PFLAG National Sues North Carolina for Medically Necessary Care

PFLAG National Sues North Carolina

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How One Mother’s Love for Her Gay Son Started a Revolution

The crowd along Sixth Avenue was losing its mind. It was Sunday, June 25, 1972, and Dr. Benjamin Spock was walking uptown with the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the scrappier, more revolutionary precursor to the New York City Pride Parade. Although he had risen to fame as a pediatrician, Spock was almost as well known for his support of left-wing causes—from legalizing abortion to ending the Vietnam War—as he was for “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” which had already sold more than ten million copies. Still, even by his standards, joining the Christopher Street crowd was a radical act. Two years earlier, when the march was held for the first time, its organizers had worried that no one would come. Those who did were so hopped up on adrenaline and fear that the fifty-block route, from the West Village to Central Park, took them half as long as anticipated; afterward, they jokingly called it the Christopher Street Liberation Day Run. Now here was Dr. Spock, one of the most influential figures in America, joining their ranks. As he passed by, the people lining the streets whistled and clapped and screamed themselves hoarse.

But all this hullabaloo was not, as it turned out, for the famous doctor; it was for a diminutive middle-aged woman marching just in front of him. She was not famous at all—not the author of any books, not the leader of any movement, not self-evidently a radical of any kind. With her jacket and brooch and plaid skirt and spectacles, she had the part-prim, part-warm demeanor of an old-fashioned elementary-school teacher, which she was. She was carrying a piece of orange poster board with a message hand-lettered in black marker: “parents of gays: unite in support for our children.” She had no idea that the crowd was cheering for her until total strangers started running up to thank her. They asked if they could kiss her; they asked if she would talk to their parents; they told her that they couldn’t imagine their own mothers and fathers supporting them so publicly, or supporting them at all.

The woman’s name was Jeanne Manford, and she was marching alongside her twenty-one-year-old gay son, Morty. Moved by the outpouring of emotion, the two of them discussed it all along the route. By the time they reached Central Park, they had also reached a decision: if so many people wished that someone like Jeanne could talk to their parents, why not make that possible? The organization they dreamed up that day, which started as a single support group in Manhattan, was initially called Parents of Gays; later, it was renamed Parents flag, for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; nowadays, it is known only as pflag. Just a handful of people attended its first meeting, held fifty years ago this spring. Today, it has four hundred chapters and well north of a quarter of a million members.

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* This story was originally in April 17, 2023 issue of The New Yorker.

Gender-affirming Care, North Carolina

This 12-year-old wants to continue gender-affirming care. NC lawmakers are trying to stop it.

When Amanda Dumas heard details about the latest North Carolina bills aimed at limiting medical treatment of transgender children, the door to the place where she holds back her rage cracked open again.

Just as she was about to head to her youngest child’s monthly counseling session, she saw that a bill banning puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy for transgender minors was revived by the state General Assembly.

And she figured before 12-year-old Michael talked to his therapist, she might as well tell him that the puberty-blocking shot he receives every three months might soon be barred by North Carolina.

The shots prevent Mike from going through puberty, stopping him from developing breasts or starting to menstruate. The shots allow Mike to continue to live as the boy he’s been since he was 5 years old.

Amanda and her husband, Josh, have seen the wave of laws barring gender-affirming treatment of transgender children enacted across the country this year, swelling like the tide and inching toward them. It’s at their toes now, and they can’t ignore it.

For years, Mike and his family have been helped by therapists and doctors who’ve consulted with volumes of research on the best approaches to raising a transgender child. They’ve put a plan in place to advance from Mike’s current puberty blockers to hormone therapy that will allow his body to transition physically to the gender he’s always identified as.

Read more here.

Thank you

My name is Doug Cooper (he/him). I am an Associate Professor of Psychology at Johnson C. Smith University and PFLAG Charlotte’s new Board Chair and President. I went to my first PFLAG Charlotte support group meeting in 2015 with my partner. We were expecting to learn more about how to be better allies to a gender diverse teenager. In that process, we also found community and belonging. I never imagined that I would join the board in 2018 or become Board Chair and President in 2023. As I step into this next chapter, I find myself incredibly grateful to my supportive partner who encourages my personal growth, a gender diverse adult who has given me the grace to learn what it means to be an ally, and to the PFLAG Charlotte members and stakeholders. 

