- No parent would want their child to face the kind of adversity that transgender children face, writes Heather Gee-Thomas.
- Upon reaching puberty, the writer’s son endured bullying and daily verbal abuse.
- Gender dysphoria is a clinical condition, and her son is alive today because of the medical care he received, she says.
- United Methodists have rallied around the family in many ways.
Photo courtesy of the author.
With my son’s permission, I would like to share our story.
I am a lifelong Tennessean, graduate of the University of Tennessee, a business professional, a wife, a mother and a Christian, attending Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville. My husband is from upper East Tennessee, raised a Southern Baptist conservative and is a 22-year retired veteran.
We happen to have a transgender child. Wanting to know all that I could about how to help my child, I have done extensive research over the last six years. I am in multiple support groups and know that this medical condition does not discriminate. It knows no income level, race, education, political affiliation or religion.
My child was assigned female at birth. At the age of 2, he started emulating his dad. When old enough to choose clothes, he always chose from the boys’ section. His friends were boys; he wanted to know why he couldn’t go shirtless outside or use the restroom outdoors. He never liked going to the beach because he had to wear a girl’s bathing suit. He always gravitated toward trucks and superheroes. He played sports on boys’ teams. When in public, everyone thought he was a boy.
At that time, we didn’t know anything about gender dysphoria, which is distress stemming from incongruence between a person’s assigned gender and their gender identity. He was our tomboy. He was a happy, well-adjusted child with lots of friends through his elementary years.
Jump to middle school. He was at the age of puberty and middle school was very different. Suddenly the boys weren’t interested in having girls as friends. It was clear that he did not fit in with the girls either.
He was bullied incessantly, physically and sexually abused, and verbally abused every day. He was miserable and would beg to stay home, and on a few occasions at the drop-off line, I just kept driving.
In sixth grade, he began seeing a therapist. In middle school, he had long bouts of self-harm and suicidal ideation along with attempts. Every morning I would pray that when I opened his bedroom door, he would be alive.
In high school, he moved to a different smaller school but still struggled with panic attacks, depression and very poor academic performance. At the end of his junior year, he told me that he was trans.
NO parent, I repeat NO parent would wish this kind of adversity on their children. He had been living through hell on Earth for the last five years of his life.
My husband and I were on completely different pages. My son and my husband were at odds much of the time. It wasn’t until his senior year that he and dad needed to take his car to the shop for repairs, and while there, dad called our child “she.” The mechanic immediately looked up in bewilderment. This was an a-ha moment, as my husband realized that the rest of the world saw our child as a boy.
What the church says about gender identity
In the Preamble to The Social Community section of the Social Principles, The United Methodist Church officially states: "We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation,gender identity, or religious affiliation.”
Official statistical reports of the denomination include “non-binary” as a form of gender identification.
Being transgender in The United Methodist Church is not a barrier to any ministry opportunity, role or office the church offers.
One evening, dad and I were talking, and he just couldn’t get past changing pronouns. I expressed to him that to us a pronoun was nothing more than a word, but to our child it was everything. From then on, our son and his dad have been thick as thieves.
Although dad’s degree of understanding may not be 100%, he saw the difference in our son once he transitioned. It was probably the most important and beautiful affirmation my son could have received. Out of respect, our son gave his dad the honor of giving him a new first name. My husband named him after his best friend from high school, who also happened to have the same initial as our kiddo’s name at birth.
As for treatment, our experience has been that therapy was helpful for processing. But no amount of talk therapy was going to talk him into or out of this medical condition. Our care team had a cautious, conservative, arduous seven-month process with our team of doctors — primary care, endocrinologist, therapist, psychiatrist, parents and child. Blood work and a minimum of a year of therapy were required along with our child being able to understand the risks.
Hormone therapy literally saved his life; it did what antidepressants and therapy could not. Additionally, the only other time my son had suicidal ideation was when he had to come off of his hormones for a medical procedure. Are there risks? Yes, every medical procedure and medication has risks. But if faced with the nominal risk of treatment vs. keeping your child alive, which would you choose?
Legislators in our home state of Tennessee recently passed several anti-trans laws, but the one that is most disturbing is the Transgender Minor Health Care Bill. This bill takes the health care decisions away from the medical teams and the parents and puts them in the hands of the government. Despite the science, statistical analysis and reduction in suicidal ideation in 60% of those who transition medically, our lawmakers have made it illegal to treat minors with completely reversable hormone blockers and/or hormone therapy, even requiring those already receiving treatment to detransition. Fortunately for us, our child is an adult, but as followers of Christ we don’t want anyone to ever go through what our son and family have been through.
Taking away the ability for parents to make medical decisions for their children, along with their care team, is incomprehensible. Of all of the parents I know, not one has a child who regretted their treatment, and all have seen significant improvement in the child’s life. Our experience lines up with the 98% satisfaction data for transitioning and that those same 98% continue treatment for a lifetime. Additionally, I can personally attest to the fact that the suicidal ideation significantly decreased with medical treatment.
My brave child is alive today because of the treatment he received. Had we done it earlier, we could have avoided the fear we had every day of whether he would survive. These medications are literally a miracle for so many families. Like any other child, these children are beautiful souls who deserve to have the same lives afforded to their cisgender peers.
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My faith teaches us as parents, we are to care for our children and their well-being and treat them as God treats us, His children, with love, care and compassion.
I believe this is what my family has done and what Jesus would do.
Telling our story is to serve the purpose of bearing witness to what the transgender community faces. Many families are forced to move out of state, refugees from their own homes, in order to properly care for their child. Some won’t have that luxury and will be faced with no medical care for their child’s gender dysphoria.
Suicide rates of trans minors are eight times that of their cisgender peers, according to The Trevor Project. These rates will only increase with these devastating laws.
The advocacy work I now do would not be possible without the support of my church family at Glendale United Methodist Church. They have rallied around me and the trans community to advise on medical terminology, participated in phone banks, email and postcard parties to name a few. They lift me in their prayers regularly. Additionally, we hosted an educational class and are able to answer many questions so that we can all speak more intelligently on the topic.
People sat by my side at the State Capitol for my Senate testimony and joined me in visiting our legislators. We are all in this together! Inclusion means much more than just being a safe space at Glendale United Methodist Church. It means we actively fight against oppression, bigotry and hate.
We need to protect God’s children. Please join in any way that you can to stand up against misinformation, as these children were born this way. May we love and care for the “others” in our world. Together we can be the hands, feet and loving arms of Jesus.
Gee-Thomas is a United Methodist residing in Nashville, Tennessee.
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