Updated: Aug 17
By Jaime Jara
When I was young and vast opportunities lay before me, I aspired to have my life somehow impact the world for good. I wasn’t overly ambitious; I didn’t expect to win a Nobel Peace Prize. I just knew I wanted to make a difference. Fast forward some years after the birth of my third child. In my early thirties, I felt myself to be a mature and well-seasoned parent, thinking I could handle anything motherhood threw my way. I had already endured many sleepless nights, bouts of colic, toddler tantrums and sibling rivalry. My two older children, both boys, were healthy, joyful and rambunctious. They enjoyed getting dirty in the mud, collecting lizards and climbing trees in the yard. In so many ways, they were just like the little boys I had played with in my childhood and those I encountered on various playdates over the years. I assumed that my youngest son, Dempsey, would follow suit in his big brothers’ footsteps. I was a very proud “boymom” with a vanity plate that read: My Three Sons.
Around 18 months of age, Dempsey started to show a strong interest in princesses, sparkly trinkets and clothing. I was mildly surprised but not overly shocked or worried. After all, many children have phases with toys and games; surely this was just that. My husband and I chuckled about it and shrugged it off casually. We encouraged his creativity in play, letting him gravitate to items that interested him. We also offered Dempsey more traditionally masculine toys such as trucks and soccer balls, but he would refuse every single one. Over time his fascination with princesses evolved into a passion for unicorns, mermaids and everything glitter! I started to pay close attention to the drawings Dempsey would compose ever so carefully. I noticed that Dempsey always, and I mean always, drew himself as a girl with long blonde hair. By the time he turned four, it became exceedingly difficult to ignore the tantrums and complete meltdowns Dempsey would have when we wouldn’t allow him to wear costume dresses to school or be Cinderella for Halloween.
Back then, we were acting with good intentions as parents – after all, our child was born biologically male and we didn’t want him to be a target for bullying and taunting by his preschool peers for being effeminate or dressing girly. It broke my heart to watch my beautiful and charming child retreat into himself, becoming depressed and anxious in social settings when we took him to the barber and dressed him in polos. By age five, Dempsey had resorted to fashioning pajama pants on his head every day to simulate long hair, but only at home. Dempsey appeared perpetually sad and uneasy. I felt incredibly guilty both for stifling my child’s identity and for forcing him to be something he was not. It was clear that we needed help.
We searched for local support resources for our family and found a wonderful thriving community of parents with gender variant and nonconforming children in our area. They became our lifeline. With their help, we found a network of therapists and medical professionals who specialized in both children and gender identity. We booked an appointment with a therapist to help Dempsey who seemed to be struggling. In the first session, he confided in her that he was “a boy who liked all girl things.” More sessions revealed that Dempsey was consistent, persistent and insistent that he identified as a girl and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Gradually, we started allowing him to wear hairbows and girl accessories to preschool. By the time kindergarten rolled around, my husband and I mutually agreed that we could no longer cut Dempsey’s hair as it was damaging him emotionally. As his hair started to grow out, he was visibly ecstatic because that was the distinctive physical feature of a little girl for him. Dempsey came to us at six and told us, “I am a girl in my heart and my brain.” We wholeheartedly accepted what our child so bravely voiced to us. We stopped challenging Dempsey and started questioning the gender biases we ourselves had been taught. It was time to learn something new. We decided that we had to be “trans-parent” (pun intended) in this journey, so others could see that gender nonconforming and transgender children are normal and should be embraced in all environments.
Dempsey officially changed pronouns in the summer of 2018. From the moment she was allowed to be her authentic self, she blossomed and continues to do so right before our eyes. She is loved, accepted and supported by her peers and teachers. She gets excellent grades, participates in many activities and has been nominated by her classmates as Student of the Month several times. Dempsey shines in a world that is sometimes so very dark.
Nowadays, I devour every gender identity research article and publication I can get my hands on. I am well versed in the frightening statistics of LGBTQ youth regarding bullying, homelessness and suicide. I feel compelled to be vocal publicly against the inaccuracies and propaganda about transgender people. I embrace and empower LGBTQ youth facing adversity, many of whom are cast out by their own families. I have spoken on panels addressing school administrators and medical professionals advocating for the inclusion of transgender youth and their right to medical care. I proudly walk in Pride Parades alongside my family and, most recently, I appeared with my husband on television delivering a message of education and acceptance for transgender children. Because my child is so young, most of the hateful and ignorant commentary are directed to me as her parent. While sometimes this is a terrible burden to bear, I am thankful that for now Dempsey is safe in the bubble we have created for her to thrive. The negative comments I hear most are that I am abusing my child or I am making her this way. To this I say, I am no magical creature! I can barely persuade my children to eat their vegetables, let alone change genders.
I recognize and acknowledge that I am afforded many privileges because I am an upper middle-class heterosexual cisgender white woman. I realize that while my safety is challenged for being a visible ally, I am in no way targeted as openly as transgender people are, particularly transgender women of color. Every day, media outlets highlight the brutalities committed against transgender people and the discrimination they continually face simply for daring to exist in this world. We as a society, have the duty to protect marginalized members and pave the way for acceptance of all people, not just ones who are like us. We have to do better because our lives, as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren, depend on it.
As a mother and a human being, I advocate for LGBTQ community needs and educate about the dignity and inclusion people deserve. I hope that my individual voice lends itself to even a small part of a powerful movement that will change the world and shape societal change for future generations to come. As a child, I always aspired to impact the world for the better. I hope that being a strong ally is my lasting legacy.