Join me and one of the bestest, silliest people I know – my friend Clare – as she gives us a peek into the life of a mother of a transgender child. When and how did she know? How did she come to acceptance? What shocking statistic changed everything? She tells all with humor and candor, including the one simple sentence you can use to explain transgender to your kids. There’s a lot for all of us to learn here.
Brandy: Hello, Adult Conversation listeners. Today’s podcast has something for every single parent out there. It doesn’t matter if your child is transgender or you don’t know anyone with a transgender child. My guest and her vulnerability will hit you at your core, and I guarantee you will learn something new about your own parenting today. Not to mention, my guest is one of the bestest, silliest people I know, and we have a hard time not laughing at everything together, so who wants to laugh about parenting a transgender child?
Brandy: But before we get to that, I have to give a shout out to my supporters who have so generously pledged cash money to support this podcast via Patreon. That’s patreon.com/adultconversation. See how you can become a patron and join the likes of these finest people in the Land: Andrea Ward, (my own mom) Barbara Mincher, Becky Leonard, Denise Brick, Ellen Sluder, Ian Barner (a dad, you guys), Janelle Bartzatt, Justine Kolev, Kathie Neff (it’s Kathie, you guys), and Shanna Bengtson. Mwah – love you guys. Also, please excuse any of the audio issues or variations in volume. I do my best, but I’m a mom trying to make a podcast without being an audio wizard. On to the show.
Brandy: So today we have with us one of my besties, Clare.
Clare: You’ve never said that before in your life.
Brandy: I know. Oh my god, it’s a moment. Ding. We can barely even look at each other. Clare in my life is somebody who makes me laugh so hard. We are like two teenage girls when we’re together, and we try to make each other laugh in the most inappropriate moments ever. One of the things that we were laughing about, particularly I was laughing about, is you bring snacks with you.
Clare: I always have snacks.
Brandy: Wherever you go, like a fucking toddler. But what you brought to my house today…
Clare: Is it not a normal snack to bring to someone’s house?
Brandy: A fucking banana split. The makings-
Clare: It’s deconstructed.
Brandy: You have this bag, and it has whipped cream. So I said to you, I was like, “Did you bring whipped cream to my house, like a can, like we’re going to do whip-its or something?” which is not a bad idea. Then I look in there, and there’s chocolate syrup.
Clare: I brought fruit.
Brandy: And Doritos.
Clare: I brought a banana.
Brandy: Oh my god.
Clare: I thought that was healthy.
Brandy: I don’t even know what world you live in. You’re like my five-year-old where you’re like, “If I could have treats every day.” You’re living her dream.
Clare: I am. I grew up to be the adult that I can eat whatever I want.
Brandy: Okay. But we’re here for a real reason other than to just make each other laugh. Clare has a transgender son.
Clare: I do.
Brandy: This is something I wanted to talk about because you don’t hear about the parenting side. There’s a variety of other things that we hear about it, but I really wanted people to hear the parenting journey for a lot of different reasons. One is for other parents who might be in a similar situation who might be wondering. I also think parents who don’t have a transgender kid who have a cisgender kid. So for everybody out there, a cisgender person is someone whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds to their birth sex. A transgender person is somebody whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond to their birth sex, just so we all know what we’re talking about.
Brandy: For people like myself with cisgendered children, I want to know what I can do to help you and all the other parents out there to make your jobs easier because I’ve told you this before, but nobody’s walked this path before you. This is a fairly new thing.
Clare: I know. I tell my friends we’re pioneers.
Brandy: I mean, you are. You’re like building the plane midair, which is you don’t know yet how things pan out. Oh, turns out we shouldn’t have parented this way. Turns out we should’ve done X, Y, Z. That has not been set in stone yet.
Clare: Thank you. I like to talk about it because, like you said, somebody else might be having thoughts about it or have a child and they’re not sure, but also I like to talk about it because I want to normalize it. I want people to know that we’re a normal family, and we have a normal kid and not to vilify it. I think people tend to vilify things that they don’t know about, and once they have a personal connection to it or they know somebody, they can understand it more. I think, right, it’s just all information. I’m sure people are just like, “How can you have a transgender child? They don’t know what they’re doing.” I find that telling my story helps people just understand it.
Brandy: Exactly. Well, so before you tell your story, what do we need to know about you? I feel like I already gave a really clear picture of who you are about your food choice.
Clare: I am a child. Why do we have to be serious because we’re adults? Why can’t we still be silly and play and sing and dance? All kids sing and dance and play and are silly, and then the older you get, you lose that. You stop singing. You get self-conscious, so you stop dancing, and you have to have seven drinks at 11:00 p.m. to dance. I love to dance. I love to sing. I love to be fun and ridiculous.
Brandy: And Clare also has a punk rock background as well. You also have a dark, witchy side to you.
Clare: Oh, yeah. I wish my whole house looked like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
Brandy: You and I met in a hiphop dance class. One of the funny things about that is the teacher named you “Liquid.”
Clare: “Liquid Groove.”
Brandy: Yes, Liquid Groove. So I feel like that’s all I needed to know to be like, a friendship would be a smart choice here. In dance class, you don’t talk in dance class.
Brandy: So how did we know, and I know we’ve tried to decipher this before, but how did we know?
Clare: I just knew. I read your aura.
Brandy: Shut up. You don’t believe in any of that stuff.
Clare: Because I walked over to you, I’m like, “We’re going to be friends now.”
Brandy: I feel like we had maybe a giggle about something dumb.
Clare: Yeah, probably.
Clare: And I liked the way you danced, so I was like, we’re going to be friends. I could tell you had no inhibitions.
Brandy: Okay. That’s amazing.
Clare: “She looks fucked up.”