In every support group and workshop, one of our most important values is: “we meet you where you are.” We recognize that every allyship journey is unique and regardless of where you begin, we want to support your journey forward. In the last several years, we have learned that this value is both figurative and literal. Dedicated board members and volunteers started satellite support groups in North Meck and Union County to meet people closer to home. During the global pandemic we met people where they needed us: on screen in their living rooms and offices. Even though many of our events are back in person, PFLAG Charlotte continues to meet people where they are with new workshops, peer support in Spanish, and a soon-to-be-released podcast.  

As I step into this role, I am acutely aware of how much we are needed right now and the importance of continuing the work to meet people where they are. I want to continue the discussions on how to provide support for marginalized communities and families in the surrounding Charlotte area. I want to continue to expand individual and corporate partnerships that serve our community. And I want to continue to empower the incredible work our team of professionals do every day to connect PFLAG Charlotte to the people who need us.  

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of a dedicated and skilled Board of Directors. We are lucky to have so many talented professionals join us in this important work. Our board includes members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies. They are professionals in finance, marketing, education, health care, and law. We all share is a deep commitment to the inclusion and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. I am excited to bring this new team together in August. 

But the addition of seven new board members is bittersweet, as we bid farewell to two amazing board members who have been instrumental in PFLAG Charlotte’s growth. Over the past two years Sarah Eyssen (she/her) has served as the President and Board Chair. She has served on the board since 2015 and was one of the people who had the vision to make PFLAG Charlotte allyship workshops accessible to doctor’s offices, schools, or workplaces. Under her leadership PFLAG Charlotte has increased corporate sponsors and been able to hire a team of professionals to oversee the day-to-day operations.  

Our Treasurer, Eileen Conlin (she/her), joined the board in 2019. She has guided us towards the financial stability needed to serve the greater Charlotte area with a dedicated team of paid professionals. But what I’ll remember most about Sarah and Eileen was when they met my family where they were. Like they have done on so many occasions for other families, they encouraged and supported our family’s journey and gave me the confidence to turn my journey into a new passion. In my new role, I hope to continue their legacy of leading with love and meeting all who need us where they are.

