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What if your son wants to be your daughter?

03 November 2014, 08:27 Jude Knowles

Nairobi - Think back, as far as you can remember, to when mom and dad were getting ready for a night out.

Little Johnny would sit with his Dad, pretending to shave, and little Sarah would put on Mommy’s make-up and strut around in her shoes. Those were carefree and wonderful days and good memories for so many of us.

Experts say that playing dress-up is a good thing for children as it teaches kids various skills. Dress-up is often seen as innocent fun, and parents rarely feel troubled when their son or daughter happens to dress up as the opposite sex. Most parents believe it is just a phase, and often it is, but what happens if that phase doesn’t end?

I too remember the days I use to play dress-up. It was the happiest times of my life.

I remember struggling to walk down the hallway in my mom’s shoes, wearing a dress that was way too big for my little body. I was happy, and my mom wasn’t bothered at all.

It was around age 6 that my dad started yelling at me and telling me this was not something a boy was supposed to do. Eventually he started beating me because he didn’t want to have a “moffie” for a son. The beatings got so severe that one time I passed out from the pain.

Eventually I submitted and stopped playing dress-up. And this was where my lifelong battle with depression and self-hatred started. Being so young, I never understood what was wrong with me. Only much later did I learn the term “transgender”.

What is transgender?

A transgender person is someone who self identifies with the opposite gender he/she was born with. Someone born male would identify as female, or someone born female would identify as male.

Depending on the child’s circumstances, it is much easier today for young children to come out and admit they are different. I often wondered how different my life would have been if my parents started to talk to me instead of beating me.

I think of Jazz Jennings who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the tender age of 5 and at 14 years old, she is already a transgender activist sharing her story and providing support for many other young children like her. Why are Jazz and so many children brave enough to stand up for who and what they are?

It is because of loving and supportive parents. They grew up in a safe environments and with unconditional love.

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria describes the condition where a person experiences discomfort or stress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. People are often critical when young children tell them they know they are different.

They often ask how children that young can know. The answer to that is very easy. We are born that way. Emotionally and in our minds, we already know whether we are boys or girls. It is only our bodies that don’t fit the reality.

Scientists now know that sex hormones begin to influence the brain development of a fetus at 26 weeks of pregnancy. This has led to the development of theories that transgender children are often exposed to the wrong hormones during this development phase and this may lead to the development of a female type brain in a male body and the other way around.

Although this is just a theory, brain scan research done on adult transgender females show comparable brain activity (brain mapping) to that of a normal female brain. The same was true for the transgender males compared to normal males. Gender, therefore, cannot be defined by a person’s genitals alone. It is far more complex.

I've always known I was a girl

I have heard so many people saying, "But my son wanted to be a lion! Should I let them be a lion forever, or this is just a phase and my child will grow out of it?"

The problem with that type of reasoning is that it misses the most critical point: When you tell your child not to be a lion anymore, he will be unhappy but eventually he will go on and forget about it. Gender dysphoria doesn’t go away. It only becomes worse in time if parents ignore it.

Also read: Transgender teen murdered by mob

Recent studies in the USA suggest that 33% of transgender youths attempt suicide. More than 50% of adult transgender people attempt suicide. This is indeed something to take note of if your child shows signs of being transgender.

I was lucky. I survived 3 suicide attempts before I was 18 years-old. If your child is different, will they also be so lucky?

A child isn’t born hating people on the basis of their race or sexual orientation. Things like that are taught by the parents. In the same way little girls and boys are brought up and taught to be young men and women.

Despite my parents beating me and doing everything in their power to expose me to the male world and being a “man”, all that they did was give me confirmation that I was indeed a woman.

Gender dysphoria will never really disappear until the day you accept yourself and you embrace who you truly are.

Only then will you finally be free.

 - Women24

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