Brandy: Yeah. “She looks as weird as me,” which it turns out …
Clare: No, seriously, that’s a thing though. If you’re too normal, I’m not attracted to you. I mean I have normal friends which I love; I love my normal friends. Sorry. But my weird friends are dear. Anyway.
Brandy: Well, I just love that you, when you’re talking about this love of dancing and singing, that’s not just an idea. You legitimately, you live your life like that. Okay. Will you tell us the beginning story of when and how things looked different and how you knew what was a phase or what wasn’t a phase? Tell us about that.
Clare: Sure. I’d love to. (in a whisper voice)
Brandy: You’re such an ass.
Clare: I’m sorry. Okay. So I just want to say first that when I say transition, I mean it’s a social transition. There’s nothing physical to anything I’m talking about right now. That’s going to wait until puberty, but that’s a whole other story. When I look back at the little journal I used to have time to keep when my children were small, the last entry that I ever made was when … My son’s name is Jack, and he’s 10. I should start with that.
Brandy: And real fast, so Jack is a female-to-male transgender.
Clare: Female-to-male. He was born female and transitioned socially to being a male. When I look back at the journal that I kept, my very last entry was right before he turned 18 months, and it says, “Zoey walks around so cute, running around her brother. Still says, ‘Mommy, I a big boy,’ running around so happy. ‘I a big boy, mommy. I a big boy.'” I thought, gosh, already at 18 months saying this kid is still running around in denial that she’s a girl. I don’t know when I first heard it, probably when he could first talk.
Clare: Yeah. It’s pretty crazy.
Brandy: And interesting too because I feel like any parent could be like, because he has an older brother, he’s probably just saying big boy because that’s his brother.
Clare: Right, exactly. I have an older son who is 13 right now. Anyway, so at first you think, oh, that’s really cute, he wants to be just like his big brother. Then you explain things, and you explain things, and still, “I big boy. I a boy, mommy. I a man.” It’s really cute because you think, oh, they’re just confused and it’s really, they’re just playing pretend. Wow, this is a really long game of pretend, and every day it was a different name.
Clare: “Call me Jacob. Call me Sam. Today I’m the king.” Always was the boy role in any game we were playing. You explain the anatomy when they get old enough. I mean, this was years, so even when he was four and five, I was like, “Oh, it’s okay if you like girls,” and trying to explain what being gay is. You’re explaining all these things, and he would only wear boy clothes. There was this struggle.
Brandy: So you would put him in a dress and what would happen?
Clare: Yeah. He would scream. Even when he was 18 months, two, would scream.
Clare: And be like, “I don’t want to wear that.” There were only a few times I forced him. Looking back, I thought he dressed so masculine, but really was like, well, it was a blue frilly shirt, how masculine. By the time he was five, he was just completely in boy clothes, tee-shirt, shorts.
Brandy: What’s amazing about that, and we’ve talked about this before, is that you’re so open-minded that you, I guess “allowed” him to dress like that where I feel like a lot of parents would be so resistant. How did you know to allow that?
Clare: Just because it was too much struggle every day. I’m like, “This isn’t worth it, so just wear what you want.” But that does come to the hair moment. He had the most beautiful, white bob with the little bangs, and it was just so perfect and gorgeous. I knew he hated it. Every day for a year, “I hate this haircut. I hate my hair. I hate my hair. I want a buzz. I want a short cut. Just I want it all off. I want it really short.”
Clare: And I would always be like, “No, no, no, no. That’s too far. That’s too much.” Then one day in kindergarten he was brushing his hair, and I was helping him. I was probably trying to put a bow in it or something.
Brandy: Blue bow.
Clare: Yeah. A blue bow. He just is looking at it, he’s just miserable. He’s just like, “I hate this! I hate the way I look.” Then I was like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?” That was an aha moment. I am forcing this person to look the way I want to look. I’m like, this is a person. Yes, it’s my child. Yes, they are five, but they have their own sense of who they are already and how he wants to present himself to the world. Why am I arguing with that? Who cares? This is what he wants. The next day we went and got a haircut, and he was so happy. Even though it was short, it was still like a girl short cut. It was still …
Brandy: Did he choose that, or did you make him stay within the-
Clare: No, I made him. I still was controlling. You do the best-
Brandy: It’s baby steps.
Clare: It’s baby steps, and you do the best you can with what you have.
Brandy: Well, and you were probably also protective like, okay, if we do this whole thing, is he going to be made fun of? Are the kids going to then say, “Oh, are you a girl or a boy?” I can see as a parent you’re like, let’s just test this out a little bit so that we don’t go full, and then you have to pay the consequence of that socially.
Clare: Yeah. Even the day before kindergarten I wanted to meet the teacher, and I said, “Hey, I just want you to know that in case you’re planning on lining up the girls and the boys, boys on this side, girls on this, he’s not going to know which side to go in, or he’ll probably go on the boys side. I don’t know what your bathroom situation … “
Clare: She’s like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. The bathroom is in the classroom. They all use the same bathroom.” She was so wonderful. We have been so lucky with our teachers in our school. She just said, “Don’t worry, I will take care of it. Everything’s fine. It’ll be okay.” Like you said, the kids were a little confused. He had girl hair but boy clothes, clearly had a girl name, but was telling everybody he was a boy. Kids would come up to me and be like, “Is he a girl or a boy?” And I’d be like, “I don’t know. Let’s go look at these butterflies.”
Brandy: “I have a banana split. Anybody want banana splits?”
Clare: Come first grade, again we had the most amazing teacher, and by then you just thought he was a boy when you looked at him but still was Zoey and still girl everything except the clothes and the hair.
Brandy: Then you guys hadn’t referred to him as “he” yet, correct?
