Mermaids is a supportive network of parents and children, all of the members have been through so much, and everyone has their own story. By talking to each other and sharing experiences, many people feel much better to know that they are not alone and get help and advice from people who have already been through what they are currently going through.
The following testemonials are all true stories provided by families that are part of Mermaids who have children of varying ages and contains accounts of both ftm and mtf people. Hopefully reading these may help to reassure you about your current position or journey, to realise that you are not alone, and compare your situation to that of others.
Adoptive parent Oonagh and her 11 year old daughter
My trans daughter is adopted and we already had an older adopted daughter. I used to tell my eldest daughter a story about how she became part of our family. It was like a bedtime story and involved us telling her that we really wanted a wonderful little girl like her and then the social worker found her for us and she was perfect for our family. With our second child, we didn’t mind whether we adopted a girl or a boy but when we went through the adoption assessment we thought it might be nice to adopt a boy if a suitable match was found.
So, after we adopted our second child at 19 months old, we continued the tradition and told our ‘son’ that we decided we would love to adopt a little brother for our eldest daughter and that this would make our family complete. Little did I know that years later after our youngest socially transitioned, she would tell us that the story had had a big impact on her. “But in the story you told me about being adopted, you said you wanted a boy”. Such a small thing had a big impact on her.
The way I wanted to raise both my children, was for them to express who they are. My eldest daughter is considered a ‘tomboy’ by some people, sporty and hated dolls. My youngest seemed to be into dolls and I was fine with that too. In fact, I was proud that I was raising two children who seemed to defy gender stereotypes.
My youngest was accepted at nursery and infant school and allowed to express themselves how they wanted so it wasn’t really an issue. There was no need to say anything and it seemed to be a very gradual process as they got older, testing the water and seeing how the adults all around viewed them. Over time, it became increasingly obvious that there was a bit more to this. In the back of my mind, I thought perhaps they were transgender. At this stage, I had an open mind. I had seen TV programs about transgender kids. I didn’t (knowingly) know any transgender adults and my experience of it was very narrow. Slowly, my youngest started to dress how they wanted after school and during the holidays. They experimented with hair and clothes.
With growing confidence in our acceptance, they started to talk a little more about feelings and then wanted me to ask the school if they could wear ‘girls’ uniform to school. At this stage, I felt very scared. What would people think? How would other parents react? Would the other kids at school bully my child?
As far as I was concerned, I did not want to go against my child’s wishes to express themselves as they wanted. This meant I had to seriously consider letting them go to school in a skirt and I was really nervous about this and whether it was the right thing to do. I started to seek out support and found the charity Mermaids and, also, a local support group for transgender and non-conforming children and their families. In addition to this, I had access to academic resources to do a lot of research. This time was a real learning curve.
It took a few months before we plucked up the courage to say anything at school. It was a parent’s evening and when we sat there and the teacher asked whether there was anything else we wanted to discuss, my child nudged me and told me to say. I said that they wanted to come to school in the girl’s uniform. The teacher responded in the best possible way and said that of course they could dress any way they wanted. My child’s response will always stay with me; they burst into tears. Their class teacher accepted it. This was an amazing boost of confidence for them.
The next day was one of those days that will be remembered forever. It was a pivotal moment when we drove up to the school and sat in the car. We held hands and said ‘we can do this’, together. We both felt sick. We walked to school and because the school were prepared, they did everything they could to make the process as easy as possible.
One aspect that stands out was the ‘concerned’ parent going to see the head teacher to say she wasn’t happy with her daughter having to share a toilet with my child. “That is no problem”, he said, “we are happy to find alternative toilet arrangements for your daughter”. A few weeks later, that same parent told me it had been her who had been to see the head teacher and to also say that she had had a change of heart and was going to try to be more understanding. That meant a lot to me and my child.
From this point on, it became increasingly obvious that our child is transgender. She socially transitioned completely, changing her name and facing a few challenges along the way. She has now been herself for over two years. She is 11 years old, has blossomed and is confident to be herself. She is less worried about wearing skirts or playing with dolls now too. She doesn’t need to prove anything.
She is accepted by her family, friends, teachers and the wider community. I want her to be proud of who she is. Her history and her journey is important. It is part of who she is. In the same way as being adopted and knowing about where she came from and keeping in touch with that part of her life, she can also look back at how she became the person she is today. We all know that she is a girl now. As her family, we will stand by her to help her every step of the way as she matures into adulthood.
Jane, mum of two non-binary children, shares her experiences with both her kids coming out, learning to use new pronouns and finding Mermaids.
“I have two non-binary children. For many, many years I had no idea about this and thought I was the mother of two girls, C (now 22) and R (now 18). When they were growing up I didn’t really notice anything until they hit puberty and started to think about themselves a bit more.
“In 2014, when R was 13, they were desperately sad and started to become very withdrawn and I was so worried about what was wrong and didn’t know what to do. I sat them down and said to them that whatever it was that was making them so sad, I didn’t mind, they could tell me anything and I would still love them just the same. That’s when they came out as trans, saying they felt more like a boy than a girl.
