DJ came out to her brother, who informed my sisters, a lesbian and a child specialist, both left leaning, and the four of them informed my husband and me. Our oldest son was away at college. What followed was easily the single most defining moment of my life, personally.
JD, DJ's male alter ego, was my easiest child. Universally loved by everyone, and I do mean everyone, who knew him. Yes, he liked his Easy Bake oven that his aunt gave him at age three, and loved the kitchen set he asked for. He mimicked his brothers, whom he adored, and otherwise was, at most, lukewarm about any other traditional male activity. That extended to everything—his lackluster response to halloween costumes and picking his own clothes.
When he came out to us at fourteen, he was nervous and the relief was evident in his face, in spite of having to assure us, repeatedly, during the first few minutes of conversation, that no, this was not a joke. We regrouped, DJ's Dad and I, and in four months, DJ was taking spirnolactone and estrodiol. We were full steam ahead but that is not to say there wasn't huge and palpable fear emanating from her dad and me—which we tried desperately to keep under wraps.
Our transition was nearly as important as hers. We were the gateway, right, wrong or indifferent, to the possibility of her living the life as the person she knew she was. The choice was simple: accept or look for a burial plot.
I started a blog, DJ felt militant about her identity, at first. She and I went to the Gay Pride celebration in D.C. with a beloved lesbian friend of mine. We didn't foresee any real problems going forward and looked forward to the upcoming school year where DJ would present as DJ, relegating JD to the past at school as well as at home.
The school system did fairly well considering we live in a GOP/Bible Belt part of the state. What DJ didn't anticipate was the formerly "accepting" friends who heard her truth from JD but weren't prepared to SEE DJ, tuning her out completely. What followed was over six months of hell for her and for us.
She became anorexic, began to engage in cutting and shared with her only friend her plans to commit suicide. Within hours of that revelation, we took her to a hospital with zero experience treating transgender kids and with great credentials treating self-harming, suicidal and eating-disordered kids. Their lack of experience did not manifest itself in any way except one: the treating psychiatrist put her on a potent anti-psychotic for hallucinations that she had been apparently having since she was six years old.
The doctor who began her treatment with hormone therapy said that was bullshit. She wasn't psychotic-she was merely experiencing these visual disturbances as a result of enormous lifelong stress of being in the wrong body. In light of the fact that nearly every single hallucination was centered around something being wrong with her body, we had to agree.
After 4 months of in-patient and out-patient treatment, with the ongoing support of two therapists, a pediatric neurodevelopmental specialist and an excellent surgeon, as well as otherwise excellent staff at the eating disorders unit, we still moved forward with DJ's Gender Confirmation surgery in May, which was an astounding success and included the tracheal shave, neovaginoplasty and breast augmentation in one fell swoop.
The surgeon was zealous about pain management, and due to DJ's youth (17) she bounced back immediately, physically. Emotionally and mentally, she was at peace, as well. But her affect still seemed somewhat depressed.
Within two months of the surgery, we contacted a different psychiatrist who tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his surprise at the medication and dosage the previous doctor had her on and switched her meds to a simple SSRI. Our child is completely back to the child who first broke the news to us. She is hoping to come off the SSRI with the blessing of the psychiatrist and the PA who works with her surgeon to manage her pharmacological needs.
I still cannot believe our good fortune because every. single. family member on both sides of the family has embraced DJ. Young, old, Jewish. Roman Catholic, agnostic, right-leaning or left-leaning—they all accepted her and adore her.
Now, she's technically living "stealth" around those who don't know. She is just a girl. She's lucky because petiteness runs in the family. She's tall-ish at 5'7" and wears a size 4, wears the same size shoe I do-an 8, has a stunningly beautiful face that tended toward gender neutral when we knew her as JD, and we started her hormone therapy right as her facial hair was JUST starting to change from peach fuzz to the real deal man hair. She never needed electrolysis to her face and her bone structure is delicate.
She is finishing her senior year at a community college as a dual enrolled student where she got the fresh start she needed. Her Dad and I suffer some occasional post-traumatic stress symptoms related to concerns about returning to her horrendously depressed state, but we are moving on.
When I was pregnant with DJ, I was certain she was a girl. Nothing about my pregnancy with DJ was similar to my experiences of being pregnant with her brothers. Yes, I was disappointed, but JD was such a remarkable child, gender didn't matter to me. We all doted on him and he had the quality that the baby of the family often has-supreme but refreshing self-assurance because he was so used to everyone thinking he was cute, hilarious, smart, insightful and fun to be around.
Admittedly, in spite of missing JD because he was truly one of the most remarkable young boys I've ever known, I can't feel right about missing him. He was never really him—it was an act that she had to perpetuate until she felt safe enough to say she was she, and not he.
I love all my children equally but I would be lying to say that finding out that I have a daughter is not a secret wish come true. I never wished for JD to be a girl, I just hoped for a fourth child who would hopefully be a girl, which just didn't happen.
I personally think our story is amazing. I've posted essays on my blog on Blogspot.com under Raising the Transgender Teen. I have not continued it as I'm afraid that my previous militancy will somehow come back to haunt DJ; I was more public than I should have been. I thought I was helping others, but I fear hurting DJ as a result of my efforts.
We are lucky—we had money and education and experience in medicine on our side. We had connections and the ability to travel the hundreds and hundreds of miles to seek treatment to allow her body to match her mind, as she so desperately needed. My husband and I are still haunted by the thoughts of those without our resources. There is a stealth group of Trans women who collect money to assist those in that predicament. That will likely be our next step at helping without outing our daughter. It's a tough balancing act, but we're all doing it. Thanks for "listening."