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Lisa Willis Photography

My Life: Our Beautiful Transgender Child

Learning to Love Unconditionally When Your Baby Boy Is Really a Girl


This is a story about love and acceptance, and about raising a very young transgender child: our daughter.

I never pictured myself raising a transkid. In fact, until my child was given that label by a specialist in Los Angeles, I didn’t even know what the word transgender meant. And I never imagined that this word, whatever it was, could apply to a young child.

Almost eight years ago, I gave birth to my second child. A boy! We were over the moon. We all congratulated my husband on the little rugby player to be, just like his daddy. I remember feeling so content — I had a 2½ -year-old daughter and, now, a newborn son. Bliss.

The years passed, and the story changed. Our boy was never drawn to the dump trucks or cars or trains. Instead, he loved his older sister’s dresses, the high heels, and the sparkly accessories. At first we were amused — he was so young, not even 2 years old. How endearing! What progressive parents we were to break gender stereotypes with our children!

This joy didn’t last.

Soon enough, our extended family began to react with alarm and great concern. “Why is he wearing dresses all the time?” And “Maybe you should take the dresses away!” My husband and I felt ashamed. I felt afraid. Where did we go wrong?

And oh, the tears. As the years passed, and the hopes of this being a phase faded, our little boy grew more and more stubborn. I was limiting the princess dresses to inside our home only. But no amount of park playdates or promises of ice cream or new superhero toys could budge this persistent little child out of those dresses. He would rather stay home, content with the gauzy silks wound around his head, affixed with a tiara.

Sure, I could make him wear the boy clothes. And I did. And slowly my happy child began to disappear. This was terrifying. Our family fell into crisis.

How grateful I am that my pediatrician referred us to a world-renowned expert in Los Angeles, Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, at Children’s Hospital. How thankful I was, four years ago, to find a supportive community of families in Los Angeles that held our hands as we grieved and cried at the loss of the story that we had planned for our son, and then helped us dry our tears as we began to slowly, slowly dream a new story for the same child: our transgender daughter.

About a year ago, we helped launch a support group here in Santa Barbara. We started with three families, and I marveled that we didn’t have to drive to Los Angeles — two other families in our county with transkids! It was a miracle. We didn’t feel so alone. Today, that group is 40 families strong.

I truly feel that we have been given a rare gift. Our beautiful girl — a story of brave authenticity, persistence, and her family’s long, begrudging journey toward truly unconditional love. And now? Four years later, my transgender girl, my daughter, is thriving. It’s been quite a journey, and not the story I planned for my little family.

But it is a story filled with resilience, courage, and a fiercely loving community. A love story, really, about the luckiest parents in the world and their beautiful transgender child. —Rachel Gloger

The author is executive director of the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network, which celebrates the Day of Visibility on Thursday, March 31, at 5 p.m. with jazz, a film, and photography at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center. See sbtan.org.



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