It doesn't matter if you don't understand my transgender son

Photo: Carolyn Tate and her son. Supplied
Photo: Carolyn Tate and her son. Supplied 

"I just don't understand it," a friend told me recently, in reference to my son's transition from girl to boy.

At 16, my son has publicly identified as male for about four years now. Some friends have been on board since day one, and that's been incredibly helpful, both to my son and to me. 

As the parent of a trans teen, I appreciate anyone who can make his world warmer and more accepting. 

This friend I was speaking to has always been on our peripheries. We've known each other since before our children were born, although we've never been close. But we're close enough, apparently, for her to voice to discomfort to me about my son's transition.

"I don't get it", and variations thereof, is something I hear a fair bit. And I understand where they're coming from, to a degree. I don't know what it's like to be trans either, but I also don't think I need to.

I remember these types of conversations back when I was a kid, and my grandparents had just found out that gay people exist.

"But what do they do?" my grandmother asked, baffled. "And why would they want to make life hard for themselves like that?

I'm sure if she was alive today, my grandmother would be equally baffled by my trans son, but she'd love him anyway. She was good like that. 

I don't know what it's like to feel like I was born in the wrong body, to feel betrayed by my body's overt expressions of gender, or just wrong in my own skin. There's a level of understanding I'll never have.


But I do know what it's like to parent someone like that. I've seen and heard the torture and misery those feelings can bring. And I've learnt some lessons about humanity along the way too.

The thing is, I told my friend, you don't have to understand anything about my son's transition. All you have to do is respect his freedom to be who he is, treat him with kindness, and get on with your own life. 

You don't have to worry about what this will mean for his relationships, you don't have to worry about how hard it might be for him at school, and you don't have to worry about what types of medications or surgeries he's having.

That's all his business. 

To get along as a society, we don't always have to "get" one another. There are a lot of people I don't get: people with "My Family" stickers, people who would rather talk about someone behind their back than have a confronting conversation, and people who sell out Miley Cyrus concerts. 

But I don't have to get them. Those choices are not mine to make, and are not about me in any way.

We're all different and that's okay. I don't have to have a My Family sticker on my car, I don't have to participate in gossip, and I am mercifully in no way obliged to attend any Miley Cyrus concerts. 

And, similarly, my friend doesn't have to be transgender, doesn't have to attend any rallies, nor give a lecture on the ins and outs of being trans in a cis world. 

She just has to live and let live. 

It feels like a small thing to ask, but it's big to me, and it's big to my son, so I'm asking it anyway.