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. 

This is the best piece of parenting advice that I’ve ever been given. So, the thing about parenting is that you know that you make mistakes, and you long to be able to put those mistakes right, but if you go back in time, if you could rewind the clock and do it all again, you know what, you’ll just make a different set of mistakes. 

Isn’t that true? We’re human, and as human, we’re fallible, and we make mistakes, and today, I’m talking about some of the mistakes that I made when my children came out. And also the mistakes that I made in my thinking in my Christian faith.

Things are so easy to look back and look back with the knowledge that you’ve got now and think, oh, that was a mistake. Of course, at the time you think you’re doing – we’ll, you do, you do the best that you can at the time with what you know; hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I don’t think we should beat ourselves up for making mistakes, although I do frequently. But when I look back now and think what would I have done differently? I think part of it is that as a parent you just feel so responsible for your children’s well-being, and also when they’re younger, you’re aware of the fact that perhaps you have more of an adult way of looking at things, and that they could make decisions on the spur of the moment that they might regret later on. 

So, with my younger daughter, she was obviously under 18 when she told me and looking back on it now, I’m not particularly proud of this moment, but I was actually trying to slow her down and to help her and actually said to her that very first day that she came back from school and we talked about it some more, and I said, I really wouldn’t be able to consent to you having treatment. What she’d told me was that, part of the reason why she’d told me then and there was that it was really quite important when you’re younger, the earlier you can have your hormone treatment, the better it is in terms of your development, in becoming more like the gender that you want to be. And I told her at that point that I couldn’t consent to her treatment, and the reason was that I said that, was because I wanted to protect her, and I wasn’t sure that she was doing the right thing, and I just wanted her to slow down. 

When someone is 16/17, as she was at that point, you know, you’re very aware that they’re not grown up, and that they’re making what possibly might be massive decisions – life changing decisions – because when we’re talking about hormone treatment for transgender people, it does have knock on effects on things like their fertility, for example, changing their body completely. So obviously, for transgender women, it would be changing their chests, so they obviously grow breasts, and for transgender men, there’s a change in their genitals as well. The same is true for women. So massive change, and there’s just that parent or part of you that wants to go, whoa, whoa, whoa, no, no, no, no, no. And, again, it’s a transition, and you’re both transitioning – you as parents, the children as well – and we just weren’t at the point really where we could support her at that point in having treatment. But – and this is a very big but – she could actually have gone and got that treatment if she wanted to, because obviously once you’re 16, parental consent changes, and she could have gone and got help. And so, looking back on it, I’m not particularly proud of that moment, because I think I maybe stood in her way. 

In a sense, I can say, yeah, I know it was coming from a place of being her parent, of trying to protect her from making what could be the wrong decision, but I think with hindsight, we look back and we think – well, I do – I look back and I think, she hasn’t changed; that knowing that she knew. And again, it was new, I didn’t know how much she knew at that point. She knew, and nothing was ever going to change that. And so, if I’d realised that at that point, I perhaps would have made a different decision. But like I say, hindsight, is a wonderful thing. But you do the best that you can, at the time, with what you know. And so I’d do it differently now, if I knew differently.

I really wanted to talk about how I’ve reconciled my strong Christian faith with the fact that my children are transgender, because if you read any of the news around LGBTQI issues and religion there’s a really big disconnect, and I wanted to share this because I hope that it might help, perhaps other families who have the same similar background to me. 

So I actually became a Christian when I was 15 or 16, around that sort of age, and I’ve found throughout my life that this has been a great way of being anchored, and I find my faith, it comes and goes in terms of how I express it, but it’s always been there, it’s just a part of who I am. And when I was a young woman, I was involved in the University Christian Union, and this, I look back at this as the start of this very long journey I’ve been on that’s enabled me to reconcile the two together, and we had a speaker who came along to talk about homosexuality and the church, and this was a gay man, and he had actually, in order to live according to church dogma, had decided that he would live a celibate lifestyle. 

I sat and listened to this man talk, and I just felt so sad for him, because what I felt was that he was denying such an important part of himself, and was sacrificing, in a sense, his life – who he was – on the altar of Christian dogma. And at the same time, I was actually studying social science, so this was also going on – so that was back in the 80s where, you know, attitudes to lesbian and gay issues were, you know, 30 or 40 years ago they were they were a bit different – but gradually, I think, you know, realising that this is not a lifestyle choice, this is the way people are, this is the way they’re born. And I became increasingly uncomfortable with the church and church dogma around this, to the point at which I probably had about 20 or 30 years of really struggling with my faith and thinking, how can I reconcile the two? 

I always remember talking to one of my friends about it, it’s a few years ago now, and I said, oh, it’s just so difficult, this stuff around lesbian and gay and homosexuality stuff and the church. She said, what do you mean? I said, well, you know, the fact that it’s considered unbiblical or whatever. And she just looked at me as sort of like, well, so what? This is somebody who’s quite a strong Christian, and I just thought, yeah, that actually is the attitude to have. You know, I’m, I’m allowed to have my own opinions, and I’m allowed to think what I can think, and I can still be a Christian, and I can still believe what I believe about lesbian and gay people, because I believe they have a right to be who they are. 

And then again, fast forward that through a few years, and my own children came out as transgender, and I really didn’t have a problem with that in the church. I just … it just didn’t really bother me. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all children of God, and God made us all. He created us like this. He created people like this, and so I’m not going to argue with that. 