Clare: Correct. The teacher was just so great and loving and fielded so many questions, and they would talk about it in class and talk about being who you are and loving everybody the way they were born. She, I think, was probably the first one to call him “he” when we were still struggling. He said, “Oh, I’m a boy, I’m a boy, I’m a boy.” She’d have them draw themselves, and he’d draw himself as a boy. I’m sure it’s confusing right now. I’m still describing him as a boy even though it’s in the past, and sometimes I go back and forth. Okay, if I’m telling the story of when he was Zoey, do I say she? I used to, and now I just can’t because I see nothing else. There’s no way I could say “she.” It’s just too hard. Plus, I’m totally scared of that word because when we transitioned I had to never, ever say “she” or “her.”
Brandy: Right. So you’re like, “Uh…”
Clare: “Umm, errr…” Anyways. Spring of first grade, he’s a silly, theatrical, fun kid, and he sat me down. He got really serious and very mature. He just said, “I need you to stop calling me a girl. Why are you doing this to me?” He just was so mature and an old soul at that moment, like, “I don’t know what’s going on with you.” He almost felt like the problem was me, “What are you doing?”
Brandy: Like, “Clare, let me just have a conversation with you real fast.”
Clare: He’s like, “You’re not really getting this and that this is real.”
Brandy: Yeah. “I was put on this earth to live my full life, and …”
Clare: Right. I was like, “Oh, okay. Okay. Oh, oh.” That’s when we started taking it seriously, like what are we doing this whole time? He goes, “You’ve been not listening to me. I am a boy.”
Clare: Okay. So then we went to see a therapist. We talked about it for hours and hours. I went to support groups to see what their deal was and what they thought, and everybody was like, “This is real. Get on board.”
Brandy: There was something you told me when I asked you about this, because when we first met, I remember being like, “What are you all about?” You were like, “Well…”
Clare: You asked me how many kids I had, and I said two. You said, “Boy or girl?” And I said, “I don’t know how to answer that,” at the time.
Brandy: That’s right. I remember when you told me, I was so like, “Yeah, I’d love to know more. I’m fully supportive,” but I remember asking you about it. I was just in awe of how do you make the call of okay, this isn’t a phase. How do you as a parent make that call, because it seems like that’s a pretty heavy call to make? You told me that your therapist said something. There were three words that she used.
Clare: Insistent, persistent and consistent.
Brandy: So if your child is acting that way about really thinking they’re a different gender, that’s when you know this is not a phase?
Clare: Right. We still were in denial. We’re like, “No, he just wants attention.” My older son has Type 1 diabetes, so we do give a certain amount of attention to him, although I’ve always been conscious of trying to keep it equal and keep everybody involved. But we did need that outside reinforcement or …
Brandy: Yeah, like a validation.
Clare: Validation, right.
Brandy: Of a professional expert.
Clare: A professional. I said, “Well, you should meet him and see what you think.” She’s like, “Okay. This is real. You’re good to go ahead and let him transition.” We’re like, “What? What? What?”
Brandy: Yeah. Was your husband on board? How did your husband handle this?
Clare: He was on board but more skeptical. It didn’t take him much longer but maybe a few weeks more of thinking about it, but we’d both been pretty much on the same page. He’s very supportive.
Brandy: Before you had children, what was your experience with transgender people? Is this something that was totally out of left field?
Clare: Oh, yeah. I didn’t know anything about it. The only thing you ever hear of are cross-dressers, which is a different thing. I never worried about whether they were going to be gay or how they were going to grow up, or I didn’t have all the expectations. A lot of people had already planned their kids’ lives and weddings and everything when they’re born, and I’m just not like that.
Brandy: Yeah. You’re more progressive and open-minded, so this was not, “Oh my gosh, not this.” This was like, “But wow, this is something I didn’t know about.”
Clare: Right. Then we said, “How are we going to do this?” We were so baffled and scared and emotional, and it was just so foreign. We’re like, “How can we do this? He’s six.” How do you let someone who’s six decide their whole life? How can he possibly know? But this kid knew since he was born. I mean, consistent, insistent, persistent is what he was. Never wavered for one day, said, “I know I’m a girl,” never. “I AM a boy.” We said, “Gosh, how are we going to allow this? Can we allow this? Can we let our child do this?”
Clare: I sat back, and when we were saying that, I’m like, “We’re not allowing anything. This is happening. This is real. This is who he is. We’re not allowing it. It’s how we choose to react to it.” You going to accept it? Not accepting it was just not even an option. We thought, okay, we’re doing this; why are we freaking out? When we really picked it apart together, my husband and I, it came down to we were worried about what other people thought, and that’s so not us, or not me. I am not like that at all, and so it was very shocking to see at the core of why were so scared is, what are other people … How are we going to tell other people? It’s going to be weird.
Clare: Once we took that out of the equation, just removed that and said, “We don’t care what other people think. What I care about is the health of my child, the mental health, physical health.” Because we had also learned from the therapist that the suicide rate for transgender kids is 40%. That’s almost half of kids kill themselves because their families don’t accept them. I think the difference is if you have family acceptance, that number goes way down.
Brandy: So this became also like a survival thing for you, which is okay, so we can either react in a way that makes that number really real or greater, or we can lessen that number.
Brandy: That’s a heavy thing to have to take on.
Clare: Yeah. It was scary, but it did, I mean those statistics helped our families accept it because it’s harder for maybe the older generation, but our family was very supportive. We’ve been so lucky.
Brandy: How did your older son react to any of this?
Clare: We had talked about it openly, and he was there when we talked about it. He knew. He knew that his little brother was always saying, “I’m a boy, I’m a boy.” We waited until school was over because we just thought, it’s only a few weeks. It’s too much to do it now, so my son agreed that we could wait until summer a few weeks.