“When R came out, to be honest I was so relieved! I knew what the problem was and I had my child back. I had no idea of the struggles that we would face getting treatment or the issues of transphobia, I just went into parent fixing mode. They asked me for a binder so we researched that and bought one. We talked through pronouns and names. Tried some out for size and then made decisions about how to go forward.
“I found the telephone number for GIRES who directed me to Mermaids and from that first email from them and the telephone call I had in tears, the three of us have never looked back. Suffice it to say we did find a supportive local school and R finished their GCSE studies there.
“C never really came out as non-binary. They just blossomed when they came to a residential with me and R. They got to choose their pronouns and nobody batted an eyelid at the fact that while presenting as in a typically feminine way they preferred they/them pronouns and an abbreviation of their name. So C was able to accept their gender identity partly because of Mermaids because they had never found a way to express who they really were until that point.
“There is a process when your child first changes their name and pronouns and as a parent you want to get it right all the time and show that you are so totally with them. But it is not easy. I had nearly 14 years of calling my children “the girls” and getting out of habits like that is not easy. Training yourself to use new names is hard and to start with you can use the name when they are there but sometimes when you are referring to them in conversation, particularly when thinking of them in the past, you will make the odd mistake. It’s normal and natural.
“R is planning on making a physical transition and we have started on that process, as slow and laborious as it is through the NHS. I know that as the physical changes start I might struggle more, feeling a sense of loss that, as yet I have not felt, but I know how important those changes are to R’s sense of self and their mental health and so I will always be 100% supportive and encouraging.
“I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to Mermaids for supporting me and my kids, showing me that we are not alone and that whatever we face, we have friends who understand and who can truly share our highs and our lows.
“Looking at my kids now I feel nothing but pride. Pride that they are strong enough and certain enough of their own identities to stick up for themselves and say this is who I am and the world can like it or lump it but I am going to be me! And I love them unconditionally.”
Caroline, 46, lives with husband Mark, 47 and sons Will, 14 and Jacob, 11. Will came out as transgender when he was 11. Here Caroline explains the difference Mermaids has made to her family.
“There was always something not quite right for Will, and from a very young age he didn’t really fit in. He was never a girly girl at all, and when I insisted he wore a dress to a family event when he was about eight he became hysterical at the prospect. I knew this wasn’t just a tantrum, he was genuinely distressed but wasn’t old enough to be able to tell me why it felt so wrong.
As he got older, to around 10, he began to get very anxious. He had long hair but would pull it out when he was stressed, leaving little bald patches all over his scalp. He was depressed and unhappy, and by the time he started secondary school aged 11 he would barely come out of his room.
Mark and I were at a loss to explain what was wrong. Mark was working away a lot at the time so we put it down to that, but when Will got his first period and his reaction was one of absolute horror and revulsion, that’s when he says he knew without doubt he was transgender. “Puberty had made his body work against him, and he told Mark that he was male, and really always had been.
“As parents we had never come across anything like this before. I knew about trans people but only in the context of adults, not in someone so young. There had been very little in the press at that point, and I had no idea where to turn.
“Will wanted to start attending school as a male as soon as possible, but he went to a Catholic secondary and they were not at all supportive of our situation. When Will’s teacher told me the school would not allow him to transition, and would not ‘promote being gay or trans’ I walked out of the meeting and we never went back. How could I tell my son I supported him 100 per cent and then send him to a school every day which didn’t? “Our educational authority insisted we put Will on a ‘fresh start’ panel to find him a new school, alongside pupils who had been excluded for violence and drug problems. Will is a quiet, generous and kind child who had never been in any kind of trouble at school, but the council had no idea what else to do.
“Instead we home schooled Will for a term, and then Mark and I remortgaged our house and asked our family for financial help, and we enrolled Will into private school the next academic year. “He started as a male and apart from two teachers, no-one there has any idea he was born or ever lived as a female. It was exactly the fresh start Will was desperate for, and he has settled in well. He doesn’t do PE due to his severe body dysphoria, and as the toilets are cubicles anyway he uses the male ones.
“Around the same time we were going through the problems at school a friend who worked in a children’s centre gave me a leaflet for Mermaids. I looked up their website and my first reaction was one of utter hope and absolute relief. There were other families going through this and we weren’t on our own. “It was through Mermaids that I found out about the Tavistock Centre, and it was another Mermaids parent who advised me on how to get a Tavistock referral when we were faced with a very unsympathetic GP. “Before we started down this road I had no experience in challenging the authority of schools or doctors, and without Mermaids I would not have had the confidence or the knowledge of how to get the best possible services for my son. Being able to speak to other parents in our situation has been so important for our family, I cannot imagine where we would be without them.
“After months of waiting Will was prescribed hormone blockers in January 2014 which halted his female puberty from changing his body any further. It was a relief for Will that his body would not change any more, but over the next 18 months his mental health deteriorated. He had extreme gender dysphoria and felt trapped in a body which wasn’t his. He felt helpless, and hopeless.
