I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child

Since then, I've seen over 200 children who have gone through transition, and it's always the same – we ignore them at their peril

In 2013 the parents of Dakota, Max and Coy Mathis launched a complaint after their daughter Coy (pictured on the right) decided to live as a girl, and was refused access to her school's female toilets
In 2013 the parents of Dakota, Max and Coy Mathis launched a complaint after their daughter Coy (pictured on the right) decided to live as a girl, and was refused access to her school's female toilets

At four years old, my child told me that God had made a mistake, and that he should have been a girl. And I listened.

Since then, I have been told a number of times that my parenting is poor. And not just poor: abusive, scandalous, dangerous and delusional. According to some people, my child should have been taken by social services.

But even before she could speak my daughter had made her preferences clear. I thought I had a little boy who liked girly things. When she was two and a half, nursery staff asked me if it was ok to let her wear a Snow White outfit during dress up time. I said yes. It was a phase, after all, wasn't it?

My daughter is now 21. She is a happy, outgoing and confident young woman. But for many years, I lived in fear of the call that would tell me she had taken her own life. After all, her life at school had included seven overdoses, as well as daily verbal and physical attacks.

I don’t know how we managed to get through those years, but she tells me it's because I didn't dismiss her feelings as ridiculous, or try and shame her into living as her birth gender, regardless of how much easier that may have been for me.

This week the press are outraged that three-year-olds are being referred to the NHS for gender identity treatment. But this isn't of the medical kind. These children are being referred so that the whole family can get support. Because they are suffering.

For children who don't identify with their birth gender, no medical intervention is even considered without there already being a history of gender variance. And it can only take place after puberty has started.

Puberty is in itself a diagnostic tool. If it doesn't not cause distress, then the likelihood is that the child is not transgender. If it does cause distress, then hormone blocking medication is given, which is completely reversible if needs be.

When my daughter started puberty at 12, she was incredibly depressed. She started taking overdoses of paracetamol, before moving onto to self-harming with razor blades. For her, it was a daily relief and distraction to her body changing in a way she couldn't control. She was prescribed blockers at 13.

Luckily, my daughter and I weren't completely alone. When she was six I called a helpline run by the group Mermaids, which supports children with gender identity issues and their families. This was after she asked when she could have the operation to make her a girl. I cannot tell you the feeling I had during that call. Comfort cannot even begin to come close.

"My daughter is now a happy and confident young woman. But for many years, I lived in fear of the call that would tell me she had taken her own life."

In the following 15 years, I ended up becoming Chair of Mermaids, and have seen over 200 families whose children have gone through transition. Many people question transgender children, and doubt whether they're old enough to really know what their true gender identity is. In my experience, children with a passionate intensity of feeling rarely change.

However, I have seen puberty affect two young men who decided to live as girls, before changing their minds. Over the course of early puberty they gradually went from feeling totally feminine, to deciding they were happy being male, but were gay. One was the son of our previous Chair. He lived as a girl for three years, and he was happy. And when he realised that he was not female, he simply changed back.

All the other families that I have known whose children have reached puberty to date have supported their child through transition. And that is split equally between girls wanting to be boys, and boys wanting to be girls.

Listening to your child should never be equated with abusive and bad parenting. And my family is proof of that. I have my daughter, whole and alive, but if I had refused to listen then it's very likely that I would have a dead son.

To find out more about Mermaids UK go to: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/

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