Clare: The day after school, we changed the pronoun, said, “Okay, we’re only going to call you ‘he’,” and he was so happy the day we changed it. We went out to dinner that night, and we went to Ruby’s Diner I think. There was a balloon guy, and he was doing a balloon for my older son. He goes, “Oh, you need to make one for my little brother too.” Oh my god, we all just were like, “Oh my god.” He unprompted just was on board immediately.
Brandy: Oh my god.
Clare: I know. I have tears in my eyes.
Brandy: I can’t even, because I know your older son, and he is pure love.
Clare: I know, and he was only nine. Just didn’t faze him.
Clare: The kids at school were fine. Our school was incredibly supportive. We are so lucky. I have heard horror stories from some friends at the support groups I go to. We have never had, knock on wood, one word against us – to my face.
Brandy: Right. But you’re really good about you don’t want to hear anything anybody’s saying.
Clare: Right. I don’t need to hear negative.
Brandy: You’ve kind of said that, like, “If anybody’s saying stuff, I don’t want to hear it.”
Clare: I don’t want to hear it. Don’t tell me. I would love it if my friends stuck up for me in those moments, but don’t tell me, please. I just want to live in my little bubble of protection. We told everybody that we knew in person. We didn’t send out a letter because like I said, I felt like the personal connection, hearing our story, our friends being able to ask questions about it, it was just so well received. I mean, if you knew Jack, he also, I mean it was so obvious. Some people were like, “Duh.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.”
Clare: I know a lot of people when their child transitioned, they feel a kind of grief for the loss of the child that they had before and that now this is a new child. And it’s so valid because you’re grieving all the things you thought you were going to do. Personally, I did not feel this, but like I said, that’s just part of my personality. I just felt like well, this is the same kid. I mean, he wasn’t a girl and then a boy. He was always a boy. You know what I mean?
Clare: I mean, not being able to pick out dresses, I was like, oh, that sucks and then move on. But I know it’s so valid. A lot of people feel the grief because they thought, I’m never going to walk my daughter down the aisle, all the things that you thought that you might do.
Brandy: Which are interesting because as I’m thinking about it, many of those things are like you could do with a son.
Clare: Right. I know.
Brandy: Like shopping or getting fingernails painted or …
Clare: Right. But it’s a thing that people do. I didn’t feel the grief, but …
Brandy: But it exists.
Clare: Yeah. He was so happy and loud and proud about being transgender that it was just so endearing. He would tell people. We travel a lot internationally every summer, and so one summer I said, “Don’t forget that you still have your old name on your passport and it still says female, so just in case at security they ask you, just remember that.” He took that as I’m walking up to the passport security officer at LAX and going, “Hi, I’m transgender,” and everybody was laughing. All the officers were laughing. All of the people in line around us were laughing. I’m like, “Oh my god, okay, so hi.” That was just how he was.
Brandy: Right. He wasn’t the kind of kid that was like super shy and embarrassed. He was excited and happy.
Clare: Happy, and this is me and F-U if you can’t handle it. Saying that, he didn’t experience any negative. I mean maybe a little bit at school, but mostly the kids at school just wanted to know what to call him. They’re less interested in all of the wait, how, what? They were just like, “Are you a boy or girl? Okay, cool. You’re a boy, let’s go play.” The kids that knew us for a long time, some of them said, “Well, I don’t get it.” And I go, “Well, here’s how you explain it easily. His brain is a boy, and his body is a girl. They just got mixed up when he was born.” Then they go, “Okay.”
Clare: Once they hit fourth grade is when they mature socially a little bit, and there you start to notice differences. When fourth grade hit last year, it was a little bit like, wait a minute, I went to your house in kindergarten; you had a dress on. So he’s been fielding some of that, so now he’s a little bit less loud. Not that he’s less proud, but he’s over it. He’s like, “I’m just a boy. I want to just not talk about it anymore.” We could talk about it forever, all day, every day, but they’re kids. They’re not like that. They’re like, “This is it and I’m done. Can we move on?”
Brandy: Yeah. “Can we go play now?”
Clare: So fourth and fifth grade have been more challenging because it’s private, because people want to talk about it at school. And it’s not that he wants to deny it, just it’s not an appropriate place to talk about it. Really, when you talk about it, what are you talking about? Genitals.
Brandy: I was going to say, it’s nobody’s business.
Clare: So we don’t tell new people now a lot of times. I struggled with that at first, but that was his request. And it’s true, he is a boy. Why do I have to tell them what he has in his pants? That’s weird. I did not ask you what your son had between his legs when we met.
Brandy: How have you handled or how are you going to handle things like changing in gym when they get into middle school and sleepovers and what are your thoughts on those things?
Clare: I don’t know. Those things are hard, but I think he’s pretty good at just being private. He’ll change in the bathroom at school. If he went to a friend’s house overnight, he would change in the bathroom. Nobody should be coming in the bathroom and looking at what he’s doing in there anyway. I do worry about pranks and is someone going to pants him on the playground. I’m always like, “Wear those Ethikas, they’re tight.”
Clare: Also, I’ve taken a lot of the negativity that people might have – I’ve tried to shield him from that because he’s a child, and he was so proud. They’re kids, you never want to take away their innocence and their happiness by saying, “There’s people out there that are mean.” I’ve started to give him a little bit of that now, like, “You don’t need to tell everybody. It’s private. There are people out there who don’t understand it and so maybe aren’t so nice about it,” because it’s ugly out there.
Clare: It is ugly, and thank goodness we don’t live somewhere where people’s houses get bottle rockets thrown at them because they have transgender kids. Because I don’t know, they think the parents are pushing this on them. We would never want this life for our child. It’s not something you voluntarily do. I can’t believe anybody would ever-
Brandy: Would think that.
Clare: … think that, but people do. I know there’s some religious components to it, which I don’t really understand because I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it says you can’t be transgender. That’s people’s interpretation.
