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.
When you’re a parent, your ultimate goal is to keep your child safe. You want them to be safe, and you want them to be happy, and when your kids come out as transgender, one of the things you can really worry about is the changes that they might make as part of transitioning, and in particular, the medical changes, and the surgical changes are a worry. So how to manage to support your children through something that perhaps you might not choose for them yourself, and that’s what we’re talking about in this episode. Since I’ve recorded this episode, I’ve heard some more information. So please stay tuned to the end, where I’ll talk a little bit more about those changes.
People will say things like, oh it must be so nice for your daughters to have each other. But they very rarely talk to each other about being transgender; that just doesn’t happen, and so there’s part of me that thinks, oh we’re not a very good family about talking about our feelings, but I think there’s a couple of things around that. One is that you build up, I think in a family, you do build up a level of respect for each other, and that that comes over time, and that comes from making day to day decisions about being respectful towards each other. I think, obviously, my children vary as well, so I’ve maybe talked to one of the children much more about their journey than the other one, but the really nice thing about that is that I can use the information gleaned from one to support the other. So, in some ways, having two transgender daughters has been really helpful, and it’s been good from that point of view, because one of them isn’t quite as talkative as the other, but that’s alright. I can use what I’ve been learning to support her anyway.
I think in terms of us all talking together, is it’s very interesting, I think, when you’re talking to your children, because quite often, if you just sit down with them, I don’t think they really tend to talk as much as if you’re doing something together. So, it was sort of going for a walk together, driving them to places, I was fine sitting in the car driving, that’s when the children tend to talk to me the most, and although it’s been more difficult in recent years because we don’t have those things going on, because my children have left home now, it was really particularly important at the start. Casual conversations, little questions – what do you think about this, or how do you want me to do that, and that can be really important and encouraging them that it’s okay to ask. I think that’s often one of the hardest things isn’t it, is to actually ask for help, and to encourage them that we’re here for them, and we can actually support them and help them. I think one of the things that has really helped them to know that I support them is the fact that I helped them to do some of the difficult things like going to see the GP, often advocated for them, actually, where they found it very difficult to speak.
In fact, I was thinking about this the other day, I took one of my daughters to see the GP and then probably about six months later, I took the second daughter, and the GP actually asked me to leave the room, and it did rather make me wonder if the GP thought that I had Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. He wanted actually to check out that I wasn’t in some way influencing my daughters to be transgender. And, you know, really nothing was further from the truth but obviously, he had a duty of care, and so it was a very correct thing for him to do. But it does make me smile because it’s almost like my advocacy perhaps, came across in a particular way, but I think that helped to support them, and help them to know that I was on their side, and that it was okay for them to be who they wanted to be. I think that went a long way to help them to know that, that they could actually talk to me about the difficult stuff.
I think one of the hardest things about your transgender children is the whole subject of the change to their bodies, and certainly, I know, my husband’s always said this to me, he’s not so bothered about, you know, you can dress how you like you can behave how you like, but it’s so difficult to see your children making decisions to take medication that may, in the long term, have a negative effect on them. And in particular, I think the most obvious thing is the change, that change to their fertility is actually something that can be quite difficult to find the courage to support.
There’s a lot more I could say – and I probably will say about fertility – but I think you look at it and you think (a) do they understand the ramifications of what they’re doing? Will they change their minds later? Because you know, when you’re in your early 20s, obviously, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I have met people over time, who said no, no, no, I don’t want to have children, then subsequently, when they’re older, they do decide to have children. And I thought with my children, will they change their minds? And I think one of the hardest things for me was to support them, when they started taking their medication, particularly with one of them who as a younger person growing up, I’d always said, yes, I’m going to have a family, I’m going to have six children. That’s what I want to have. And so you think, oh you know, will they go back to that? And will they regret it? And is it going to be hard for them? But again, I think it’s about recognising that they have their own lives, and it’s about choosing to respect their right to choose, it’s about choosing their right to make mistakes, and that if in the future, at any point, they say, that was a mistake, it’s not to turn around and say I told you so, but to be with them, as they process, any grief that they may have, if in subsequent years, they say, actually, I wish that I had, for example, the possibility of saving their sperm. Neither of them chose to do that. If perhaps they look back and think, oh, I should have done that, it is just to be with them in that grief and pain.
