Hi, welcome to the Gloriously Unready podcast, all about being unready for anything.
I’m Josephine Hughes, and this series is about becoming the mum of transgender children. Everyone’s agreed to me sharing my story, but I’m mentioning no names, and sometimes I use clumsy language – please bear with me, I’m still learning; I don’t mean any harm by it.
I distinctly remember the day when I was about eight, being in the kitchen with my mum and through the kitchen window we saw a policeman coming to our back door. My mum opened the door and stepped outside to speak to the policeman; he’d come to tell us that my dad had been involved in road accident. My dad recovered, but the memory of that day still stays with me. Even as a young child, the enormity of what was happening made an impression on me, and it can be like that, can’t it? That in one moment, your life is one way, and the next, it’s changed forever. But what’s it like on the day that your whole world changes? In today’s episode, I’m talking about the day that my whole world changed.
It was January, a few days before my youngest child’s 17th birthday and the older two were both away at university, so it was just my youngest and me together at home, and they were just about to leave for school. I’d been aware that they hadn’t really seen their girlfriend recently, and I was wondering whether something was happening, and this was someone that they’d been together for a year, they’d had a really lovely relationship together, and so I thought there was possibly something going wrong. So I asked them what was happening. There was a really, really long silence. One thing my counselling training has helped me to do occasionally is recognise where I need to shut up and listen. So I thought, don’t say anything, don’t say anything – I was longing to say something, but I thought, no, don’t say anything, just wait. And this silence stretched out – it was probably only about a minute or so, but it felt like a long, long time. And then my youngest turned round and said, ‘I think I’m a girl’. And I just… I mean, it was just, ‘what?’ That’s what went through my head, but I said the first thing that really felt important to say, and that was, ‘we’re still going to love you’. Because that goes without saying. So I told her – because we call her, her – I told her that we’d always love her. And then to be honest, I can’t really remember very much more about what happened in those few moments, because she was actually due to go to school, and so she told me, and within about five minutes, she was out of the house and I was on my own. It was like she dropped this huge bombshell and left. And it’s just, ‘Whoa! What do I do with that?’
My husband was at work, the house was empty, there’s no one to talk to, and I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I was just completely and utterly floored, gobsmacked, whatever you want to call it. That was what was going on. I just really didn’t know what to think.
Now, I’m one of those people that processes things by talking, and I have some really great friends, so I thought, I’m going to have to talk to a friend about this; I really need to talk to somebody about it. I’ve got to talk to someone. And normally if something happened, I would probably phone my husband up, but I thought, how can I possibly phone him? He’s at work, start of the working day, I know he’ll be at work by now. I thought I can’t phone him at work and tell him our son has just come out as transgender. It’s, you know, that wouldn’t be fair on him. I thought it’s going to have to wait until I see him. I didn’t feel able to phone him up and say, ‘can you come home, something’s happened’, because that wouldn’t have been very nice either. I thought, I’ve got to sit down with him and tell him; I can’t tell him over the phone, and I can’t bring him back home. It wouldn’t be fair. So I thought, what am I going to do?
And so I was thinking, who could I speak to, and one of my really dear friends was at work, so I thought, I can’t speak to her she’s at work. I thought I’ll go around to so and so’s house because she might be in. So when I went around to her house; I got in the car and drove around to her house, and she wasn’t in she was at work. Oh, that’s no good. And she said to me later, she said, you should have phoned, I would have come back, which of course she would have done, but I don’t think you’re really thinking straight in those circumstances. And I have this abiding memory – and I don’t know why, but I have this abiding memory; I live near the coast, and I have an abiding memory of being on the seafront and being in a little park and possibly, I was out walking the dog. But that’s my memory – one of my really strong memories of that day, is actually just being in that park. And as I talk about it, I can feel myself welling up actually, because I think there’s that sense of complete aloneness, and just not knowing what to do in that moment.
What I did end up doing in the end, because I have a faith, I turned to my church, and I actually went to the church and although I couldn’t speak to my own Minister, I did speak to someone there who gave me some time and sat and listened, and was able to really empathise with me. And that was really helpful just to be able just to tell somebody. I just needed to tell somebody. And later on, I did see my really close friend and told her, and she said, how have you carried that today? How have you coped with that today? And I think for many parents listening to this who’ve experienced their child coming out as transgender, you may very well identify with those feelings, that complete and utter shock, and just not knowing what to do or what to think, or where to go.
It just being like such a big thing, you don’t know how to process it. And of course, my daughter came home later, and we talked a little bit more about it, but really, in a way, I think it’s so difficult, because at that point, you’re really in shock, and in a sense, you don’t want it to be true. And I think the one thing I said, which I look back and wish I hadn’t said, I said at that point – and I think that’s because really, yes, we need to talk about it, but also, I needed time to process it, and I think the important thing to remember out of all of this is that it’s a journey, and it takes time, and that as a parent, you need to give yourself time to understand. I think it’s actually really important for your child as well that you actually don’t try and put anything on them in terms of telling them what you feel or what you think at that point, because it’s too much for them.