The Gift of Gender Non-Conformity, and How to Receive It, by Kelly Green

The Gift of Gender Non-Conformity, and How to Receive It, by Kelly Green
I wish I could go back in time. Most people want just one more day to squeeze their toddler and whisper I love you. Maybe to hold their infant and nurse them for one last time before they move to a bottle or a sippy cup. I remember someone telling me (when the kids were younger) you never really know when the last time you’ll take them to the park and they’ll actually want to play on the playground. The last time they wake up and want to sleep in your bed for the night. I wish I could go back for so many reasons but mostly because I wasted so much time worried about the wrong things.
When I look back at my journey to be a parent, it seems that almost everything was cloaked in gender. What are the first questions people ask you about your family planning?  Do you want to have a boy or a girl? What will you name the baby if it’s a girl? If it’s a boy? If you already have two boys, are you trying for a girl? Talk about pressure. Something that’s decided in a split second in a Fallopian tube becomes the entire narrative of your birthing experience.
I remember wishing and hoping for a boy. Now I ask myself why would that matter? I ended up losing my first baby at 10 weeks. No one had talked to me about how common miscarriage is for first pregnancies. And once I lost the baby, it was like I was never pregnant. All the questions around the pregnancy just stopped, and no one spoke of the loss. It is an unspeakable loss that most couples have to suffer in silence. It’s taboo to bring it up— and the guilt and shame it puts on the person carrying the baby is tremendous.
I had already purchased gendered clothing and planned to paint the room baby blue. Without even knowing if the baby was going to make it into this world, I was already putting societal constructs in place. And to what end? I should have been focused on creating a loving and nurturing environment, how to create traditions that would tie family together, how to make time for myself in the midst of chaos. Instead, I was focused on a baby blue layette and a nursery themed with dinosaurs.
My husband was married before me and had two amazing daughters with his previous wife. When we started planning our family he talked about how badly he wanted to have a son. Since he was a boy, he always wanted to have a son named David. Think about how much weight that is to carry. For him, a son to carry the legacy of his family name. For me, as a new wife (a second wife) the weight of bearing a son for a husband he so desperately wants, and that his first wife ‘could not give him.’ What an unfair objective for me, and how unfair to his first wife. She brought two unbelievable beings into this world and was made to feel that it wasn’t enough because of their assigned gender.
So then you’re pregnant. It seems like ages until you find out the sex of the baby. Of course, there are all of those other tests, too— never talked about and coming to the surprise of so many pregnant woman. Genetic testing, chromosomal testing, diabetes testing— before I hit my doctor’s office I hadn’t heard about any of these tests, but I definitely knew that I would find out the sex of the baby at 16 weeks. I knew that I should eat something sweet or drink a sugary drink to excite the baby enough to see what genitalia we could derive from the sonogram, but I hadn’t considered what genetic testing and chromosomal testing would uncover, or how to process it. For my first child I found out that I was a carrier of Tay Sachs disease, which commonly affects Ashkenazi Jewish people. The condition is usually fatal by around 3 to 5 years of age, often due to complications of a lung infection (pneumonia). My husband had to be immediately tested and that week of waiting on results was emotionally devastating. These are the conversations around child-rearing that we need to have— how we grapple with all of the things that come our way.
For some reason we have bought into gender being the most important thing about pregnancy and birth. The only thing I can garner from that is that it feeds into our capitalistic consumerism. Once we know the gender, we are buying, buying, buying. If I could go back what I would’ve been doing was reading about actual parenting. Techniques for behavior modification. The presenting characteristics of autism, signs of depression, ways to help a struggling reader, skills to refine parenting approaches, how to stop your child from self-injury. How to be a better person. I would’ve dealt with childhood trauma because I know now as a parent that any trauma you haven’t dealt with is coming right back to teach you and instead of being able to grow from it on your own you now need to help guide another soul through it while you’re handling it beside them. It’s like watching a mini version of yourself making the same mistake and trying to help them tread water while you’re drowning.
Once you know the sex of your baby it seems like it’s all anybody talks about. You plan your baby shower around it. Some people even do gender reveal parties. You’ve chosen names by gender, often they carry the emotional weight of honoring a passed loved one or a name that you have had chosen since your childhood and as soon as your child is brought into this world the hospital starts to affirm their assigned gender at birth. Pink caps for female assigned at birth and blue caps for male assigned at birth. So many pictures to remember these moments. Never once did I stop to think that one day I would have to take all of these pictures down, never once did I really think about gender as a spectrum. Never once did I realize that I might have children that would look back at these gendered versions of themselves and feel dysphoria, or pain, or even a need to injure themselves to escape it. How could I have inflicted this on them? Because I didn’t know better and neither do many parents today.
There are parents who don’t accept their children when their children tell them who they are. I AM NOT SPEAKING TO THESE PARENTS. If you are the type of parent who can look at your child and say to yourself, “If they ever came out as gay or trans there would not be a space in my home for them,” or “I would not accept them for who they are”—then this is not meant to speak to you. This is only meant to speak to a new parent who would look down at their child and think to themselves, ‘whoever you are and whoever you love, I love you and I will do everything I can to make this world a better place for you.’ These are the parents I’m speaking to because you will hear me when I tell you that you shouldn’t be worried about what sex your child is assigned at birth. You shouldn’t be consumed with ‘it’s a boy’ baby showers or decorating your nursery was pretty pink flowers. You should be consumed with the possibility that your child might not fit into the binary. The spectrum of gender is so expansive that this could mean so many things, and having a child that doesn’t fit the gender binary is illuminating and exhilarating. Once you deconstruct your own conformity it allows you the gift of examining all the societal constructs that you have played a part in and shaped, that you continue to fit into, and that you have the ability to cast off.
What should worry you is that you may be inadvertently adding a layer of pain and trauma to their past without fully understanding it. You may be removing your ability to reminisce about your birthing experience, their young childhood, without being able to share those memories with them and others. If I could go back and take every gendered article of clothing off the hanger I would. That could mean that my child would look back on their infancy without being triggered by the pain of being assigned the wrong gender. And further, if they had conformed to gender expectations, what they were wearing wouldn’t matter because they would feel no pain or dysphoria from it.
Do you understand what that must be like, to never be able to look back at your past without dysphoria? Everything that says to the child about the importance of what gender means? I wish I had focused on making my child feel that anything was possible, and that whoever and however they identify and who they love is just another piece of them that I love, and that I support and embrace. I wish I had been willing to receive the gift of gender nonconformity by preparing from the moment I was pregnant with an open heart and home. Learn from this, learn from my mistake. Be the person that keeps the door open for that conversation by clicking ‘unsubscribe’ to gender norms.

