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One area mother shares the challenges in finding out her daughter, now son, is transgender
In 2015, Kayleigh and her husband were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. She was Kayleigh’s second child (she had a daughter from a previous marriage), and Kayleigh felt nothing but excitement. She dressed her up in princess clothes, other feminine apparel and just relished the idea of having a baby girl.
That was all fine until her child got to about two and a half years old. Kayleigh noticed she didn’t want to play with the other girls, she threw Barbie dolls aside, and was much more interested in what are traditionally considered toys for boys: trucks and the like. She liked playing around in the dirt, more than playing dress up.
Kayleigh didn’t think much of it at the time. She just assumed her daughter would be a tomboy, and that was fine with her.
I ran into Kayleigh a couple of months back, and she told me her story. Her daughter is no longer her daughter. Kayleigh is now mother to Sam, who is a 7-year-old boy. I listened rapt with attention as Kayleigh told me of the difficulties of the process — how she came to terms with Sam’s transition (not physical, to be clear), the fights with family members who come from a more traditional culture, the initial disappointment that she wouldn’t have the little girl she thought she would, and the difficulties that lie ahead.
After hearing her story, I asked if I could interview her for The Wausonian. Kayleigh is not her real name, nor is Sam her child’s real name. She fears backlash, and a lack of understanding. I wanted to share Kayleigh’s story because it is so genuine. Nothing about her sharing her story was about making a political point. She hadn’t told very many people about it — I was one of the few outside the family who’d been told.
One of the qualities I have that I like to think makes me a good journalist is that I am insatiably curious. It’s second nature to me, and seeing a lack of it always surprises me. Trans issues are one area where there seems to be a lot of certainty on polar opposite extremes — and to me there are few areas that are more challenging, and require less certainty and more questions.
Which is one of the reasons I wanted to interview Kayleigh — because she struggled with all this herself. She struggled to understand this herself, and then struggled further with getting her family to understand. She’s just a mother trying to figure out how to handle a confusing situation while doing the best for her son.
So the whole point of this story is to understand something I frankly don’t know much about myself. And to hear from a real person about it, not someone with a political axe to grind, either from the left or right.
With that in mind, I hope you will read this with an open mind, regardless of your political or personal ideologies.
(From here on out I will refer to Sam as male, using male pronouns. Up to this point it made sense to refer to Sam as a girl while his parents still thought of her that way, but from now on for simplicity’s sake male pronouns will be used.)
How Sam became Sam
So Sam started pre-school, playing in the dirt and tumbling around wrestling with his friends. Kayleigh was ok with that — “ok, you don’t have to wear these dresses, you can do what you want to do.” Sam still had long hair (and had a more feminine name) and was 3-years-old.
But then Kayleigh noticed Sam always seemed sad when she would pick Sam up from school. Sam said he didn’t like his (feminine) name, that he didn’t like them calling him a girl, that he isn’t a girl. “Hearing a three year old say this was a little strange, because you think, what does a three-year-old know about boys and girls,” she told me.
Sam went off. He didn’t like his name, he didn’t like his hair. He was not, in fact, a girl, he informed mom.
Mom was sure it was a phase. Kids do strange things; they play, they imagine they’re dogs or cats or superheroes. Maybe there was a show Sam had gotten it from? Kayleigh didn’t think much about it.
It persisted, however. Sam started to throw temper tantrums. He didn’t want anyone to see him, and he didn’t want to go anywhere. One particular scene in the laundry room was interesting:
A pivotal moment happened at Thanksgiving. Sam stood up at the dinner table and declared to everyone seated there that he was a boy. They all laughed, thinking it was a game. “Wow, you’re pretty sure of yourself!” Kayleigh remembers them joking. They decided to have Sam go around the room and say what gender each family member was. He got them all correct, but when it came to him again, he said he was a boy. Everyone left a little confused, but Kayleigh realized something was a little different.