Brandy: Well, and also if you believe God makes everybody and we’re a perfect representation of God, well, so bring this up with God then.
Clare: There are churches that do. There are definitely, there are Jewish communities that are very accepting and welcome and Lutheran and Episcopalian. We’ve had great experiences. We’re not religious, but the support groups I go to are held in churches that are very supportive.
Clare: But you know, where did the negativity come from? Because this is a gift, this is not a negative thing, and I try to remind him of that. In Native American cultures they have had transgender for as long as we’ve been around. They used to call it the Two Spirit. It was revered. Those were special people and given special roles in society. We have to look at it as it’s a gift. It’s a Two Spirit.
Brandy: It’s really beautiful to be able to be in both worlds and to enjoy the things that we really have made binary that one person could enjoy all of those things. I see Jack, and he’s super masculine and likes sports and is a bro, but then he will play with my daughter, who’s five, and he’ll do a makeover on her. He’s done her makeup before, done her nails, and it’s like you really see wow, he gets to … I mean, we all should be able. We all get to, but we don’t because we have the stereotypes of what we should be. But he is in both worlds, and what a full human being. That reminds me of what you’re talking about.
Clare: I mean, transgender, especially kids tend to go overboard with their gender because they want people to see them as who they really are, so sometimes he does tend to be overly masculine or try to wear muscle shirts or be like, “I’m a jock and I only play sports.” But really, he still likes to get his nails done.
Clare: I was like that with both my kids. Both my kids played with … every toy was gender neutral in our house. I mean, my older son had a baby doll when he was little and painted his nails when he went to karate. My older son did sewing classes, and he’s very straight, cisgendered. I think everything is for everybody.
Brandy: Yeah. I was just remembering a moment when your youngest came down and was lifting weights by us in a muscle shirt. He’s like, “Mom, do you think I’m getting buff yet,” or something. That was great.
Clare: Yeah. That’s funny.
Brandy: What is your take on gender reveals?
Clare: We’ve talked about this.
Brandy: I know, and now I want to talk about it here.
Clare: I just go, “You never know.” It’s a boy, well, maybe. You don’t actually know. You may get another surprise later. I don’t have much more to add than that. I guess it’s exciting. I did read an article that they’re just studying the brains of transgender people more now, and they discovered, I think it was in Europe, that the brains of a transgender person match the brain of the cisgender person that they were transitioning. My child was born a girl, but his brain is a boy, so his brain would match the brain of a biological boy.
Clare: That’s pretty breakthrough research people are doing, that there is a physical component. It is a real thing. It’s not, you know some people describe it as a mental illness or whatever, but yeah, there is science behind it.
Brandy: Yeah. How is it different to parent a transgender child versus a cisgender child? What are some of the things that we as parents of cisgender children would have no idea that go through your mind or strategies you have to put in place or things that you do that we don’t have to do?
Clare: Well, I can think of two things. The first is going to the doctor, prepping the doctor. Do you prepare the doctor before you go in, and you don’t want to do it in front of your child. You never know, are they going to be okay with it? Are you going to get someone who is against transgender? You’re always thinking, is this person going to be on our side? Is this person going to humiliate us? Is this person going to make us feel bad?
Clare: The other part is that he is more emotionally fragile, so there are some times where he has anger issues, very quick to anger. That could be a personality thing too, and I try to help him with that, dealing with the anger. But our therapist says, “Give the kid a break. The kid wakes up in the wrong body every day. Can you imagine how that’d make you feel every morning?” Your irritation level is already up five levels than a normal person.
Brandy: What do you want parents of cisgender children to know so that we can help you and help your child be included and accepted?
Clare: I think we need to learn how to talk to our own children about things like this. A lot of people have asked me like, “I don’t know how to talk to my child about it,” or they think it’s sexual. You don’t have to bring sex into it. I don’t know what sex would have to do with it, but I understand it. It’s hard. Not everybody can talk to their kids about sensitive subjects, but I think that needs to change because if we don’t talk to our kids, they don’t know anything. They discover things but may not be in the right context. Talk to your kids about it, that it’s normal, that it’s okay, that there’s nothing wrong with that person, that he’s just a normal boy.
Brandy: So if parents out there are wondering, my kid doesn’t go to school with a transgender kid, so how do we have the conversation? I know how I would probably do it, but we have you guys in our lives, so these are conversations that we have something that makes it an organic conversation. But is it a way of saying, “Hey, you know what’s really cool is that there’s some people who are males and they feel like that, and there’s people that are born females and feel like that. And guess what, there’s also some people that are born either female or male and don’t feel like that fits them. Isn’t that interesting?” How would you …
Clare: That’s exactly, that’s why we’re friends.
Clare: No, I mean we have very similar style in that way that we’re honest and we do talk to our kids about things in the world. I would say, “Have you ever heard of someone being transgender? Do you know what that means?” The brain is one and the body is one is just easy for kids to understand.
Brandy: Exactly, right.
Clare: That when people say, “Well, how do I explain it?” I say, “Well, his brain’s a boy, and his body’s a girl, and your brain tells you who you are.” That is just the most simple. You just bring it up that this exists. There’s a gender spectrum, which is very confusing to a lot of people, but when I was going to the support groups, there a lot of kids that don’t feel like a boy or a girl. They feel somewhere in the middle. One day I feel more like a boy, and one day I feel more like a girl. Or I feel like both but closer to a girl, so I have long hair but I don’t wear makeup.
Brandy: And that’s called gender fluid.
Clare: Gender fluid, that one day you’re one thing and the next day you’re another thing, which is confusing to people.
Brandy: Yeah, I think especially for kids because kids like to have labels on things, and so that’s like well, wait, how can you choose to be either way?
