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How My 3-Year-Old Son Became My 3-Year-Old Daughter

Photograph by Twenty20

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith, congratulations! It’s a boy!”

Our OB-GYN thought I had delivered a baby boy. How exciting! My child was born with a penis, so it makes sense. However, in the three and a half years since, I have come to find out I actually gave birth to a girl. A girl with a penis.

“Mommy, can you give me ponytails and bows?”

“I want to wear a dress today!”

“Can I grow my hair out long like Princess Elsa?”

“Soon I’m going to be a girl!”

These are things one may not expect their 3-year-old son to say.

As Joseph’s* mother, I chalked it up to not enforcing strict gender roles in our family. My husband and I never told our kids they could or couldn’t do something because of their gender. I convinced myself that my son was just testing his limits. I thought he loved his mommy and sister so much, he wanted to be just like us.

From the age of 2, there were a few signs that pointed to the fact that my son felt like a girl. Just before 3, the signs became increasingly obvious. Joseph started exclaiming he was a girl every day, multiple times a day. We would tell him: “You can be anything you want!” He was very persistent, so we decided we couldn’t deny him any longer.

I took Joseph to Target and let him pick out a nightgown and a dress and let him wear them around the house as often as he wanted. Anytime we had to leave the house, I’d give him some excuse as to why he had to put his “boy” clothes back on. My husband and I weren’t ready to let this secret out yet. We were still wondering if this was a phase and we didn’t want to deal with any potential backlash from letting our boy wear girl clothes in public.

After four months of consistence, persistence and insistence from our son of his female identity, I took him shopping and let him pick out any clothes that made him happy. We went home with an entire girl's wardrobe of dresses, skirts, leggings, headbands and everything pink, purple and glittery. I’d never seen Joseph happier. At the thought of allowing him to wear these things in public, though, questions flew through my head.

I need to come to terms with the fact that my child’s life won’t always be easy.

Who wouldn’t respond well? Who would possibly say hurtful things? Who will hate him simply because they don’t understand and refuse to try? Who will teach their kids to hate him? Our hearts were heavy with fear. I was sure there would be some backlash from some friends and family when we came out.

I knew people would start talking when they saw us out in the neighborhood or at school. I was terrified of coming out but I wanted to get ahead of the gossip. It was time to tell our friends and family through social media.

Most of the responses were positive and affirming. Many told us that we were doing the right thing and they supported us. But it wasn't all good news. We had some negative feedback and many neighbors who stopped talking to us. It was very difficult for me. I just wanted my child to be happy, to fit in and be liked in his own neighborhood.

I need to come to terms with the fact that my child’s life won’t always be easy. There are those who don’t understand, and that lack of understanding can sometimes come out in hurtful and hateful ways. We will never be able to fully protect him from that. What we can do is teach him how to be strong enough to withstand the hate—how to be kind to everyone he meets and to spread love, not hate.

A couple weeks after coming out, my husband and I decided it was time for a name and pronoun change. Joseph was telling us every day he was a girl and it felt like it was becoming harmful to continue to call our child by his male name and male pronouns.

So, we welcomed Josie as our new daughter.

I knew this would be difficult for me emotionally. I felt like we were cutting the last thread of hope that perhaps our child wasn’t having a gender identity issue. I love Josie more than anything in this world, but no parent wants to see their child on a path to bullying and hatred.

Although I would have never chosen this path for one of my children, I support her 100 percent. I chose to share her journey with our friends and family to help foster understanding about gender identity. I can only hope—and believe— that Josie’s journey will change the world, one person at a time.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child

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