My husband and I are from Dutchess County and live only a few miles from where we both grew up. We have a 13-year-old daughter, Chloe, and a 20-year-old transgender daughter, Jessica. Chloe is in middle school, where life consists of homework, roller-skating and friends. Jess is attending college and she has many hopes about her future.
Jess first came out to us as transgender in March of 2011, when she was 19. My husband and I were very surprised. This is the type of thing that not many people hear about and we never thought it would happen in our little family. However, as soon as we realized her situation, we immediately let her know that we supported her and would help her in whatever way she needed. We then set out to learn as much as we could about transgender topics. And we learned a lot.
We learned that being transgender is more common than we thought. For the most part, people don’t understand what it means. They think that it is just another form of being gay, but that’s not true. One’s sexual preferences have nothing to do with what gender they personally identify with. Transgender people are often the butt of jokes and made into caricatures on television shows. There is a huge need for better transgender education and awareness.
We have seen how Jess has struggled with openly transitioning while going to college. The other students have a genuine curiosity about her. Sometimes she is approached with questions, which she always takes time to answer openly. One student asked if he could write an article about her for the school newspaper, but she declined because she doesn’t want to attract attention. Her father and I worry every single day that she could be hurt or attacked. Even though she can drive we insist on picking her up from her night class and meet her inside the building.
This whole experience with our daughter has allowed us to grow and reach out. We gained empathy for how she must have felt all those years of growing up and feeling disconnected, in a way. She always seemed so unhappy before, and we were often exasperated with her. Looking back, we should have been more understanding. If only we had known! Also, we have reached out to other parents of transgender children, who have become our mentors. Their advice and encouragement has been invaluable.
Overall, we are excited for Jess as she begins her transition. She is much happier to be able to be herself now. She has had an easier time than many people in her situation, and that is a testament to how important it is to have strong support.
However, in New York State she can be denied the job that she is studying so hard for just because she is transgender. At a time when Jess is just starting out, she is at a disadvantage for jobs, housing, loans--all the things that the rest of us take for granted. It is unconscionable that my younger child has her full rights protected in this state, yet my older child does not.