By Leslie Lagerstrom
“When did you know for sure?”
Everyone we meet wants to know the answer to that question when they hear we have a transgender child. Perhaps some ask to calm unspoken fears that their own tomboy daughter or feminine son could be transgender. Most others are genuinely interested in a subject that is still unfamiliar to most people and misunderstood by society, especially in regards to children.
I remember Sam always gravitating to traditional male activities…male friends…male play. From Match Box cars and CAT bulldozers to baseball jerseys and Bob the Builder reruns…Sam was all boy, even if he was a girl.
I will never forget the photo sent home by a well-meaning preschool teacher when Sam was just three years old. The teacher was just as pleased to share what fun our child was having at school as Sam was to hand deliver a picture that was sure to make the refrigerator hall-of-fame.
As I studied the photo of three young children playing ‘House,’ a sick feeling in my stomach began to grow. In front of me were two girls engaged in traditional gender role-play, happily assuming the coveted roles of mother and child, and then there was Sam, complete with a fake beard, bow tie, sport coat, top hat and a grin from ear-to-ear.
When I asked Sam what role she was playing, her tone, more than the answer, caught me off guard. With a confident, don’t-you-get-it mom inflection in her voice, Sam proclaimed, “I’m the DAD!” And when I asked why that role was chosen, the tone became even more incredulous as Sam explained, “…because that is who I am!” At that point I was hoping the answer would have been, “…because they made me.” I would have much rather dealt with a child not standing up for her rights, than with a child who was starting to tell us, in the only way she knew how, that there was a disconnect between her mind and biology.
The early years were filled with more of these anecdotes than I care to remember, each one providing varying degrees of uneasiness for my husband and me, as we struggled to understand this young child who consistently and persistently insisted she was really a boy. But it was the revelation Sam came home with in 3rd grade that provided me with my proverbial ah-ha moment.
In 3rd grade students at our public elementary school get their first lesson on the subject of chromosomes. Nothing too complex mind you, just the basic information on XY sex-determination. Well as it turned out, that proved to be a monumental day for Sam who jumped off the bus in the afternoon eager to share something important.
“I know what is wrong with me!” Sam exclaimed, grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser before the back door was even closed.
“There is nothing wrong with you,” I replied, scared of where this conversation was going.
“Look mom…” Sam said, as she wrote in large letters XX followed by XY. “Girls have XX chromosomes and boys have XY.”
Okay, I thought. So far I can deal with this.
Sam continued, “something happened to my Y – it was supposed to be a Y but it turned into an X (erasing the bottom stem of a sloppily drown Y), and that is why I am a girl when I was really suppose to be a boy.”
All I could feel at that moment was an excruciating pain in my heart thinking about the magnitude of the internal struggle this child must be enduring for her to come away with this self-diagnosis from a simple 3rd grade lesson on chromosomes.
I did not try to deny Sam’s feelings any longer. Instead I picked up the phone and called my husband at work and shared Sam’s revelation. It was that afternoon that we both knew we were facing something bigger than we had once thought – not a phase or a choice as we had wishfully hoped. While difficult, we will always reflect positively on that day, for it marked the start of our journey down a new path – one that would help our child be who he really was meant to be.