Clare: But just telling your kids that it’s okay. I mean you have to teach them that all of it is okay. I think they are already think it’s okay, but then they hear from the adults and they see things around them and like, oh wait, this is not okay. They even hear you talking in your house negatively. What if your kid was thinking maybe they are gay or they are transgender, and they hear you making a comment about someone on TV? “Oh, that actor, he’s so lame, he’s gay,” or I don’t know how people talk negative because I think it’s horrible.
Brandy: You’re like, “Look at that hot, awesome, fun man. He sure seems lame. Wait, what?” That’s so true.
Clare: Right, I don’t know. I can’t give you anything.
Brandy: Would the next part of the conversation be, “Hey, this exists, and it’s totally okay. And not only that, but people who are transgender need support.” Would you have a next step, or does that make them feel too other, like they’re not just normal?
Clare: Yeah. Because you can’t really acknowledge it because you don’t know if that person really wants to talk about it. Like I was saying, my son at school just doesn’t want to talk about it, but he wants everybody to be his friend. You just want to include everybody in your play. That’s all kids want.
Brandy: In a conversation, how do we say that with our kids but without making it seem like, “And make sure to include any kids that you know are transgender?” Do you think it’s even just by having the conversation and normalizing it?
Clare: Yeah. Because then when it comes up, if someone does find out and people are making fun of them, you go, “Yeah, but what’s wrong with that? Oh, this person’s transgender.” Then your response is like, “So?”
Brandy: “Yeah, and?”
Clare: “They’re cool. They’re my friend.” I don’t have all those answers. I don’t really know. We’re still navigating that. There’s also a great resource in the book entitled I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. It’s about Jazz Jennings, who also has a TV show. She’s a public figure who is transgender. It’s a great children’s book just about acceptance, and it is about a child who’s transgender but in a picture book way. Hopefully it would be at your library and maybe your school library, but that’s a great resource.
Brandy: I have an idea. We do this thing at our library, which is you can give these, it’s called Celebration Book Club. I’m sure a lot of schools have them. That would be a great way for listeners, if you felt like, “I want to do something.” How about you gift that book in your kid’s name to the library?
Clare: And read it to your class.
Brandy: But just the fact that that would be in the library, because I imagine I’d go to our school right now and that book would not be there.
Clare: No, probably not.
Brandy: Those of us who feel like, “Okay, I want to do something to help this, to help other kids feel included and to get the schools on board that this is something that should be included,” is maybe have that book show up in your child’s name.
Clare: Yeah. Or do an assembly on tolerance for everybody.
Brandy: What would you say to that mom that goes, “I just don’t get it,” aside from a throat punch? I mean, what would you want her to know?
Clare: That you don’t have to get it, you just have to understand that they’re people and respect them as people, but maybe you should try to get it a little bit. Maybe get some information. I can tell you my story. I’d be happy to sit with you and tell you my story or my friend’s story or this article I read or this awesome podcast I heard.
Brandy: Do you feel tired of educating cisgender people?
Clare: No. I know some people do. I even have the same thing with my older son and his Type 1 diabetes. I don’t mind because I didn’t know anything about either of these things before we experienced it, so how are people going to learn unless you tell them? They’re just supposed to go and learn on their own? No, but that’s maybe a personality thing. I like talking about things.
Brandy: No, that’s great.
Clare: But I don’t get tired of it, no.
Clare: It can be exhausting. When we were first telling everybody, I had to tell this story individually to everybody, it does get exhausting, but it’s so important. This is your child, and it’s the future. And you’re changing people’s minds. You can do that so well on a one on one.
Brandy: You’ve gone into at least your son’s school and given all the teachers a talk about transgender, correct?
Clare: Yeah. I did that at my school. I’d love to do it for other schools too. I’ve been on other panels talking about it, but I’d like to do more.
Brandy: Have you ever been worried or are you worried, you mentioned it a little bit, are you worried about if I share this story, this isn’t totally my story to share and the worrying about his privacy but also the worry about putting yourself out there and possibly being a target for hate crime?
Brandy: How have you navigated that?
Clare: I don’t know. So far I’ve kept it private, so I haven’t really opened myself up to that because I am a little bit scared of the public part of it and being a target. I struggle with keeping his story private because now he’s asked me, “Can we just not tell everybody?” I try to tell my perspective of my story because it’s still my story too. I am navigating my own way through it, and I don’t put it out there on Facebook. I haven’t put our story on Facebook, and I always felt like well, there’s this elephant in the room, I now refer to my daughter as my son. I just let it go. Most people know, and it’s pretty obvious now.
Clare: Yeah, I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m not sure how to do both because I think it’s so important to make it personal. Like I was saying before, if you have someone who lives it discussing it to your face, you’re more understanding, and it’s easier to understand and to follow and to go, oh, okay, you’d be able to ask questions and have a conversation about it with a real person rather than just reading an article about someone in a different state. This is someone that lives on my street. This is someone on my soccer team. Oh, they’re normal, they’re nice. I want to do that. I want to do that more.
Brandy: But it’s right, finding that balance between I want to speak out about this and really help, and then I also don’t want to put us out there so much that we’re getting blowback and then living that life.
Clare: Yeah. But I want to further the cause. I want awareness that it’s happening, and it’s happening more. Why is it happening more? I think it’s more accepted. Because I know a lot of people are like, “I didn’t even know that was a thing.” Now they could be 18, 20, 25, and they go, “Oh, that’s what I’ve been feeling my whole life. I had no idea.”
Brandy: Right. I read an article last night that said, why does being transgender seem like such a trend? It was-
Clare: Oh, yeah.
Brandy: Did you see that one?
Clare: I saw that too.
Brandy: I read it, and it was by a 40-year-old transgender woman who lived her whole life not really knowing where she fit in.
Clare: How sad.
Brandy: Yeah. Her take on it was that people just feel more comfortable coming out.
