I fell in love with my partner, who is a transgender woman, when my daughter was three years old. Sparkly-eyed, imaginative, and excited at the idea of having a second parent, my daughter was quick to accept my "boyfriend" as part of our family. My partner, Meredith, had barely begun to transition from male to female in the early stages of our relationship. While she would wear nail polish and skirts in private, she wasn't fully out of the closet about her female identity.
As time went on, though, and Meredith became less of a "boyfriend" and more of a family member, we struggled with the challenge of telling my daughter about the fact that my "John"-- as my daughter knew her-- was transgender. It wasn't fair for my partner to have to remain in the closet, in her own home, with her own family, but I was nervous about how it would affect my child. We ultimately came up with a good plan for coming out as trans to our child.
Even just a few weeks into our relationship, Meredith and I struggled with the question of how we would broach this controversial and possibly intimidating topic with my daughter. Would hiding the transition-- leading a double life to "protect" our daughter-- be the right thing to do? After talking to a counselor and several other trans parents, we heard a solid consensus: the earlier, the better. Kids accept transgenderism much more readily at an early age, before they have been indoctrinated into cissexism by bullies and the media.
Eliminating Gender Stereotypes
The first step in enabling Meredith to come out as trans to our daughter involved banishing all gender stereotypes from our home. My daughter is already a little mini-feminist, who is just as happy in jeans and train T-shirts as in frilly princess clothes. My daughter has seen me dress butch, femme, and everything in between. She has no concept of gender as something restrictive or stagnant, and this made coming out as trans much easier for my partner.
Introducing Gender-Deviance as Normal
One day, after Meredith and I had been dating for a couple of months, she sat down near my daughter and said, "Hey, can you help me paint my nails?" My daughter clapped her hands, oblivious to anything "abnormal" that had just been said, and responded, "Yeah, John. Can we paint my nails, too?" The two picked out a shade of deep indigo nail polish and set to work getting pretty. A few days later, "John" started wearing feminine clothes around my daughter. She never laughed, flinched, or expressed any confusion about this, because we introduced it as normal and acceptable rather than strange and new.
Transgenderism as a Form of Make-Believe
Children's fluid view of fantasy makes it easier for them to accept transgenderism. Children under the age of five have only a weak concept of the difference between reality and make-believe. As a preschooler, my daughter was positively certain that she was a "baby car," and would be quick to correct anyone who said otherwise. Many preschoolers are also convinced that they can grow up to be unicorns or tigers. Given this, my daughter wasn't shocked or stunned by my partner coming out. While transgenderism isn't "playing pretend," a child's malleable view of reality makes coming out as trans far easier.
The "Big" Talk (that Doesn't Have to be a Big Deal)
The "big" discussion that involved Meredith coming out as trans to my child went surprisingly smoothly. "Sweetie," I said nonchalantly to my daughter, "John has a boy-body but feels more like a girl. Being called a boy makes him sad, so we're going to start calling him Meredith, which is a lady's name, when we're at home." My three-year-old shrugged and said, "Okay." Expecting far more drama, or at least a few questions, I asked my daughter if there was anything else she wanted to say or ask. "I love you both," she added. Coming out as trans to a child wasn't the ordeal we thought it would be.
Staying in a Child's Closet
If you are in the closet to anyone, coming out to a young child can be a bigger challenge than usual. Young children simply don't have filters, and can't be trusted not to share a secret with her peers on the playground. Some trans parents might choose to inform their kids that transgenderism a secret, but it's important to remember that young kids will occasionally slip and use the same names and pronouns used at home.
It takes a village to raise a child-- and to raise a child with two moms, one of whom is transgender, it might take a whole city. Our daughter is one very happy, very confident kid who absolutely adores her family. Unfortunately, the homophobic, transphobic outside world is a threat to our family. To fight this beast and help us with major steps like coming out to our child, we have a team of allies-- family members, close friends, and a local support group. We also see a counselor who helps us with both the relationship-side of transgenderism and with advice on parenting in these somewhat unusual circumstances.
Meredith and I are both outstanding parents, and I know, fundamentally, that my daughter will be happier because of our relationship. While it wasn't easy for my partner to come out to my daughter, I'm glad that we made the decision to do so early, openly, and honestly.