Learning to accept Sam
As a three and four year old, nothing changed — Sam still thought of himself as a boy. It was starting to become clear to Kayleigh this wasn’t the typical whimsy children go through — Sam was remarkably persistent. Kayleigh became pregnant with her third child, and she asked Sam whether he hoped if he would have a little sister or a little brother. Sam made himself clear, he wanted a little brother, and was very happy about that prospect. He got his wish when his little brother was born.
Another pivotal moment happened when Kayleigh was changing Sam’s little brother. He noticed his brother’s private parts were different than his own. What was going on?
When Kayleigh explained why Sam’s brothers private parts were different because Sam’s brother is a boy and he’s biologically a girl, a look of shock took over his face. He was crestfallen when he realized he couldn’t simply manifest himself as a boy and it would be so; biological differences shocked him.
That’s when Kayleigh decided it was time for a therapist; this was beyond her ability to handle.
The therapist told them Sam was a little young to be called “transgender,” but that seemed to be what he is. They diagnosed it as gender dysphoria, and they would have to decide how they wanted to handle that as parents. They could either fight it, the therapist told them, or accept it and see what happens. “So, that was hard,” Kayleigh told me. Sam was supposed to go to 4K the next fall. They didn’t think they could possible put him in school.
But an observation visit from a teacher convinced them to change their minds, Kayleigh told me. They said school would be the perfect environment. And that proved true — Sam played with the other children and was treated as a boy. They let him pick out a new name — he wanted to be Frankie from a cartoon he’d watched but they didn’t care for that, so they all settled on Sam. Kayleigh bought him boy clothes, cut his hair short. To this day, he is Sam and so far there haven’t been many issues at school. Bathrooms are already single stall so that hasn’t been an issue.
In fact, Sam has been thriving, Kayleigh says. He’s been outgoing, made a ton of friends and seems to be the happy child every parent would hope for their kids.
Convincing family members, some who are conservative and others who come from traditional cultures, was not easy. Kayleigh’s father was a police office and very conservative.
Kayleigh went into detail about how her family took to it. Here is a clip at length of her explaining:
Her father eventually accepted Sam for who he is because his love for his grandchild overrode his beliefs.
The storm cloud coming
Sam is happy now — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that trouble Kayleigh about the future.
One is the idea of physically transitioning. When something like that could or should happen is something heavily debated by progressives and conservatives — both with their points. Progressives have tended to downplay stories of people who regret transitioning; but conservatives tend to be against it altogether. And certainly the age at which one should be able to make that decision is definitely a question not yet settled. Kayleigh certainly isn’t sure.
Puberty blockers could help solve the problem; they’ll delay the onset of adult gender characteristics setting in, buying more time to make serious decisions about physical transitioning.
Then there is the idea of sports. Children up to a certain age can play on teams together because physical differences haven’t yet manifested. That changes with puberty. So far Sam has chosen karate, which hasn’t presented any gender issues so far.
She is relieved that Sam has found some happiness and can function as a happy child. But these worries keep Kayleigh up and night. It’s not something she would have chosen. She hadn’t thought a ton about transgender issues until she found herself the mother of a transgender child.
After the interview, Kayleigh shows me a photo of Sam. He looks like a normal, healthy boy with a smile that belies a little gap-toothed grin. No one would look twice at him, and no one would guess he was biologically female.
The difficult road for Kayleigh and Sam is far from over. But for now, they’ve both found some peace.
It’s the reason I wanted to have this conversation with her. I think it’s an issue our society will have to start coming to terms with, and we don’t get there by shouting moralisms from either side, or pretending any of this is easy, or settled. Because it’s not. We’ve got a long ways to go to figure these things out. My hope is this story helps foster a little more understanding, and a little more thought around these issues.
Whether you’re a newcomer here or a long-time subscriber, I hope you got something out of this. Again, it’s not about pushing a viewpoint, but it’s about understanding something that otherwise many of us probably have little experience with. I sure didn’t, and I firmly believe it’s through conversation that we learn. I definitely learned through this conversation.
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