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Time to Blossom: Accepting My Transgender Daughter | Elizabeth August | TEDxPasadenaWomen

May 07, 2024
Transcriber: Nancy R Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs In 2010, my husband Shawn and I celebrated the birth of our second son, Ryder. Our oldest, Ethan, was very excited to be a big brother. We dressed Ryder in his homecoming outfit, wrapped him in the green baby blanket I knitted for him, and brought our little one home. A few years later, at three and a half years old, unlike his older brother, who found potty training easy, Ryder still had difficulty pooping in the potty consistently. His preschooler suggested we buy him a toy that he could work on. The problem was that he felt like he had no idea what toy would motivate my son.
time to blossom accepting my transgender daughter elizabeth august tedxpasadenawomen
I felt like I had already tried everything. Finally, I decided that I would let Ryder choose whatever he wanted. I told him my idea when we were in the toy aisles at Target. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and asked, "Anything you want?" I looked at my three and a half year old and said, "Sure, anything." To my surprise, he zoomed through the aisles with the cars, trucks, and LEGOs and focused on the girls' aisles. As we walked down the first hallway, Ryder's eyes widened as he took in the crowd of dolls.
time to blossom accepting my transgender daughter elizabeth august tedxpasadenawomen

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There were dolls with long brown hair and bright pink dresses, baby dolls that came with their own bottles so his mom could feed them, and an Ariel mermaid doll with a tail that actually worked in the bathtub. (Laughs) He carefully examined each doll. As he approached the end of the hallway, he looked back to make sure he was still following him. And then he turned the corner. In the next hallway, he was mesmerized by the ruffled princess dresses, all of them decorated with an incredible amount of glitter. His little hands reached up to touch Cinderella's dress.
time to blossom accepting my transgender daughter elizabeth august tedxpasadenawomen
He noticed the high heels really fit his small feet. I noticed that his heart was beating rapidly under his brother's worn blue shirt. My heart was also beating rapidly, but for a completely different reason. I looked at the other parents in the hallway wondering what they must be thinking about this obvious boy in the girls' hallway. His haircut, a clear indication that he was a boy. I steeled myself against the onslaught of confused looks, frowns, and hushed comments. And then Ryder saw it: his heart's desire. He was a little pink and purple jeweler with a tiara, a pink hand mirror, and a beaded necklace. (Whispering) “This is what I want, my own jewelry box.” I knelt down next to my son, looked him in the eyes and asked, “Are you sure?” (Laughter) He looked at me, hugged the jewelry box to his chest and nodded.
time to blossom accepting my transgender daughter elizabeth august tedxpasadenawomen
And with that, my mom's heart broke. She could feel the hot tears right behind my eyes. How could I have missed this for so long? There had been so many signs and so many

time

s Ryder had tried to tell us. He just hadn't been listening closely enough. Memories of last year came flooding back. First, the previous summer when he asked me for a bag and thinking he was confused I bought him a backpack. And then when I took Ethan and Ryder to see Frozen at the movies. At one point, I found Ryder lying face down in the hallway, his feet propped up behind him and his head in his hands.
I was surprised at how engrossed I was with the princesses on screen. A couple of months later, for his third birthday, he asked us for a dollhouse. So we bought him a gender-neutral one, only to find out later that what he really wanted was a pink Dreamhouse Barbie. Each of those actions, taken separately, didn't seem to mean much to me. But when I finally connected them all, I realized it was his way of telling us who he really was on the inside. And now this jewelry box, this jewelry box was a new beginning in our journey together.
I knew I had to do something to remember that moment. And that's when I took this photo. (Public) Awww. Thank you. (Laughs) This photo is not just that of a child in love with his new toy. This image is my reminder to constantly show my unconditional love and support to this little person. (Exhale) That day, I chose to love Ryder for who he was inside and out. That day I chose to follow him on this journey, on his journey wherever he took us. That day, I chose to be the mom he needs, not the mom I think he needs to be. (Voice shakes) (Exhales) When she was a child, she was a tomboy.
She played cops and robbers with the kids across the street, and I wouldn't have been caught dead in a dress. I remember being accepted by the other kids in my neighborhood. And now, 30 years later, my son was in some ways just like me. Tomboy. Pink boy. What is the difference? (Laughs) Why are we so quick to accept a girl who plays cops and robbers and plays sports? However, we find it very difficult to accept a child who plays with dolls and likes princesses. I want you to know that my way of thinking didn't change overnight. In fact, a couple of weeks after this day at Target, there was another day at Costco.
We were choosing Halloween costumes. Ethan was easy. He grabbed the first ninja costume he found. Ryder, after much deliberation, chose a Rapunzel costume. And do you know what I did? I actually stuffed Rapunzel's costume under the stroller seat and put Ethan's ninja costume on top. I was very nervous about what other people would think of us, of me. When we finally got home, the kids ran to their room to try on their new costumes. Suddenly the laughter stopped and I heard Ryder shout, "This is horrible." I ran down the hall and opened the door to the room my children shared.
There I find Ryder in a pile on the carpet, crying. I knelt next to him. "What happen?" He looked at me through tears and said, "My crown will not stay still." (Laughs) I sat him on my lap and, as I put my arms around him, I looked around his room and really saw her for the first