I think again, this comes back to choice in that they’re making choices, and it’s not my life, it’s their lives, and so choosing to respect that, choosing to allow them – allow is probably the wrong word because, you know, it shouldn’t be a case of allowing; they are their own people, they can make their own choices, and obviously, we had conversations with them about it, and we did talk about, should you freeze your sperm? Should you save it? How would you feel about it? Are you ready to take medication yet? Have you considered it? Talking about things like adoption, what would the alternatives be? And again, this is where my very, I suppose, ‘square’ – for want of a better word – views, how I’ve been shown how I just have a very straight way of looking at things, and that families can be formed in all sorts of different ways and that it doesn’t have to be like a natural grandchild. They may choose to have children in different ways. And that’s a-nother way of human expression.
So what I find with this hole, was it difficult to choose to support them around that – I think in some ways it was because there’s that letting go of what you want for yourself, but also it’s about putting them at the centre and supporting them in their decisions for their lives. Because they, as I said, they’re not me, they’re themselves, and so it’s been able to make that separation between me and what I want, and them and what they want, and acknowledging that, that is their, simply their human right.
It’s strange, because you go from a place of, to be honest, sheer complacency, in that you have three young men, and you think – I hate to say it, but three white young men – feel pretty safe about them being out and about in the world. They are the patriarchy or whatever. And then it changes. And suddenly they’ve become a minority, and actually a minority, which is subject to quite a lot of hate, and quite a lot of hate crime. I always remember talking to someone about this change and getting really quite angry because they said, well, they don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street and to feel frightened about walking down the street after dark. And I was so angry because I said, if they don’t know it now, I’m pretty sure they’re going to know about it quite soon, because, I mean, we’re lucky they are white – if you look at the number of black transgender women who are murdered – you can’t beat around the bush, this is what happens – this is terrible, the amount of hate crime that’s, that’s out there. And so you move from this place of, as I say, feeling fairly complacent, maybe worry about them going out and drinking too much, but generally, you sort of think they’ll probably be okay. And you know, you’re then, it’s almost like, ‘welcome to my world’, from all the mums of girls, really; these are the things we worry about for our girls. But also, again, there’s that extra dimension of them being transgender women, as well as being women.
So you do start to be more concerned about their safety, and there’s also this real ‘mama bear’ that comes out in me, and I have to be really careful about what I do with my online consumption, because I can easily fall down Twitter rabbit holes, and I can easily find myself getting quite upset and irate at some of the things that’s said about transgender people, particularly transgender women, because there’s an awful lot of, just, what I would call, rubbish spoken about in terms of transgender women. And most of it is just extraordinary and laughable if people weren’t serious about it.
It makes me actually quite angry, because I think, I know my girls, I know that they aren’t paedophiles, I know that they aren’t rapists, and yet this is what they’re called. And, you know, it just makes you … it makes me mad, it’s as simple as that. So it really does bring out that Mama Bear in me, and I have to choose to walk away and not get involved in these fruitless discussions with people because it’s just people throwing rocks at each other, really. So I’ve had to learn how to manage that, which is something that I didn’t really expect.
Also, I think the positive side of this is that it’s so easy to be complacent when you have a nice life, isn’t it? You know, you’re not affected by disability, you’re not affected by the fact that you’ve got a particular colour skin. And so in a sense it’s been a real object lesson for me, and it’s good for me to be in this position, and to know – not really know, because I can’t know, I can’t know what it’s like to be the mother of, say, black children – but to sort of have a little bit of an understanding as to what it’s like to be frightened for the safety of your children. And so, in a sense, it’s made me I think, a more empathic person towards people who have issues such as a disability where they just get ignored or talked over, whatever. So in that sort of sense I think it’s actually been a really good object lesson for me.