PFLAG Charlotte Statement on Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

For 36 years, PFLAG Charlotte has been working to make North Carolina a place where everyone can thrive, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or harm. In a climate that is seeing a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and real-world violence, PFLAG Charlotte vehemently opposes the introduction and consideration of the following anti-LGBTQ+ bills by the North Carolina General Assembly: S639, H808, S560, H43, H786, S636, S631, H574, S49, S641, H819, H673. PFLAG Charlotte calls on all supportive North Carolinians to contact your legislators to speak out in opposition to these bills.

Let’s ensure that every student has a safe and welcoming school environment, access to books and lessons that are honest, accurate, and inclusive, and the ability to participate in sports. Let’s make sure that LGBTQ+ youth have access to the medically necessary healthcare they need and that all of us have the love and support of our families, friends, neighbors.

PFLAG Charlotte works each day to support families, educate allies, and advocate for equality.  Join us as we lead with love to create a caring, just and affirming North Carolina–and world–for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. Shared below are action items provided by the LGBTQ+ community in Charlotte and EqualityNC.

Please take action today: Community Rapid Response Guide available here. EqualityNC action steps available here.

Download a PDF of PFLAG Charlotte’s Statement on Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills.

Sarah Eyssen
President & Board Chair

Karen Graci
Executive Director

Sharing Our Stories: How are you now?

The first time my child came out to me was in the car on the way to school in 6th grade. We had just moved, and the kids were headed to a new school. Nerves were high for all of us. I brushed off the statement.

My dismissal left my child to journey on their own. While my child grew into their truth, our relationship remained stunted for two years. I was blind to every sign; even when I found a binder, they lied and said they were ordering it for a friend with a non-accepting mom. (That was me. I was the unaccepting mom.)

We find a therapist. They teach me about the gender unicorn. I learn that gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, sexual expression, physical attraction, and emotional attraction are all on a spectrum. My head spins. But I am here, and I am trying. I ask questions, lots and lots of questions. I tell my child I love them. I ask my child to share this with their dad. By the end of the session, I am registered for my first PFLAG peer support meeting. My kid is preparing to tell their dad they are a transgender man who was assigned female at birth.

Monday arrives. I tell my husband I need to go to a support group meeting for all the stuff going on with our kid. He asks if he needs to go. Not yet, I want to scope it out first. I see the relief wash over him.
I arrive a few minutes early to TimeOutYouth. I have heard of this place and the fantastic work they do for the LGBTQ+ kids in the Charlotte area. I never thought I would be going in there. I am not a peer support parent, but here I am.

I am dressed in jeans, a sweater, and my favorite puffy vest that covers up all the angst. I get out of the car, fling my rainbow bag across my body. I am an ally. My hands are crammed into my pockets. I take a deep breath and walk toward the door. I am overwhelmed with a fear of puking or bursting into tears; I’m not sure which.

I am greeted by the sweetest people, two smiling women about my age. They look normal, and make this all seem normal – this is NOT normal. They handed me a sharpie and a name tag and ask me to write my name and pronouns. No one has EVER asked for my pronouns. I was surprised, but also felt like a cool mom.