And around that time as well, we had a lot of support from our church friends and from our minister, and a year or so later, our church actually started to investigate what we call ‘becoming fully inclusive’, and that was studying and reading and having talks with each other around, do we want to be an inclusive Church. And I’m glad to say that our church is actually an inclusive Church. What I discovered along through those conversations that we had is that there are actually many people who are theologically, very well read, who are in the church, ministers included, who actually can see that full inclusivity is the way forward, and it is biblical. It’s just a lot of the time, it’s difficult because so many people in the church disagree with that viewpoint. And what is, I think, really important, during those conversations that we had, we had someone who came to our church to talk about why they became a fully inclusive Church, and they actually had a young gay man who committed suicide because he was gay. When I was talking to our Minister about it, he told me that the statistics are that if you are a young gay person, you’re twice as likely to try to take your life by suicide as you are if you’re a straight, young person. But if you bring in a faith background that doubles the rate. 

So if you’re a young gay person who also has a faith background, you are four times as likely to try to take your life by suicide than you are if you’re a straight young person. And this is something that I think is so important for the church to sit up and listen to, and this is part of the reason why we are getting more churches that are including people. The underlying – absolutely, the underlying belief about it is when you look at Jesus, who did Jesus actually spend his time with? He spent his time with everyday ordinary folk, he didn’t spend his time with the Pharisees, you know? He was there for the poor and the lonely and the broken, and that is, certainly our mission within my church is to reach out to people who have been rejected by society. 

Actually, this whole process of becoming a fully inclusive Church actually helped us, I think, because those of us that are there are committed to this process, and we’re happy for gay marriages to take place, for example, we’re welcoming of transgender and gay people in the church, and that’s just the way it should be. Everybody is just who they are, and I think it’s important, the overriding principle that we’ve got is to love each other. 

I just want to add in here that my oldest daughter is actually married to an American and their mum is from the Bible-belt part of America, they’ve got a very strong Christian faith, and when her son told her that he was going to get married to transgender woman, it was just, okay son, and she just accepted him, and isn’t that the way I think it should be, that I think, you know, as Christians, you know, you read about stuff that’s going on, and the way that the church is rejecting people for this reason, and you think, I really don’t agree that that’s a Christian way to be. And it’s about acknowledging that, you know, fundamentally what all faiths are about, fundamentally all faiths at their core, it’s about oneness, it’s about love, and it’s about loving people – and that’s got to be, first and foremost, what we put there, at the very front of our mission, I think, and that’s how I’ve been able to reconcile being a Christian with having transgender daughters. 

So I think if you’ve just found out that your child is transgender, or they’ve just told you that they’re transgender, what I’d want to say to you first off, is to take as much time as you need to get your head around it, but also that your child really needs you to acknowledge this massive, massive thing that they’ve just told you, and that if they’re asking you to call them with different pronouns, and with a different name, it feels massive for you, but it means so much to them. And actually, calling them by different name, and calling them by different pronouns, it doesn’t really do any harm – it affirms them, it helps them to know that what they’ve said is important to you, and that you respect them. And I think that can often be a really good first step, and it might take some of the heat out of the situation as well. And it might give you all a little bit of time to process it. 

I know that what my husband would want to say at this point, and what we’ve talked about a lot, is that at the start it did feel like, in a sense, our world as we know it, had ended, and that we’d lost our sons. But over time, what you come to realise is that you haven’t lost anything, and that it’s different, but it’s still lovely, still beautiful, and you haven’t really lost them at all. They are exactly the same as they ever were. They’re just the same lovable geeks as they always were, nothing’s changed. They’ve got exactly the same interests, they’ve added to things as well – I can’t say that without saying how wonderful it is to have someone who can advise me on fashion, and say, no mum, don’t go out like that! You know, to have someone who is able to express that side of themselves that perhaps would have been suppressed in the past, to have permission to be more fully themselves. I think that’s the thing that I’d say is that you haven’t actually lost anything, and you’ve actually gained something, and that as they become more fully who they really are you just see this extra expression of their of their true selves. So I know, that’s what my husband would like people to know, that you haven’t actually lost anything. And that it will be okay. 

I think for me, the thing that I’d like people to know is that you will be able to cope with this, and although it might feel at the moment as though, oh, my goodness, you know, what am I going to do? How am I going to cope with this? And you may feel very sad – and I think it’s really important to say that – that what you did now has gone, and you have to learn to let go of all those things that you thought would happen; the ways in which you expected your children to be, and that process can be painful, but you will come through this, and you can come through it, and your relationships will be stronger, and that in many ways, when your children come out as transgender, it’s actually a real gift, because you actually take away the pillars of what you thought mattered. In a sense, the world comes crashing down when you take those pillars away, but what you discover is that they were a bit dodgy anyway, because they were based on external things, and actually, the real gift of it is that you don’t have to love your children for what you think they are; you actually learn to love them for who they are at an even deeper level. I mean, you know, you’ll always love them anyway, but it’s an even greater depth, I think, and I think that’s a gift. 

As we reach the end of this series where I’ve described my experience of becoming the mum of transgender children, I’d really like to summarise what this journey has meant for me, and there’s three main things that stand out for me. The first thing is the importance of community and connection. We can support each other through change, and community is really helpful for helping people through. The second thing is that your children have their own path to walk. As a parent, you have to let go of your hopes and dreams for them, because ultimately, they have their own lives. And the third thing is that change can be used in your life to help deepen your understanding, to help you grow as a person, and that although it’s scary when circumstances change, you can still be empowered and you can still be joyful. 

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.