Loving Families with Transgender Children

When transgender children begin to live into their gender identities, their parents often “transition” socially and emotionally alongside their children. In Transitions of the Heart, a collection of stories by mothers of transgender children, we meet Tracie Stratton and Izzy. “Izzy would lay in bed every night and tell me he was a boy,” Tracie writes. “He’d say, ‘God made a mistake,’ or ask, ‘Why does God hate me?’… ‘Am I going to be an abominable snow man?’ (This last question stemmed from Izzy unfortunately overhearing a conversation in which one of the church ladies stated that Izzy was ‘an abomination of God.’) I had no idea how to answer all of his questions.”

Most transgender Christians and their families are searching for the same things that other believers want: a connection to their God within a loving community where worship and working for equality and justice are the focus of the Christian experience. Unfortunately, like Tracie and Izzy, they are too often left without a place to call their “church home” because most congregations and religious institutions are not ready to welcome them as their Christian companions.

Here is an excerpt of Tracie and Izzy’s story in Transitions of the Heart:

I knew the therapy we had originally tried was failing, because my child was more and more unhappy, and, in retrospect, possibly suicidal. And then one Sunday it happened. We are not churchgoers, but my ex-husband attends a church that is not exactly “welcoming.” The kids were with my ex, who was trying to put a dress on Izzy to get ready for church. After tantrums from both my ex-husband and Izzy, Tyfany, Izzy’s older sister, found Izzy standing in the middle of a somewhat busy street. When she asked him what he was doing, he said he would rather die than be a girl. I realized then that I had a suicidal five-year-old child who needed help.

So, I started letting Izzy be a boy at home, wearing what- ever clothes he wanted, and playing with whatever toys he chose. Most of these things had previously been removed from our home after some really bad advice from ill-informed “experts.” We had been trying for a while to have everything be “female” around the house, and we even created a special “girls’ club.” I think Izzy would have loved to have been a girl just so this terrible nightmare would end. In fact, he really tried to act like a girl for a while to appease us, yet would always say things like, “See I could make a cute girl if I wanted to, but I’m really a boy.” It took a while for us to really get that message.

One day my husband, Izzy’s stepdad Buzz, was having a hard time getting Izzy ready for school. He decided to just let Izzy wear the boys’ shirt with the car on it that day. His message on my phone went something like, “Honey don’t be mad, I know we said not to let Izzy wear boys’ clothes out of the house, but I had to get the kid to school.” Later there was another message: “You’re not going to believe this, but Izzy is playing with other kids! It’s amazing. I can’t believe it.” Izzy never played with other kids; he never had friends. Not a girl and not a “real” boy, Izzy never fit in and usually felt isolated and depressed. It seemed as though this were about to change.

When I asked Izzy later if he was teased that day for wearing boys’ clothes, he replied that only one kid had said anything, and it was only to tell him he was wearing a boys’ shirt. No teasing ever ensued. By that spring Izzy had transitioned, and later that summer, we used only male pronouns when referring to him. Izzy was so happy, and we had a huge birthday party of all his friends from school. This was the turning point. Many of the kids’ parents who attended did not have a clue about Izzy’s gender, and some people were upset by this. Was Izzy a boy or a girl? I have had many conversations like this along the way.

The full story is available at The Advocate.

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle, and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children is available from Cleis Press.

Creating a Loving Space at Your Church

Take some time to read MLP’s Gender Identity and Expression resources page. We are currently featuring two resources: TransACTION, a transgender curriculum for churches and religious institutions and Pastoral Care in Transgender Experience, by Rev. Erin K. Swenson, a transgender Presbyterian  pastor. Once you are better educated about welcoming transgender folk and their families, think about inviting a member of the transgender community to help you teach a class using TransACTION as the curriculum.