"I'm not right," my old-souled 8-year-old child says upon discovering that our weathered mailbox sits empty yet another day. With a classmate's birthday party on the horizon, we wait anxiously for an invitation that never comes. These words, simple yet profound, slice through my flesh, piercing a hole in my heart, causing me pain that's greater than I can bear. It's a pain I have come to know all too well raising a transgender child.
It wasn't always this way, at least not in the beginning. With 10 fingers and toes, a perfect Apgar score, and no obvious birth defects, our healthy firstborn was greeted with celebration. Yes, on that blue-sky August afternoon I delivered a beautiful baby who came wrapped in a blanket of hopes and dreams that were not meant to be, at least not as we envisioned them when the doctor divulged the secret -- "It's a girl!" -- that we'd been patiently waiting to learn for nine months. Truth be told, no one in our delivery room that day, from the medical staff to my husband and me, could have guessed how wrong the doctor's proclamation would turn out to be.
From the time of our child's birth until the age of 3, we lived in a state of naïve bliss, a magical land of new parenthood where we believed we were raising a girl, a beautiful little girl who would be Snow White on Halloween, wear red-velvet dresses and matching patent-leather shoes during the holidays, and go by the name of Samantha. Never mind the fact that this child preferred Matchbox cars to Barbies, bulldozers to baby dolls. Society had graciously given us the "tomboy" label to justify our child's behavior, which we gladly used as a wishful excuse. But all too soon it became hard to ignore the earnest pleas for the McDonald's Happy Meal that included the boy's toy, or the innocent requests to wear male clothes, right down to the boxer-shorts underwear -- pleas and requests that occurred daily. They were our child's only way of telling us that there was something wrong, a disconnect between mind and body.
"You are pioneers," the initial group of doctors told us, their tone implying that we should be proud, when we had our first meeting to discuss the gender-atypical behavior we knew extended well beyond "normal." We were "pioneers" because, as we quickly learned, there was very little research or data on transgender children. I remember my mind flashing back to Little House on the Prairie, a favorite television show from my youth, about pioneers and their hardships, which now seemed oh-so-simple compared to what our family was facing. Pushing through the mounting fear, not because we were brave but because we knew the physical and mental well-being of our child depended upon it, we hitched up a team of doctors -- pediatricians, endocrinologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists -- and began to plough through the field of medicine searching for answers to help our child become whole.
Over the last five years Sam, as he is now known, has endured innumerable pokes and prods to his body and soul -- puberty-blocking drug injections and seemingly baseless psycho-babble questions -- so that he can be the person he has always known himself to be, inside and out. At the same time our family has embraced that pioneer spirit, ploughing through not only the medical field but the field of education, to ensure that our child is safe at school. Working with teachers we have circled the wagons to combat the daily attacks of harassment and bullying from fellow classmates who lack empathy and derive pleasure from inflicting emotional pain.
Equally importantly, our family has learned to be advocates. Appearing in front of medical professionals, school officials, friends, fellow students, and parents, we stand side-by-side with Sam as we explain a subject that is unfamiliar to most people and misunderstood by society at large. With every opportunity to share a glimpse of what it is like to walk in his shoes -- shoes that are well-worn because of the rough and uncharted road he has already traveled in his short life -- we feel encouraged knowing that one more person might go forward with a new appreciation and understanding of people like Sam. Indeed, nothing prepares you for the challenges of raising a transgender child, but with unconditional love and acceptance we believe we are showing our child and everyone who knows our family that gender alone does not define the person.