I used to think I had identical twin sons. I was wrong.
With the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d understood that sooner. For five years my daughter had to wait for the adults in her life to wake up and understand what she was telling us - that she wasn’t our son, she was our daughter.
We thought it was a phase and we stuck our heads in the sand. We hoped for something else, anything else but this. Our panic, fueled by a fear of the unknown, blinded us for a while to the fact we had a happy, healthy kid - exactly what we’d prayed for when we were expecting our much-loved babies. The sky wasn't really falling in.
By the end of Grade 4, in primary school, it became apparent that a social gender transition was necessary for her ongoing well-being. This meant she would be returning in Grade 5 as a girl, with a new name.
I was terrified for her.
Our family has been so fortunate to be able to access the services of ‘Working It Out’. It’s Tasmania’s support service for the LGBTI community (LGBTI = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex). They helped us through this process, always checking as to how the school, my child, and our family wanted to handle it.
Professional development training was provided for all the school staff, from the groundspeople to the principal. Some staff even came in on their scheduled holiday as they wanted to learn how to support my daughter and the other students during this transition time.
I tentatively contacted the parents of other kids in her grade, scared of their possible response. I was relieved when we received a wave of support. There was no shock, no surprise - my daughter had never been shy about who she was, and their children understood.
Our experience has been that children are rarely confused about my daughter’s gender transition, whereas adults are more likely to struggle. That’s not surprising to me as for most of my life, people who are transgender were almost invisible to me, with the exception of the occasional supposedly funny, but essentially cruel, punchline in some movie or TV show.
I imagine this would be the experience of many of my generation. We may have a bit more insight now that brave individuals and families have gone public and shared their stories. But I think there’s still a long way for many of us to go to understand and appreciate what we can do to create schools and communities that are fully inclusive and safe for transgender people.
Working It Out’s ongoing involvement in Tasmania’s anti-bullying program is vital for many families like ours, benefiting not just children like our daughter, but their siblings, their cousins, their friends, their classmates and whole school communities. It doesn’t take away from any other children getting the help they need in regards to other forms of bullying and harassment. It’s just another tool, and another source of expertise, which can be drawn upon at the discretion of teachers and principals who are wanting to help all their students thrive in school, no matter what their gender identity or sexuality.
My daughter is wonderful and I’m proud of her - she’s smart, funny and a loyal friend. My sincere hope is that my fellow Tasmanians can open their hearts and minds, and unconditionally support her, and other LGBTI young people, to reach their full potential. They deserve nothing less, as they are an important part of our future.
- The author is the parent of a child who is transgender.