I found a spot on a crazy corner bench with a lime green background and sat down to take in the attendees. A familiar face walked in. We looked at each other awkwardly – memories of playdates flood my mind. We hugged. My mind raced – why is she here? Did I see a post on Facebook? Does she have a trans child? Could she be one of my people?

The meeting started, pulling me back from my racing mind. Our facilitator welcomed us and reminded us that we are all here for different reasons. We are at different places in our journeys. This place is safe no matter what you feel or say.

Another parent found out their 21 year old child is a transgender woman.

My friend says her youngest came out as transgender in middle school.

Another parent was happy that the school was supporting their non-binary 9-year-old child.

Then it was my turn. I tried to talk without crying. Through tears I shared that my youngest child – assigned female at birth – had recently come out as transgender. That they had chosen a new name that I didn’t like. I told them I ran eight states away upon hearing this. All eyes were on me. The facilitator asked, “How are you now?”

I didn’t know. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to do this. I replied, “My husband doesn’t even know yet.”

Not one person in that room judged me. They didn’t say, “I can’t believe you ran away.” They didn’t say, “You’re a bad mom,” or “how could you keep this from your husband?”

They asked, “How are you now?”

They did not push me to tell them more. They did not need me to explain my child. No wide eyes or heads shaking in disbelief.

Instead there were soft smiles, words of encouragement, and a hug.

PFLAG Charlotte became my safe place. The place where I found my people. I met a trans parent who lets me ask ALL THE QUESTIONS. I met more long-lost friends living the same journey, looking for the courage to come out of hiding. I got connected to legal support to change my child’s name. I learned about affirming doctors and non-affirming ones. I found friends that never pushed but continue to ask, “How are you now?”

I will be forever grateful to my child’s therapist for encouraging me to go to PFLAG Charlotte for peer support. She said they would meet me where I was at – and they did. I continue to lean on PFLAG, and as we journey together, I find myself strong enough to offer others support. I find myself asking others, “How are you now?”


Reflections: My Experience at the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Conference, by Devin Green

Recently, I had the honor of being at the annual Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Conference. This conference is the largest gathering of LGBTQ officials in the country and is attended by hundreds of elected and appointed officials worldwide (many of whom are the first of their identities to be in their positions), activists, journalists, and policy experts. It’s also attended by people like me – a 20-year-old Black queer student who simply needed to be in a room full of successful and joyful queer leaders. I recently finished my first semester of law school and, although this conference was right before finals, I knew that not going when I had the chance was a bad idea.

So I went. And it was magic. I met queer people who I had looked up to for so long – Malcolm Kenyatta, Erin Reed, Leslie Herod, etc. – who brought powerful messages about what it means to be an activist and a leader. I had meaningful conversations in breakout sessions and plenaries about disability advocacy, reproductive justice, mental health, and how they interact with LGBTQ advocacy. On the first day of the conference, U.S. Representative Sharice Davids was asked where she finds hope despite the hate and violence queer people continue to face. She responded that seeing queer young people fighting every day makes her feel like we see a future for ourselves. Just four days prior, I was wrestling with a sermon about hope. I said to someone after that sermon, “I feel like I have too much to lose to be hopeful.” But then I thought about how I’ve been fighting for equity and justice for years. I thought about the way young people around the world have been fighting. Rep. Davids is right.

We’ve been fighting because we do see a future for ourselves.

We see a future where we are not only surviving but thriving.

We see a future paved by the elected and appointed officials at this conference. Even when that future seems far away, we are committed to demanding that future. How can you not be hopeful when you see that?

I’ve toyed with the idea of running for office for years, constantly changing my mind about whether that was what I was being called to do. One of the biggest things I appreciate about this conference and the Victory Institute is that there is a wholehearted belief that anyone can run for office. Vermont’s first transgender legislator told me directly, “We need you in that office. We need you to run.”

