The One Thing You Need to Know About Raising a Transgender Child 

My daughter.

Marlo Mack

The one thing I want you to know is that I’m just like you.

I know our story sounds intriguingly alien. I’ve seen your faces in the break room at the office, on the playground, at dinner parties. You fall silent and cut short your other conversations when you hear me say that at the tender age of 4, my son became my daughter.

I don’t blame you. I find our story fairly implausible, too. Just a few years ago, how many of us had heard of a transgender child? And I have asked (more times than you can imagine) all the same questions you are dying to ask me: “How could such a young child know this about herself?” “What if it’s a phase?” “What on earth will happen when puberty hits?”

And I have agonized over all the same questions my fellow feminists level at me: “Why should gender matter so much?” “Don’t you know it’s all a social construct?” “Why can’t your child just be a child?” I spend days searching in vain for satisfactory answers to these excellent questions, wondering about the childhood that might have been, in a pure and beautiful world that doesn’t exist.

I think you want to know whether I put up a good fight, as you would no doubt have done. I did.

Like you, I grew up with Jerry Springer. If television taught us anything about transgender people, it certainly wasn’t anything wholesome, anything a mother in her right mind would want to associate with her precious child. Of course I put up a fight, just as you would have done. When my little boy insisted he was actually a girl, I consulted every book and website and psychologist I could lay my hands on, trying to understand this thing no parenting manual even mentioned. And I pushed back for a long and miserable year, coaxing and cajoling my child to make a go of it as a boy, until my kid got so sad I feared I’d lose her.

The other thing I want you to know is that my child is just like yours.

Just like your daughter, she is never questioned about her gender, because she looks like every other 8-year-old girl on the playground, her pink dress flapping behind her as she races out to play, her skinny legs wrapped in purple leggings, her wild long hair whipping across her happy face.

Just like your daughter, she uses the girls’ bathroom at school (and everywhere else), locking the stall door discreetly, because she knows that privates are private. Like your daughter, she’s officially enrolled at school as a girl, because that’s what she is (and that’s what it now says on her newly modified birth certificate), and no, I did not describe my child’s genitals to the school district officials or the principal or any of the other parents. (Did you?) We did quietly notify her teacher and the school counselor, because we’re realistic; she’ll likely need some allies at some point.

Like your kid, she was still tiny and toddling when she mastered the mysterious rules of gender and settled comfortably into her place within that powerful system. Perhaps the way in which she is most like your child is in her unwavering certainty of the absolute rightness of her gender and the absolute absurdity of being asked to reconsider something as self-evident as her girlhood.

Like you, I’ve been tasked with safeguarding and launching an alien creature I’ll never entirely understand. Like you, I know that the wisdom of a hundred wise great-aunts and a thousand parenting books won’t ever be quite enough to answer all my questions or to ensure that the big, bad world will be gentle with my baby.

Like you, I love my child with a ferocity that sometimes terrifies me, and I’d pave the world with pillows to protect her if I could. Like you, I know I can’t, but I’ll still try.