time

. It was the epitome of a child's room. Blue walls, LEGO, baseball trophies and a closet full of boy's clothes. That's when I realized his room didn't match the person inside. I looked at his sweet face, wiped the tears from his cheeks and said, "Let's find something to keep that crown in his place." After rummaging around the house a bit, an idea occurred to me and I ran to grab some pajama pants from his drawer.
I placed the elastic waistband around his head and placed his crown under it. Then I wrapped it with a shiny thread to make a pretty braid. When he looked at his reflection in the mirror and saw himself with long hair for the first time, his smile returned. For the rest of the day he ran around the house not wanting to take off his new costume. Greedily, I looked at him. I wanted to wash myself into this new reality. I watched him dance down the aisle, spinning in circles, his dress spinning with him. I watched as he posed for photographs, placing his hands that way, as if he had studied models in fashion magazines. (Laughs) I watched him try on my high heels to see which ones would look best with his new dress.
His first dress. Later that night, after putting my children to bed under their matching blue duvets, I locked myself in my room. He needed time, time to reflect on everything that had happened that day. There was laughter, but there were also times when I found it difficult, even painful, to watch my son present himself as his true self. That night, the pain became unbearable and I lay in bed and sobbed uncontrollably. I knew I was losing my son. (Voice shakes) And deep down, there was a part of me that always knew Ryder would leave me. Over the next year, my husband and I watched Ryder transform into a gender-confident and creative boy.
We found an incredibly understanding therapist who helped us navigate our journey. We also read every book we could find on the topic of gender-expansive youth. One book, "The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals," discusses four signs that most

transgender

children share when they try to reveal their true identity to their parents and caregivers. When I read the checklist, it was like a mental checklist appeared in my head. First, observe your child's behavior in the bathroom. Does Ryder urinate sitting down? No. The next one, the aversion to the swimsuit. Does Ryder insist on wearing a girl's swimsuit?
No. The third, underwear. Does Ryder prefer feminine cut underwear? Yes. And lastly, toys. Does Ryder insist on playing with girls' toys? Definitely. We were two by four and the relief I felt was overwhelming. I hoped Ryder wasn't

transgender

. At that point in my journey, being transgender was something I didn't fully understand. And I thought that admitting that he was transgender would mean that he would have a more challenging life than his brother Ethan, and I just wasn't ready to accept that yet. But the more I read, the more I realize that if Ryder were truly transgender and we forced him to live as a boy, it would be detrimental to his own self-acceptance.
That... I'm sorry. OK. That same summer, we discovered Gender Spectrum, a nonprofit that provides resources, support, and training for families and other youth-serving organizations. As part of their work, they facilitate support groups for parents with gender-expansive youth. During our first experience at Gender Spectrum, we heard stories about different types of children. Some were older than Ryder, some were younger, some were gender creative, some were transitioning, and some were gender fluid. Our topics of conversation ranged from how parents knew their children were gender expansive to how parents related to the other children in their family. Shawn and I were very excited to meet families with stories so similar to ours.
We feel understood and accepted for the first time. That was also the night we met Nora and our lives changed. Nora's son had just moved on to live as a girl and had changed her name to Emma. Emma was only a month older than Ryder and she felt like her lives were going down the same path. and she couldn't wait to bring the two of them together. Shawn and I knew that this first playdate could be a turning point for Ryder and his journey toward understanding his gender identity. From the moment Emma opened the door, they became inseparable.
They were reflections of each other, both wearing matching dresses and short hair. They ran back and forth between Emma's room and the living room, modeling all of Emma's costume clothes in her closet. And then it happened. Ryder poked his head out from the hallway. I looked and said, “Come out, Ryder. Let’s see what you have on.” As we turned the corner, he said, “Look, Mommy, I'm wearing one of Emma's swimsuits.” It was a cute two-piece girl's swimsuit. And it was the first time I saw my

daughter

as herself. Over the next few months, Ryder continually talked to me about how he wanted to be a girl when she grew up.
This calmed me down. I thought that if he really was transgender, he would tell me that he wanted to be a girl now, or that he was a girl. I wasn't resisting out of fear like I had the previous summer. I was reluctant because I wanted Ryder to be the one to guide us through his transition. I learned that day at Target how important it was to fully listen to my son. And I wanted to be the mom he needed me to be, so I kept listening. Then, three months before his fifth birthday, he told Shawn and me that he was going to be a girl when he turned five.
That day we sat down and had a heart-to-heart conversation. Ryder told us that he really felt like a girl inside and that we were the ones who were confused because we thought he was a boy. (laughs) That day, Ryder asked us to be his

daughter

. There were tears, but there were also hugs and kisses. That day we listened to Ryder completely and accepted her as our daughter. Ryder's smile brightened. It was as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. We had come so far in the last year and a half. We had learned to look for the clues that our son had left us.
We had learned to fully listen to our daughter and follow her lead regarding her gender expression. We also learned to love her for who she was, inside and out. We learned that sometimes it is in the act of letting go of the son you thought you knew to open your heart to the daughter who was always there. Thank you. (Applause)

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