At the conference, I was talking with a former candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives about the struggles I had been facing this semester. She had a lot of great advice, but her parting words have stuck with me, “Thank you for being brave.” If anything, I thought she was the brave one. She had run for office, and I was just a law student that frequently had days I couldn’t even get out of bed. But, in the words of Mark Manson, “bravery is feeling the fear, the doubt, the insecurity, and deciding that something else is more important.” That’s why we do what we do. Whether it’s a law student talking to a law school administrator about how they need to better support and affirm queer students or the first openly trans man elected to U.S. state legislature talking about why he fights for his constituents, we advocate because equity and justice are more important than fear and insecurity. We do this work because advocacy saves lives. It saved mine.


Reflections on Charlotte Pride, by Shenna Patterson

I’m still riding the feels from Charlotte Pride. For my family personally, I feel like I’ve been celebrating, and proud, all summer long. Last summer was a more anxious time for us as our male-assigned child was transitioning, in her own way and in her own time, to the confident girl that she is now. This summer, I’m celebrating because she’s a happy kid who doesn’t have to worry about which bathroom to go to or where to fit in. We have now been a “trans family” long enough to feel like we know what we’re doing. But I often don’t know the balance to strike between acknowledging her journey and her trans identity and allowing her to just be a kid. Like in the movie “Anything’s Possible” (did you see it this summer? If not, check it out!) I often work with the “law of averages”: only ask her what any parent would ask any average kid.

But I’m proud that she’s not an average kid. And attending Charlotte Pride as a family? Well, that was a special time. We let loose. We did some top-notch people-watching. We collected all the pink-blue-white SWAG and marveled at the flags of all the other color combinations. And when my daughter asked what all the #protecttranskids signs meant, we had a good conversation about it, and the rights that not all trans people have in our country. A lot of our time was spent in the youth and family zone (new to Pride this year), an area which spanned the whole Green. Jennifer Shafiro, a new Charlotte resident and volunteer coordinator with Pride, said she first imagined the Green as a “big magical wonderful place.” Then she and other volunteers worked with partners including Time Out Youth, the Charlotte Library, Drag Queen Story Hour, and sponsors Microsoft and Equitable, to create a safe and inviting area where families could spend the day.

It’s invigorating to see just how many people are part of this community and dedicated their time and talents to the event. Volunteering with PFLAG Charlotte at their tent in the festival, I got to hear firsthand from family members who are eager to find ways to learn more and be engaged allies (if you haven’t volunteered at an event like this, it’s an easy way to get involved!) And as we joined others in walking down Tryon Steet in the parade behind the PFLAG Charlotte banner, we were part of the electric excitement of city streets lined with cheering crowds. It was a special way to celebrate our own pride on a large, exuberant scale with a special community and the dedicated leaders who pull it all together.


The Turning Point That Changed Everything, by Shenna Patterson

I think my kids are special. The most special. But that’s not actually special. We all do, right? But… I can objectively say that I am really, really proud of my firstborn for a special reason. In the nomenclature we use at home to describe gender identity, when she was born, “the adults guessed she was a boy.” But as she got older and learned about herself, she showed and told us that we were wrong. She is a girl.

That was a challenge for her – or any gender non-conforming child – in innumerable ways. Through toddler and early childhood, she had to do all of these things, and all with limited understanding of society, language, and the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, let alone the strides made in LGBTQ+ rights: Censor her self-expression in many situations (regardless of supportive family and friends). Navigate childhood friendships with the realization that she was different – “a boy who likes girl things.” Come to an understanding of who she intrinsically is in spite of the world treating her as a boy. Express her deepest and most important secret to her family. With support from her family, stop censoring herself and allow herself to present as a girl. And finally, confirm to the world that she is a girl, A., she/her.

Although special (we think), our story isn’t that different from so many other families who have learned that they “guessed wrong” about their child’s gender. My husband and I spent years nurturing our gender nonconforming child’s interests, playing down how different she felt and playing up our acceptance of her uniqueness. We spent years telling her, “It’s ok to be a boy who likes girl things,” congratulating ourselves on our open-minded parenting skills: buying Barbies and princess dresses and those pesky LOL Surprise dolls; together showing the world around us that there are many ways to be a boy. When our child would sigh, “I wish I was a girl,” we would be quick to point out that she was happily enrolled in ballet and gymnastics and had a room full of American Girl Doll chattel. And that her friends and family accepted her for the creative boy that she was. What more could she need?