“In summer 2015 Will had a severe self harm incident, and we also found out he had made plans to take his own life. I was just devastated. Seeing my child go through this anguish was unbearable, and there seemed to be nothing I could do. “Will told me he wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, he felt it was the only way he could cope, but we were told the only available bed was at the other end of the country. “Instead he was given regular appointments with a dedicated young people’s mental health worker which has made a big difference.
“Throughout this period Mermaids have been an incredible support to me. Going on residentials, chatting to other parents in similar situations and hearing talks and presentations by trans men who are happy, in good jobs and with bright futures gives me massive reassurance that Will can achieve his goal of going to university. “And through Mermaids I have helped to set up a parents’ support group for people living in the same area as us. I live in a rural area and it can be difficult to access help and support when you’re not local to a big town or city.
“Throughout our journey so far we have been driven by Will’s huge desire to do this, and we will continue to support him as much as we possibly can. But I want other parents who might be in a similar situation to realise there is hope, and with the help of Mermaids you will make it through.
“Three years ago I had a child who suffered from extreme anxiety and depression and barely left his room, but last week we all got on our bikes and cycled through the park together, and we felt like a family again. And that gives me great hope for the future.”
A post by a non mermaids parent
(Permission has been given to share)
Yesterday, I read an article by Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, whose work I have read and respected for a long time, in the Boston Review. But this time, she was writing about me. And she was writing about my child.
At one time or another, all of my children have been obsessed with something. My youngest, just 3, told me the other day that she wants to grow up to be a cat. I asked her if she wanted to grow a tail. We laughed at the shared joke.
When my middle child was 3, she told us she wanted to grow up to be a mommy. We laughed. But we were wrong. This was never a joke.
I used to think I had a little boy. A lovely, sweet, feminine little boy who loved to wear skirts and dresses and twirl around the living room. Sometimes he would even ask us to call him a girl. Just pretending, we figured. How cute.
I was 100% comfortable with having a feminine son. He could play with what he wanted, wear what he wanted. We’re not into gender stereotypes. Clothes are clothes, toys are toys.
Not that it was easy. Parenting a pink boy takes a lot of courage. The world is still so binary, and a boy in a skirt is a target. But we were determined that if the binary wasn’t a good fit, we were not going to force our child into it.
Then, as our child got closer to 4, we slowly started to realize that there was something more profound going on. Our happy little child was starting to withdraw into a deep dark place that no child should ever have to live through. Her eyes were closing over. We tried to talk to her about what was bothering her, but she would hide her face away from us. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, express it to us. I started to worry.
One day, my quiet, complacent child just burst. As her grandfather was leaving one day, he said, “Goodbye, little man!” Her face went dark, stony. She would not move. As he left, she burst into tears… long, aching, sobbing, shaking tears. I picked her up in my arms and asked her what was wrong. She refused to tell me.
Finally, my own heart pounding, I asked her if she didn’t like what her grandfather had said. Hands still covering her face, she shook her head “no.” “I’m not his little man! I’m his little girl!”
I struggled to understand. “Do you mean sometimes you feel like a boy, and sometimes you feel like a girl?”
In frustration, she shouted, “No, mommy! I really AM a girl!” She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. And I just held her, the whole world I thought I knew crumbling around me.
I’m queer, I read queer theory, I always thought of gender as just a role given to us by society, nothing more. This, what my child was telling me, was something I had no experience to understand. I was so confused – I wasn’t forcing my child into a masculine role. “He” could do anything a girl could do, “he” could wear or play with whatever “he” wanted. What difference could it possibly make to be called “he” or “she”?
I didn’t understand how any of this could be.
But what I did understand, at a deep instinctual level, was that my child was in immense pain.
Please, please try to understand the difference it made, that one pronoun… it was everything. It was the difference between life and death.
I hear people talk about transition as if it is something a parent ‘does’ to a child. This was not our experience. I know it’s so hard to understand if you haven’t been through it. But the best way I can describe it is that our daughter just kept living her life, and we stopped putting obstacles in her way.
Two years have passed since that day. Our little girl is happy, healthy, and living her life. The misery that was overtaking her disappeared as soon as she knew she didn’t have to hide from us anymore.
Our daughter is not confused. She is not ill. She does not have a psychopathology. She is not a stereotype of femininity. She rarely plays with dolls and loves trucks. She knows she doesn’t have to be anything but herself.
I don’t know what the future will bring, and I will support her no matter how she identifies. No matter what happens, she will know that we love her for who she is.
Reading articles like the one Dr. Fausto-Sterling wrote – like Jesse Singal writes, like Alice Dreger writes…. it hurts. It hurts profoundly.
To the writers of these articles: You don’t know my daughter. You don’t know me. You don’t know the parents I have met on this journey – parents who are scared, whose neighbours shun them, whose own parents disown them, who live every day trying to shut down that all-encompassing fear of what our children are going to have to face in this godawful transphobic world.
Our friends, our families, our children’s teachers… they all read these articles too. I know it isn’t the intention of any of these writers, but all of these articles add to the hate and fear and misunderstanding of our children and of us. And they make the world a harder and a harsher place for my little girl to try to survive.