My heart hurt for him. Already at age six my boy, James, had anxiety and depression.
I remembered when I was nine my doctor told me my headaches were stress headaches. He said “Nine year-olds should not be stressed, leave that for the adults, you need to be a kid.” Now here I was the adult, and I was distressed for my child because childhood should be a time of play, a time of joy, not a time of anxiety, stress or depression.
But for trans kids, sometimes these hard emotions come up sooner. Anxiety and depression aren't fun to talk about, but we can think through strategies now. Let's use James' experiences as an example.
James had told me at that time, “Mom, God made a mistake and put me in the wrong body.” He had also been upset when one of kids at school had said, “Someday you will get boobs and you won’t be able to hide that you are a girl.” However, even with all these clues, I didn’t put the pieces together.
I didn’t realize the chronic stomach aches, all that pain and missed days of school, were because of his anxiety.
I didn’t realize that his anxiety came from his stress and worry that someday he would grow breasts, that someday he wouldn’t be able to hide his physically “female” parts. It finally all made sense after we found out that there was a way to never have breasts, that there existed a thing called hormone blockers.
Once his biggest stress trigger was gone, overnight the stomach aches were gone too. He had regained hope that he could live as he wished, as he was, as a male, without the world ever knowing anything else. When he found out bottom surgery was possible as well, the rest of his childhood was fairly anxiety free.
But while we had managed to conquer the anxiety, the depression persisted.
James continued seeing a therapist. We were fortunate to get some good, state-covered therapy at the Sexual Youth Minority Resource Center SMYRC, (now also called the Q-Center). Around 7-years-old, when he had been working with his therapist for almost a year, it became obvious that the heart of his depression was coming from his relationship with his Dad.
We had been separated since he was three. By the time James was 5, I had fully accepted the fact that my little "girl" was in fact a little boy, but his father could not.
What James really wanted from his dad was some level of acceptance. It is almost impossible to expect someone to change multiple behaviors all at once. So, the therapist encouraged James to be as simple, clear and focused as possible when requesting his Dad change his behavior. She worked with James to help him focus on the few most important issues and to hold strong in his requests.
James came up with two simple, focused requests:
1) Use my boy name, James, and male pronouns when in public.
2) Let me use the boy’s bathroom in public.
He also came up with an ultimatum: he refused to go to his Dad’s house until his Dad agreed to his demands. Since I had full-custody, his father had no legal recourse. His Dad yelled and cursed and threw big fits, but I kept telling him that I supported James, and until he did too his son would not see him.
This went on for three months until his dad finally agreed. By the next year his father had become more comfortable with his child being a boy, and we changed schools. In the new school with the fresh start, the other kids only knew him as James, and with a more accepting father his childhood was finally becoming depression free.
He was finally able to live a more stress-, anxiety- and depression-free life.
I encourage everyone everywhere to make a stand for who they are. In the end it is up to us to figure out who we are and what we need. It is up to us to find our allies and support systems and lean on them to help us get there.
Once we figure out what is most important to us, what we really need, don’t back down. Hold strong to what you believe and don’t give up on the ones you love the most. Just be clear, simple and focused in your requests, and be patient. Some people need more time than others to adjust to realities beyond their kind of “normal.”
Don’t give up, but don’t kill yourself trying to force people to change, and don’t bend over backwards compromising yourself for others either. Stay focused and patient, and always remember to be yourself.