Although it’s painful to think of the confusion she may have felt at times but couldn’t express, when I really think about it, I don’t see that we could have done it any differently. We had to let her develop her sense of self awareness and tell us in no uncertain terms who she was. Part of the excruciating part of this journey, as a parent, is constantly trying to strike the right balance. I wanted to support her fully, to be sure, but needed her to be the exclusive owner of her identity and the guide of her journey. Plus, we didn’t fully anticipate what the future would hold for us. In all of the literature I read, there is a distinct difference between a child who says “I am a girl/boy” and one who says “I wish I was a girl/boy.” We had one of the “wish I was a girl” kids, and that was that.

We came to learn, of course, that it’s more nuanced than that, and has to do with whether a child is internally or externally processing their feelings and sense of self. Our child was steadily internally processing, studying the world around her. There were no hysterics over getting undressed at bath-time or protest when we referred to her as a boy. She didn’t express disgust over her body or her name. What she did, though, was withdraw into herself further as she got older and sensed that it was less cute and more awkward to be a boy in a princess dress for Halloween. She would go to friends’ houses and shut herself up in girls’ playrooms, poring over their shoes and toys and pink décor while the other kids tore around the backyard together. She would be stealthier when trying on my shoes and makeup at home. She stopped letting us cut her hair, and the short cut “like daddy” gradually grew into a shaggy skater-boy look… until it was a shaggy androgynous long-enough-for-pigtails look, which she would request on occasion.

So we observed, and educated ourselves, and showed our openness to whatever might come. We talked about neighbors’ rainbow flags and what they meant. We took care to show both our children that there is no one way to love or to be. We found little ways to increase awareness as a family: “look at this picture of Sam Smith! They are wearing eyeliner.” Or “when we talk about Coach C. at our swimming lessons we say ‘they’ or ‘them’ because they don’t feel like a girl OR a boy.” Our kids never questioned why some kids might have two moms or two dads, but together we were all learning more about gender identity and expression. It became clear that our then-four-year-old son is firmly male-identifying, and that his gender expression is all things male. He calls his friends “dude,” as in, “hey dude, look how much air I can get on my bike.” His best friends are whatever kids will dig in the dirt with him. His first love is trucks. It also became clear in stark contrast that our then-seven-year-old son was… what? That was the question that was growing in my mind, keeping me up at night, but never quite spoken.

And then one day was our turning point, the never-going-back moment that changed everything.

We were getting ready to go to a Charlotte Knights baseball game with some other families. The kids had been looking forward to seeing the stadium and mascot, eating junk food for dinner, and riding the sugar high way too late into the evening with their friends. But all of a sudden, A. became distraught. She didn’t have anything to wear, she wailed. Frustrated, I pointed out all of the clothes that we had recently bought her that she had so far refused to wear.

“No,” she protested. “I want to wear something like what you’re wearing.”

“Shorts and a tank top? But you have those things!”

“No. More like what you’re wearing.” She was stepping out over her own precipice, daring to say it. And then it clicked for me.

“You want… girls’ clothes?”

She buried her face in her bed, sobbing. It was true. “They would make me feel more like me,” she whispered through tears. I hugged her, comforted her, and thanked her for sharing what might have felt like an impossible truth.

That moment led to the next, and the next, and to all of the moments that we walked together over a series of precipices. The day she wore her hair in pigtails to camp. The day she wore one of her cherished new girl’s outfits to a friend’s house (at first, she wore them just at home). The day she started second grade, still using he/him pronouns, but dressed proudly head to toe as a girl. And months later, the day she was ready to walk into her second-grade classroom and use her identified gender pronouns and the name she had secretly chosen for herself long ago.

That was our journey. It’s not over, but the voyage is on pause, in a contented steady state. At 8 now, she’s years off from needing medical interventions. And at 8, she’s already conquered the social transition and is living fully and happily as a girl.