Later on. I spoke to someone who’d actually studied in some depth, she’d done a dissertation on what it’s like for transgender people to come out, and she said to me, and I think this is so so important to remember; people don’t come out as transgender on a whim. This is not something that people do lightly. When people come out, they have really thought about it, because it’s a huge, huge thing to come out. And the reason there was that really, really long silence – I mean, I expect my daughter can speak for herself – but I think the reason that there was that long silence is because it was a huge risk. Coming out as transgender is a massive, massive step; it’s a huge risk. And my, my daughter, at that point, risked me saying, I don’t accept it. And for many transgender people that actually can lead to them becoming homeless.
So it’s so important, I think, to acknowledge that this is not something that people do lightly. They’ve put an enormous amount of thought, and they’ve often been thinking about it for months, and especially, I think, for older people, and this would be, you know, people who are coming out as adults. They’ve been thinking this for years. They’ve never had a chance to tell anybody. And actually, you know, looking back on it now, I think, blimey, wasn’t I privileged to be the first person that my daughter told. And when I’ve talked about it to her afterwards, she said to me, ‘well, I sort of knew that it would be alright, I expected that you and dad would still love me’. But she didn’t know that until she’d said.
So I think it’s so important for us, and if you’re a parent and your child has just come out, I found it particularly helpful to think, they have thought about this so much before they come out. And I think that’s really, really important to respect and to acknowledge. And, you know, really to listen to them, because it’s important enough for them to risk everything to tell you and that I think is absolutely massive.
So in May of the same year, we discovered that my second daughter was actually a daughter, not a boy, not a son, and that happened, in a sense, it was quite a gentle thing that happened, because my daughter had gone away and stayed with friends and actually tested out her transgendered identity and that she’d dressed as a woman, and it’s really lovely, actually, it’s a lovely story, because she wanted to check it out. And so they all went to one of these cosplay events, and they all dressed as women, so that she was supported in dressing as a woman, and she felt that that was right for her.
But then she had to think about telling us. But fortunately, because I already had one daughter who had come out, when she sat down with me, we were just sitting and talking about her trip away, because she’d been away, and she turned around, and I asked her, ‘well, what did you wear?’ because I knew it’d been a cosplay event, and she said, ‘oh, I dressed as this particular anime character’, which is a female anime character, and so I picked up on that. I said, ‘is that something you’re particularly interested in, you know, dressing as a woman?’ And at that point, that paved the way for her to be able to tell me that she was transgender, too. And of course, I’d already rehearsed my answer hadn’t I, so I was able to reassure her as well, and tell her that I would always love her, which is so, so, true – we love our children dearly.
It made it a lot easier. I think it was a very gentle coming out for her, and she was able to sort of tell me some of her thoughts and feelings but she said to me, she said – because she knew I was counsellor – and she said, oh mum, is this something you’ve come across in your work? And of course, at this point, my younger daughter hadn’t actually come out to her siblings, so the only people who knew were me and my husband and her plus a few close friends, and I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to out my younger daughter. I said, ‘well, it’s not really to do with work, I’ll be able to explain in a while’. And then I went off and found my younger daughter, and said, ‘how do you feel about me telling your sibling about it?’ And she said, no, that’s alright. So I then told my, my oldest daughter, my oldest child, that she actually had a sister. So the two of them were both transgender.
It’s funny because a lot of people say to me, oh, that must be lovely for them. You know, but they don’t sit around swapping stories about hair or makeup or anything like that, they just don’t, but they are supportive of each other. But I have to say as well, that my middle child, who is staunchly still a man, very happily, a cisgender man – he is so supportive of his two sisters, and has been an absolute rock to us all, actually. In terms of him finding out about it, we broke the news to him and his girlfriend said he got in the car and said to her, ‘oh, it turns out I’ve got sisters’. But it’s really funny because she has … his girlfriend and I are very similar to each other, and our immediate thought was, ‘well, how does that make you feel? You know, how you feeling about that?’ And he is very like my husband and a bit of a dark horse when it comes to feelings, and it’s sort of like, you know, that’s just the way it is. They’re engineers, and I think that’s maybe an engineering approach to life. It’s just the way it is, we just get on with it. And, and so he’s been hugely supportive, and he really is a great support to all of us, in our changing family.
I think that what my experience and what my children’s experience shows, is actually the importance of connection. Humans are built to be part of a community. I think my kids were so very courageous to come out and to risk being severed from their community and from their home. But I think our human hearts, at the very core is the desire to care for each other. I provided that care for my kids, and I, in turn, have been cared for by people in my community.
So when someone receives unexpected news, I think there’s so much power from the people in the community to support them. There’s so much power and connection and caring for each other. I hope this podcast helps people who are going through challenging times to feel less alone.
Thanks for listening. Parents of transgender young people, download my free guide, Help! My Child is Trans! at the website www.gloriouslyunready.com, where you can also find out more about me.