Mom Talk: Raising A Trans Son & Fighting For His Freedom

Written by

Laura Brunow Miner

10:30 am
03/10/22

Photographed by Cherish Bryck

The rights of LGBTQ+ children in the U.S. are in an alarmingly perilous state—from the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida to the criminalization of Texas parents seeking medical care for their trans kids—not to mention other enduring challenges and prejudices faced nationwide. With LGBTQ+ youth more than 4 times more likely to consider suicide than their peers, it is absolutely vital that we support these children and young adults in all the ways we can, including pushing back against horrific legislation that seeks to take away their humanity. Below, San Francisco-based mother Laura Brunow Miner shares her personal story of raising a trans son and fighting for his right to live freely.  

The day my 5-year-old sat down next to me and told me that he wished he were a boy, I wasn’t ready for it. I had retreated to my room that evening to process the beginning of the end of my marriage. But even under those circumstances I was amazed by his bravery to be able to share that with me. My fellow parents will understand that we’ve been trained a million times over to temporarily set aside our own issues in order to show up for our kids, and that is what I did. And actually, the fact that I was at the early stages of my own big life transition helped me know exactly how to show up for him.

Because of my own situation, I knew he would need just a little bit of rope, a little bit of pasture, to start. Anything more than a baby step would be too overwhelming. One piece at a time. He’d been asking for a buzz cut for a while, so I asked him if he’d like to start there. Or maybe he’d prefer to meet other kids who feel like he does, or try using he/him pronouns at preschool, or try a different name at home, etc.

He picked the buzz cut and it was beautiful to see how liberated he felt by it.

In retrospect, there had been signs previous to that. When playing, he always picked trains, never dolls, and asked for a motorcycle for Christmas. At age 4, when every girl in his ballet class wore a pink tutu, he wore Star Wars pajamas and looked at me like I was insane when I asked if he wanted an outfit like the other girls. He always told me he wanted to be called handsome. But it was hard to tell from just that. He has a brother a year older, and lots of kids like trains and motorcycles. But given how incredibly capable this kid is, I knew I had to listen to him when he told me how he felt.

This is the kid who said from an early age, “Mom, you forgot the sunscreen again, but I packed some.” The one who, when we told him that his dad and I were separating—when he was only 6!—said, “Huh. Well I guess I should be the one to make the lunches for tomorrow.” This is the kind of kid you have to remind to be a kid, the kind of kid who wants to do all the schoolwork for the second grade the summer before it starts. To be honest, he’s been the most capable person in the house since he was very young, even with two highly functional parents.

People, good people, even my friends here in San Francisco, ask me how I can trust a young child to make a decision this big. This is well meaning, but I honestly question: Is this even a decision? Or a situation?

Let me illustrate with an example. After the buzzcut when he was 5, things moved gradually for my child. For a while he’d been mostly ignoring the girl hand-me-downs in his closet in favor of his brother’s clothes and the boy hand-me-downs, and that increased. Within six months, his teacher started a conversation with us about he/him pronouns, based on his bathroom use preferences and other signs showing up at school, and we all made the switch. A year after that, we landed on a new name that we introduced during distance learning.

At this point, it’s been almost 3 years of every single day my kid waking up, going to sleep, and everything in between, feeling like a boy. Wrestling, Legos, mohawks, swim trunks, boy’s bathrooms, Darth Vader, soccer, 3-piece suits, he/him, his new name. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of data points on each of those 1,000 days since he sat down next to me and told me he wished he were a boy. So, I get honestly confused when people ask me about letting him “choose” to express this way. To me it’s obvious, because there’s a landslide of evidence in favor of his gender expression.

That said, I’m happy he’s still so young. This means that by the time adolescence arrives and hormone therapies are an option, we will have that many more years and data points to go on. My goal over the coming years is to expose him to the broadest range of gender expression possible, so that he fully understands his options and who he is. But you know what my mother’s intuition tells me? That he already knows, and has for a long time. But we will take it one piece at a time and see.

Some people might question whether being transgender is a viable option, one that should be on the table. They might say “transgender people can’t be happy” and they might have seen evidence of that where they live. “Suicide rates are really high for transgender people,” they might say. But I would question whether the unhappiness and suicide rate has to do with their gender expression or the hate and intolerance they survive every day living somewhere where they aren’t safe.

Here in California, I know many thriving transgender people with stellar careers, social and romantic lives, families, etc. And the evidence is overwhelming that gender affirming therapy saves lives. “Everything we know from the research, the medical science, and the child development is that supporting children and adolescents in their transition around gender helps them be healthy. It’s crucial for physical, mental, and behavioral health for young people,” said Stephen Russell, a professor of child development at the University of Texas who specializes in LGBTQ youth.

My goal in sharing this today is to help you understand something that seems as simple, everyday, and routine as brushing my teeth to me: that allowing kids to express gender on their own terms is imperative to their health, and absolutely not a decision the government or neighbors should be involved in. The politicians using this as a political lever for their own attempts at re-election do so out of irresponsibility and self-interest, and in my opinion should be voted out of any leadership position as quickly as possible.

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