Before she was A., while she was yearning for all things feminine, my child was also equally frightened of impending masculinity. At times, out of nowhere, she would suddenly be in tears: “I don’t want to have a beard when I’m older.” She doesn’t want to be tall like Daddy. She does, decidedly, want to develop as a female. Once she became A., we gave her generalized assurances that doctors would be able to treat her to first make sure her body doesn’t develop as a man (puberty blockers), and later to help it develop with female characteristics (gender affirming hormones). These assurances have helped her develop into the confident, carefree kid that she now is. But if just the specter of a years-away beard is terrifying for a young trans girl, please imagine with me the discomfort of actually going through male puberty: seeing unwanted facial hair and body hair sprout, an adams apple, deepening of the voice, and all while being powerless to stop it; her body literally betraying her.

We have been amazingly fortunate and supported in so many ways. We have experienced so much encouragement and affirmation. It helps that the clues were there for everyone to observe since A. could talk (or choose a toy or color to gravitate to) so nobody was exactly surprised. Mostly, people were excited and proud to see her blossom. It also helps that she transitioned at the age when kids may or may not understand the concept, but don’t really care. Or if they did care at first, they have already moved on and seem to have forgotten that she was ever anything other than A. (I have been impressed and relieved to tears witnessing this).

But for many of us navigating a child’s gender transition, it’s not really the kids we have to worry about. It’s the adults that bring their own baggage and transphobia and prejudice, or even simply lack of understanding or empathy that can still create wounds for trans kids and their families. And of course, it’s these same adults who can pass along their own baggage to the kids who would be otherwise open-minded and accepting. There are those who would question the legitimacy of my daughter, who are even fighting to create legislation which would have harmful and lasting impacts on trans kids’ rights and medical care. My hope now is to lend my voice to PFLAG and other organizations which supported us along the way, to help reach even just a few of those who don’t quite understand the issue and haven’t chosen a side from which to speak up. Because yes, there are clear sides. You can’t be ambivalent about whether trans kids should exist and whether they should have the support and medical interventions they need to grow into healthy, happy adults.

One of the bright spots in our experience has been finding new support and connections. We have a pretty special support group locally, Gender Education Network, which is specifically for trans and gender non-conforming children under 12. One of the reasons it’s so special is that most resources and support groups are geared towards older kids who may be at the point of needing the medical interventions. Our group, though, is just a gang of typical kids and their families. It’s usually impossible to tell which are the trans kids, and which are the cisgender siblings who have come along for the fun. We have playground meetups, where we are indistinguishable from other class groups or birthday parties flocking to the park. The group also consciously blends in, foregoing signs which might help a new member easily find us but also invite unwanted attention.

At first, A. asked to find a club of “kids like her,” which is what made me seek out Gender Education Network. But now that she’s so confident in being herself, she seems to have no desire to expand beyond her school and neighborhood friends. It might be like that for some of the other kids in the group, too. At our support group park meetups, A. and some of the others are sometimes hesitant to join in with the games of hide and seek and red rover. But the families keep going. Because even though my child might not always be thrilled to be there, I stand with other parents in small groups where we furtively talk about the best swimwear and ballet classes and therapists and doctors for our kids. And about struggles some of the families have encountered with neighbors or school principals or unsupportive family members. We share strategies and advice and just a listening ear. And because our son is always hoping to see his favorite kid in the gang – the boy who brings the cool skateboard.

So A. identifies as transgender, sure, but it’s not a key part of her identity. Mostly she is just a second-grade girl. While we used to have long bedtime talks about her fears and dreams of transforming into the girl she knew she was, now her concerns are limited to typical second grader topics. Our bedtime talks might be about friend issues at school, or an upcoming science presentation in class.

The other day A. said to me, “Mommy? You know, people like me…”

She paused, carefully choosing her words, while I braced myself. Had she been hearing the latest news about attacks on trans kids’ rights? Was she experiencing bullying at school?

“… people with brown hair. Can we dye it to be just a little lighter?”

Ah, yes. A. really identifies as a brunette who wistfully believes that blondes really do have more fun. We have frequent discussions about the age at which it’s appropriate to highlight or bleach one’s hair. I hugged her and said that in the summertime, we can try some sun-in and see how it goes.