The concept of choice is so, so important to me, and the reason why choice is so important to me is, I think that’s where we have freedom, and this is, when all else fails, we still have the freedom to choose how we’re going to react. And there’s a really wonderful writer, Viktor Frankl, who was incarcerated in Auschwitz, and this is what he learnt. Even in the last moments of life, he saw people making a choice. And so he said that he would watch men give away their bread, knowing that that would mean they would actually starve to death. But in that moment, they chose to help other people. Just an amazing, an amazing description of the power of the human spirit in the most terrible of circumstances. And what Viktor Frankl says is that when all else is taken away from us, we still have a choice, and that’s how we choose to respond. And I find that such a helpful thought really, because that that is the road to freedom, I think.
We don’t have to be, in a sense, a why me, sort of person – we can actually say, okay, what do I do about this? Where do I go from here? How can I choose? There’s so many, many, many more layers to this. Because I think, again, with my counsellor hat on, one of the things we learn about is the way that we often respond can be almost like, there’s this response that rises in us, that is almost our first response, and that comes from the deep survival part of our brain. And the messages from that deep survival part of your brain reach you quicker than the messages from the thinking part of your brain, the bit, that’s able to take a step back and just have a moment to think. And one of the processes of counselling – and in particular, I found mindfulness helpful for this – is it gives you, it develops your thinking brain, in a sense, you give yourself just that little bit of extra time, so that you don’t have to respond out of that very deep, primal survival part of your brain. That doesn’t always happen. You can easily get triggered by stuff. And if you were always able to respond out of that thinking part of your brain, you’d be a saint, probably, but gradually, over time, you can develop a capacity to choose your response more slowly, shall we say? And that comes with practice. And it comes with, I think, healing, and healing can take time, but it comes with, in a funny sort of way, it comes with love as well. I’d say in all the work that I’ve done in therapy and in personal development, that gradually it’s this seeping through of knowing, self-love. And that as you do that, as you learn to accept yourself more, and part of that accepting yourself is about being compassionate towards yourself and saying, when you’ve made a mistake, yeah, you’re just being human. As that happens more you find yourself calmer, and as you’re calmer, when things come up, you find that you’re not reacting quite as quickly.
I think it’s that that helps you to have the choice that Viktor Frankl talked about, to be able to choose almost that higher self that part of you that it’s in all of us. That’s the thing. It’s an all of us, we all have this capacity as humans, this is who we are. We have this brain, we have this capacity, we’ve got this very mammalian desire to nurture. It’s within all of us. It’s not that some of us especially have got it and others haven’t, it’s within all of us. But in order for it to grow, we need to have the conditions that help it to grow.
Through my life have been lucky enough to have those things in my life that have helped me and I believe that, it’s really funny, but I believe that in a sense, a lot of things led me to the point where I was ready to hear my children tell me what they had to tell me, and perhaps part of that is so that I could tell my story later on. But yeah, I think that, it’s really helpful to remember that even when circumstances are hard, we can choose how we respond to them.
We never know when circumstances around us are going to change. But what we can do is we can make a choice about how we respond to those changes, and some of the journey that I’ve been on is learning how to get my head around the changes that my children are choosing for themselves. This happened again to me recently; I experienced new information coming up for me in terms of transgender children and their fertility. I thought I knew what was happening, but in fact, I hadn’t realised that medical science, of course, has moved on since they first came out. There’s still research going on, and I had to get my head around this new research, and what it’s showing – it’s only small scale studies because not many transgender people are actually looking to have children – but these small scale studies are consistently showing that if a person desists from their hormone medication, their fertilities return. And I’ve always known that this was true for females at birth, but I hadn’t realised it was also true of those assigned male at birth. There’s so much misinformation out there, it causes a lot of fear. So I wanted to share this latest research that I’ve heard about, that comes from a very high level of Government, and to remember, things are always changing science making new breakthroughs all the time.
We don’t know what situations we’re going to find ourselves in, but there is power to choose how we will respond to those situations. We always have that choice, and within that choice, there’s freedom, and we can choose according to our dearly held values.
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 could also find out more about me