Clare: Yeah. We’re not scared of you anymore.
Brandy: Right. Yeah. I don’t know. I feel like some people think this is some weird trend; “I don’t even know what this is about.” It’s like, it’s complicated.
Clare: It’s more awareness too.
Clare: I’ve tried to protect him from the discrimination in the world, but I have to start to telling him because I feel like it will keep him safe. That’s kind of sad to have to tell them, “There are people in this world who hate you just because of who you are.” That is such a horrible thing to tell your child. I haven’t actually said those words because I can’t bring myself to. Or even things like when Trump was trying to do the military ban on transgender could not be in the military. There was one day while all this was going on that my son was watching something on TV, and he goes, “Oh, that guy is so cool, that Army guy. I want to be an Army guy when I grow up.”
Clare: I just looked at him and was like, wow, in my head, I’m not saying this out loud of course. I’m going, well, you can’t be whatever you want to be when you grow up. How sad is that to know, I mean I didn’t tell him, but to think – you always tell your kids, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up,” but I would’ve had to say, “Sorry, you can’t be that. Sorry, because you’re transgender, you can’t be that.” So sad.
Clare: I recently had a conversation with a group of my friends about, sadly, the boy that was murdered in Irvine, Blaze, for being gay, or that was a component. One mom said, “That poor mom, she did not wake up that day thinking, my child’s going to be murdered today. How do you even wrap your head around that happening?” Of course, we can’t answer that question. She goes, “I can’t imagine having ever, why would you ever think about that?” I said, “Oh my gosh, you guys, I guarantee you that mom thought about that.” And she goes, “Why?”
Clare: I think it was something like, “None of us have ever thought about our kids being murdered,” and I’m like, “Hello? I have.” They all looked at me like I was crazy. I’m like, “I have a transgender child. I can guarantee you that that mom had thought about it at some point because that’s what you’re worried about.” When your child comes out as LGBTQIA, any of that, their murder rate is higher. Of course, that’s what you’re scared of. You’re scared of some crazy, hateful person murdering your child. Yes, yes, we do think about it. I said, “What privilege to say, I’ve never had to think about that happening.”
Brandy: That’s why I wanted other parents to hear your story so that they could understand a little bit about it and about how normal it is but also parents, parents of transgender kids have just a different perspective and layer of everything. You’re like, I think of this every day, and in fact, some of my parenting is informed by these murder and suicide rates. Not to say your full scope of parenting is based on that but that that’s a thought that really you have to think about.
Brandy: I remember you saying that when you told your family about the transition and everything, you said to them, “You’re either going to be on board, or you’re not going to be around because my job is to protect my child and to keep them alive, so you want to hop on board with that, or do you want to actually make it worse?” It was like putting it in those terms I feel like really clarifies for people what we’re talking about.
Clare: Right. Absolutely.
Brandy: One thing I want to ask you about, which you don’t have to get into the full scope of things, but I know listeners are probably going to wonder, what about puberty?
Clare: The deal is when they start puberty, it’s apparently mortifying to start changing even more into this gender that you’re not. For example, a girl getting her period would be completely devastating and suicide sometimes inducing, or if you were developing breasts, or if you had to start shaving your face if you were born male. Those things are really, really hard to get through. What they do is they give you shots, and they are puberty blockers.
Clare: It puts puberty on hold so your brain can develop. You can develop socially. You can be a pre-teen. You can be a teenager. You get a few more years of making sure this is who you are, this is what you want. Then when other kids around you start developing, that’s when you start taking the opposite hormone. Since my child would be naturally getting estrogen, it would stop, and then he would start getting testosterone shots.
Brandy: So the shots to put puberty on hold, the minute that you stop the shots, then does puberty just start?
Clare: Right, yeah.
Brandy: It’s not something that’s irreversible?
Clare: Right. It’s not irreversible. They want you to have as many years as you can to think about it and to make sure. There are transgender people who don’t mind physically changing. They don’t want the surgeries or anything like that, and everybody’s different.
Brandy: The choices are don’t do anything or take the shots and give yourself a little bit of time to think about it, and then from there it’s either you decide not to do surgery or you decide to do surgery. Is there other choices in there that I’m missing?
Clare: Did you say the shots?
Brandy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Clare: You either get estrogen shots or testosterone shots after, so you need that hormone before you can go into a surgery to get the other.
Brandy: Got it. Can you do the shots of the hormone that you don’t naturally produce, can you do that and not have the surgery?
Clare: Oh, yeah.
Brandy: What do most transgender people choose?
Clare: I don’t know. I’ve never looked at those statistics actually because it’s a huge surgery, and it’s expensive. I’m sure a lot of people can’t afford that.
Brandy: At that point usually, because I’m thinking people are probably like, “Oh, these kids shouldn’t be making these huge choices,” but if you’re able to delay puberty, then you can have kids at a young adult age making these choices.
Clare: Right. The only advantage of having a child know this at such an early age is that they will look more the part since you’re catching it before puberty. I’ve heard from other transgender people that since they went through the regular puberty, it’s harder to get to where you want to look, the opposite gender. That’s an advantage for my child. He will eventually look the way he wants to look, whatever that may be, and that’s his choice.
Brandy: You said that he’s been adamant about I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but did he ever have a moment where he went, “I don’t know, maybe not”? Did he ever have that moment?
Clare: Yes. He did have one moment, and I think I freaked him out by … He wanted to change his name in his passport, and I just was like, “This is forever.” I just went overboard on trying to explain to him how serious it was to change your name and your birth certificate. I think I went overboard, but he then didn’t want to for a couple weeks. “Okay, okay, I won’t change my name right now,” because he was like eight maybe. Then a couple of weeks later he was like, “Well, what if … ” Because I’ve always kept it open for him if he ever wanted to change back that this wasn’t a permanent thing, just whatever you feel, you can tell me; we can talk about.
