My husband thinks it is all nonsense and a fad
PROBLEM: Since our only child was an infant I had doubts over his sexuality or gender preference. He often stole his cousin’s dolls and would become upset at Christmas when Santa would bring a toy tractor instead of a kitchen set. I am not sure why but I never discussed this with anyone. He is now 15 and attending an all-boys rugby school.
Six months ago I found him waxing his face. When I discussed this with him, he appeared frightened and tearful and told me that he hated having facial hair. Over a period of several weeks, we had many discussions and he disclosed that he would rather be a girl. He hates going to the boys’ school and says he is terrified the other lads will find out.
I told him that I loved him and would do whatever I could to protect him and help him be whomever he wants to be. Two months ago we both sat down with my husband, who is usually quite liberal-minded, and our son stated that he wished to start the early steps of the gender-transitioning process.
My husband hugged him, but later, when we were on our own, told me that he thinks this is all nonsense and a fad. He has now completely stopped spending time with our son. I have arranged for my son to see a counsellor, but how do I help my husband accept our child and prevent his behaviour from causing our son any long-term psychological damage?
ADVICE: Your question is about your husband, but first it is important to acknowledge your unquestioning support and love for your child, who had the great courage to open up to you. Luckily, we now live in a society that can talk about gender, but there is a long way to go for full acceptance for those who hope to transition.
Younger people now have access to more support than was previously available, and schools are beginning to invite training opportunities for staff on this issue.
Teni (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) is 10 years old and has helped pave the way for discussion, advocacy, education and support for trans people and their families in Ireland (teni.ie).
Trans or transgender refers to people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the gender assigned to them at birth.
Your child has struggled and been “frightened” by his experience of gender. Puberty must have been extremely difficult, as he faced the development of a body that felt uncomfortable.
That he is going to see a counsellor is positive, as he will come to understand that he has no pathology but rather is experiencing the trauma of not feeling he can express himself fully in the gender he was assigned to at birth.
No doubt he experiences what many young people speak about: fear and shame, together with the possibility of stigma and rejection. What can offset these are connection, communication and the understanding of those around them; but on a societal level everyone can offer support by making sure there are policies in every school and organisation that challenge prejudice and exclusion of anyone on the basis of gender or sex.
Your husband might be going through a tough time, perhaps struggling with the loss of being a father to a son and the loss of how he imagined the future for his child.
It might take some time for him to come to acceptance. If he could connect with other parents who have been through a similar experience, he might find it very helpful. Teni runs a group for parents called TransParenCI in three locations around the country, and the feedback about this group is very positive.
When your husband first heard about the possibility of transitioning, his initial response was very good: he hugged his child. This reflects well on his instinct, which is to protect.
However, it seems that he is now at the early stages of coping with the adjustment. Your child might see his reticence as rejection, so it is important to speak compassionately to your husband so that he does not feel attacked, while at the same time helping him to understand the important role he plays in the emotional wellbeing of his very vulnerable child.
This is a process that the whole family is going through, and it will take time to understand, so no one should feel under pressure to rush to conclusions.
Knowledge is a powerful thing, so even if your husband refuses to go to TransParenCI, you could go and keep the topic live in your house at ordinary times such as mealtimes and demonstrate that you all have questions and uncertainties, and this is okay.