone therapy seemed like a very serious road to go down.

At first I was against hormone therapy, but after a while my child convinced me, through his experiences and his attitude, that it was the right thing to do. The symptoms were getting better. He was becoming happy again.

The transition was far more difficult for him, and for other young people going through it, than it was for me. The difficulty for parents is minimal, but it is there. It takes some time to accept the changes. Once the changes are accepted, everything becomes easier. I’m not sure many people realize how much it takes for parents to come to terms with these changes, even parents like me, parents who consider themselves fully supportive.

And I know how important where you live can be to families who have a gender nonconforming child. We had moved from rural south Jersey, where the transition would have been much more difficult, to just outside Baltimore. Going to local high schools where my son was not the only trans or LGBTQ student was hugely important.

The changes are difficult, but for most trans youth they are the right ones. The myth of the poor decision has been debunked — the vast majority of young trans people don’t revert. As parents, it can be difficult to trust that our children know what is right for them, but by the numbers more trans children know who they are than we might expect. We should trust them.

These assaults on trans rights come from a place of fear and derision, but we should approach this issue from a place of love. As a parent, I stand by those other parents fighting to do what is right for their own children. With all the discourse about freedom in our country today, it’s ironic that one of the most basic freedoms is being denied to these parents — the freedom to love their own kids and to do what is right by them.

Jamey Gallagher is an associate professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County.