When my 13-year-old daughter Sophie* told me she was transgender, I knew our whole world was about to change. It wasn't something I had ever suspected. Sophie wasn't one of those girls who always dressed and acted like a boy. She didn't seek out the boys at school to play with, and she had always liked playing with dolls and ponies as a child.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement.
But when a child summons all their courage to tell you something so personal and important about who they are, I figured the best thing I could do was listen and take it seriously. So that's what I did.
I should explain I'm still calling Sophie my daughter for now – and using the pronouns "her" and "she" – because we're early on her journey to deciding who she is and I'm not quite ready to make the leap to something else yet. I've explained to her that I'll fully support her in whatever she feels is right for her, but I might need some time to catch up with stuff like that – and for her part, Sophie's not quite ready to tell the world she's a boy yet either.
Is it a phase, or is it a transition she needs to make in order to be who she truly is on the inside? Nobody, including her, knows at this stage. But we're all patient enough to wait it out.
I asked Sophie the best way I could support her, and she said she wasn't sure, so I made an appointment at the Lady Cilento Gender Clinic in Brisbane. At this point it's important to mention how lucky we are to have a gender clinic where we live. There is so much information – and misinformation – online about gender dysphoria, it can be overwhelming enough for adults, let alone confused teenagers.
Information the clinic sent me before our first appointment told me it consists of "psychiatry, endocrine, psychology, speech pathology, nursing and mental health professionals". So really, it's a one-stop shop for those who either want to transition, or want to learn more about the possibility of transitioning.
In our first appointment, we met with a lovely psychologist Beth*, who talked to us for 90 minutes about where Sophie is at, and where she would like to go. Sophie had the option of speaking to them alone, or with me, and she chose to keep me in the room for support.
We had a relaxed conversation where we bonded with the psychologist and had some long-involved discussions about Sophie's past and her future aspirations – not just about her gender, but in her life. Beth informed us she would be our go-to person for our entire journey through the process, which made my daughter happy.
I also got the opportunity to talk to Beth alone, which was useful because, while I fully support my daughter, I am also riddled with doubts.
Is this really who she is?
What if she changes her mind?
Isn't it strange that she has never mentioned this until a few months ago?
I had all my questions answered (as much as anyone can answer those questions at this stage), and we were given a lot of helpful information to take home, including support groups for Sophie and for me.
The Lady Cilento Gender Clinic says in its materials that its vision is to "lead life-changing care for children and young people by offering safe, expert, accessible child and family-centred health services. We believe in holistic care, which means it is important to us to get to know your family and your child as a whole person by providing comprehensive assessment and then creating a plan together of what further support is required."
What I came away with is that my daughter will be given the opportunity to explore who she is, to learn what options are available, and to talk to caring medical professionals in an understanding and non-judgemental environment.
She will not be railroaded into making a transition if she's not ready. On the contrary, she will need to go through a psychologist and a psychiatrist before she can even speak to an endocrinologist about any hormone treatments. And of course, nothing can happen without parental approval.
As confronting as taking my child along to a gender clinic was, I'm glad I've done it. We've now got a month to think about everything we've learned before we head back in to talk again.
Where Sophie ends up on this journey is the great unknown, but I'm grateful to have people on our side who have been through this all before – and who genuinely want to see her happy and healthy.
* Names have been changed.
The writer has chosen to remain anonymous to protect privacy.