My son believes he is female and I am finding it incredibly difficult

Tell me about it: My son calls me transphobic and hasn’t spoken to me in months

PROBLEM: I am a mother of a 20-year-old son, an only child with whom I have always had a close and loving relationship. In his early adolescents he briefly attended a psychiatric service due to emotional difficulties that he was experiencing. During his leaving cert year our son told us that he believed he was truly a female.

He changed to a gender-neutral name on all his social media sites and his friends, companions and his father now refer to him by this, he also chooses to be referred to as she or her. He also wears female or gender-neutral clothes. He has recently asked his GP for a referral for gender reassignment to include hormone treatment and perhaps surgery.

I have done a lot of research on this and have been in touch with several relevant voluntary and statutory agencies to ensure that I am fully informed. You will notice by this letter that I still refer to him as a male. I find this incredibly difficult to deal with, this is my son who I gave birth to, that I clothed as a boy and I dreamt of becoming a man, a husband and father.

I have read that there are often subtle signs in early childhood that someone is unhappy with their gender I cannot remember noticing any such signs. My husband firmly supports our son and he is furious with my resistance, he believes that I could be damaging our son. My son refers to me as transphobic and even though he still lives at home, he hasn’t spoken to me in months. A friend of mine has suggested that I may be grieving the loss of my son and has advised that I need to start showing my daughter that I love her.

But to do this I need to say goodbye to my son and how can I do this.

ADVICE: The first principle of parenting is love and it is usually the nearest we come to experiencing unconditional love – this is what your child deserves and needs from you. In the parenting situation, the focus needs to be on the child and as your 20-year-old is still living at home and is not yet independent, they are still your child and you are their parent. It is not your job to be an investigator of whether you believe that your child is truly trans, it is your job to be their back up, their unquestioning supporter and their champion.

It may be that your dreams will not be fulfilled but then it is not, and never will be, the child’s job to fulfil the parent’s dreams – their job is to create and follow their own dreams. To quote the book The Prophet on the question of children: “They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.”

Your child has had the courage to challenge convention and claim an identity for themselves, they have had to expose their innermost selves to the commentary of the world and for this they should be admired and lauded. To move further into the above quote “you may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you” is something you might take on as if you try to emulate your daughter, you will grow in courage and determination. At the moment, you are making this situation about you and it really is much more about your child.

You feel that you are in grief having lost a son, but your daughter has lost a mother, and this is a lifelong burden – to be rejected by the one person who is always supposed to be there for you. You say that you have researched this topic, but beyond research is the need to connect with other parents who have been through this situation and have thrived: TENI offer a Gender Identity Family Support Line: 01 907 3707 and from there you can join a parent’s group somewhere near you.

You have an only child whom you are in the process of rejecting because they do not conform to your version of what their life should be. It is likely that if you do not change your attitude soon, you will lose the possibility of decades of love and relationship and the cause will be your own prejudice. Your child is bravely living the life that they got, can you not do the same and open yourself up to the challenge of parenting – to offer unconditional love and support to one person over whose life you have such impact.