Clare: There was one day where he’s like, “I wonder if maybe I should try to be a girl.” I feel like he was trying to force it to just check. I think it confused him that he still liked to paint nails and do makeup and twirly dresses look really fun. “Can I try one of those on?” I went to buy him a dress because I was, ashamedly, excited that maybe it was not going to be permanent.
Brandy: Such a natural feeling, by the way. You’re not a monster.
Clare: No, I know, but you just want the easiest life for them.
Clare: I went to buy him a dress, and he put the dress on and we went to the mall to see what it felt like to walk around. He had super short hair.
Brandy: And he hadn’t had a girl identity or presented as a girl in six years or something, right?
Clare: No, years. Yeah.
Brandy: Okay. So this was a big deal.
Clare: Yeah, or maybe not six years, but years. He put the dress on, put a bow in his short little hair and put a purse on and some flip-flops. We went to a mall in a different town so nobody would see him, and he would barely get out of the car. The minute we pulled up, he’s like, “What am I doing? This is wrong. Oh my god.” So I made him get out of the car because I was like, “Well, we’re here. Let’s just try it.”
Clare: We walked like 10 steps into the mall, and he was like, “This is mortifying. I want to go back to the car. Everybody’s looking at me.” He thought everybody knew. I’m like, “Nobody knows.” He was just like, “This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong. I don’t want to do it.” So we went back to the car. He’s like, “I am definitely not a girl. Oh my god, that was horrible.” I’m like, “Okay.”
Brandy: That had to be hugely validating.
Brandy: I mean, not that maybe you guys maybe needed it, but just another for when people are like, “But are you sure? It’s a phase.” You’re like, “I did my due diligence.”
Clare: Right. I know. I feel like sometimes telling that part of the story – I don’t tell that often because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea like, oh, oh. I’m like, yeah, but it was just so fleeting. It was just so false.
Brandy: I mean, one moment of question among years of zero question. Yeah.
Clare: I had a friend who thought her child was transgender but wasn’t sure. The child wanted to present as a boy but still call himself a girl. It was years like that, and it as like torture for her because again, you want the box. You want to put, well, which one are you? She was accepting that he wanted, like be transgender, but this middle ground is so hard.
Clare: The advice we were all giving her was just you have to take your child’s cues. You can’t call him a he if he’s not ready to be called a he because then that’s you leading him. So she just had to wait for him, and now he’s ready for that. Now the pronoun has changed, but that can be really frustrating for us.
Brandy: That’s why it’s important to have support groups.
Brandy: Because then you can talk to other people who are going through it and vent your frustration and not take it out on your kid by pushing them into a box they aren’t ready for.
Clare: Even though you’re an adult and you can maybe see what’s coming, they need to wait until they’re ready to do it, but you have to also give them the tools and the ability to talk to you about it and when the time’s ready that they have an open communication with you but also to have the information. Because so many stories are, “I didn’t know this was a thing, and I was tortured my whole adolescent life.” How sad is that? If they had just found out, they would’ve been happier. Just not knowing that that was a thing, that that existed, and once they heard the word or the term or the concept, they were like, “Oh my god, that’s me.” I wanted to talk about it with my child every day and figure it out before we transitioned.
Brandy: Yeah. How you feeling today? What’s today like?
Clare: Let’s talk about it. He was like, “I’m done talking about it. Why? I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They don’t know all the scenarios. I do a lot of heavy lifting in the background that he doesn’t know about, and I don’t want him know about. I don’t want him to feel guilty, but okay, you want to be on a boys soccer team. I’m like, oh my god, what work do I have to do to make it okay for him? There’s a lot of work that goes behind it or things that he wants to do and you go, oh my god, so many implications; how is this going to work?
Brandy: I’m always in awe of how open-minded you have been about this, and not to say that I would be different than that, but I just, like I said, you have no guidebook. You have no manual on how to do this, and I’m just really inspired by how you have listened to him and really connected with him as a person that’s not your property but as a human being with a life and a trajectory. I applaud you hugely for that.
Clare: Thank you.
Brandy: I mean, that’s badass parenting right there.
Clare: I don’t feel like that. So many people say that to me, like, “You’re amazing. You’re awesome. I don’t know if I could do it.” I don’t think of myself like that. I’m just a parent. I just love my kid. You do what you need to do and the moment you need to do it. I’d like to believe that, but I guess there’s so many people that don’t because look at all the homeless transgender kids. It is a real big problem.
Brandy: I was going to say, you’re parenting without some sort of baggage about what that means in society or what people can and can’t be. Your love is not conditional.
Clare: Right. How it should be.
Brandy: As we know and as we get older, we realize, oh wow, there is such a thing as conditional love even from parent to child, so you just crystallize, nope, there aren’t conditions here, and it’s a really beautiful thing.
Clare: Thank you.
Brandy: Yeah. If you have suspicion that your child might be transgender, do you think the first step is find a therapist who specializes in transgender kids?
Brandy: Because that’s where you get sorted out and you get this expert take on okay, I’ve seen a lot of kids, and this either falls in line with that or doesn’t.
Clare: Yeah, definitely. If you don’t like to call them therapists, I just say, “Oh, we’re going to go talk to my friend, mommy’s new friend,” because he was six. I mean, “You got to go to your therapist.”
Brandy: He’s like, “You pay your friend? That’s weird.” I’m so grateful. Thank you so much for taking your time to come talk about this, and I hope that listeners found – I mean, I know that they found some gems here and maybe learned something, so thank you. Now you can have your fucking banana split.
Clare: Do you have bubblegum?
Brandy: Oh my god. You’re in timeout. I think you’re in a timeout.
Brandy: Hey, hi. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to subscribe, leave a rating, or better yet, a review.