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10 Feb | Guest Blog

What LGBT+ History means to me

"In the past, I was interested in LGBT+ history, and I considered myself to be an ally, but I was not particularly active. Now, I am much more aware of the issues and my own privilege as a white, cis*, middle-class, heterosexual woman"

I have two children. A 16-year-old cis daughter and a 13-year-old trans daughter. Trans children are one of the most marginalised groups in our society and although there are a lot of positive developments and more understanding, there is still a long way to go.

Both my daughters are adopted. When my eldest cis daughter was little, I used to tell her a story about how she became part of our family. It was a bedtime story and involved us telling her that we really wanted a wonderful little girl like her and when the social worker found her, we thought she was perfect for our family. With our second child, we did not mind whether we adopted a girl or a boy, but when we went through the adoption assessment, we thought it might be nice to adopt a boy if a suitable match was found.

So, after we adopted our second child at about 1 and a half years old, we continued the tradition and told our ‘son’ a new story about how we decided we would love to adopt a little brother for our eldest daughter and that this would make our family complete. Little did I know that years later our youngest daughter would tell us that in the adoption story, we had told her that we wanted a boy. Such a small thing had an enormous impact on her.

The way we wanted to raise both children was for them to express who they are. Our eldest daughter is considered a ‘tomboy’ by some people, sporty and hated dolls. Our youngest seemed to be into dolls and we were fine with that too. In fact, I was proud that I was raising two children who defied gender stereotypes.

My youngest was accepted at nursery and infant school and allowed to express themselves how they wanted, so it was not really an issue. She did not challenge anyone’s assumption that she was a ‘boy’.  I do know other trans kids who are insistent from an early age that they are referred to as the opposite of what they were assigned at birth and other young people who do not realise there is something different until nearer puberty.

With our daughter it was a very gradual process of self-expression and, as she got older, testing the water, and seeing how the adults all around viewed it. Over time, it became increasingly obvious that there was a bit more to this. In the back of my mind, I thought they may be transgender. At this stage, I had an open mind. I had seen TV documentaries about transgender kids. I did not (knowingly) know any transgender adults and my experience of trans people was very narrow. Slowly, my youngest started to dress how she wanted after school and during the holidays. She experimented with hair and clothes, and she gradually realised that we were accepting all types of people. She met her first trans adult at a Lincoln Pride event and she started asking questions about it.

With growing confidence in our acceptance, she started to talk a little more about feelings and then wanted me to ask the school if she could wear ‘girls’ uniform to school. At this stage, I felt very scared. What would people think? How would other parents react? Would the other kids at school bully my child?

I started to seek out support and found the charity Mermaids and, also, a local support group for transgender and non-conforming children and their families. In addition to this, I had access to academic resources to do a lot of research. This time was a real learning curve as I realised there were a minority of people who did not believe that a child can be trans and would accuse me of being homophobic and ‘transing’ my child because I did not accept them as a ‘non-conforming boy’.

It took a few months before we plucked up the courage to say anything at school. It was a parent’s evening and when we sat there and the teacher asked whether there was anything else we wanted to discuss, my child nudged me and told me to ask the teacher if they could go to school in the girl’s uniform. The teacher responded in the best conceivable way and said that of course they could dress any way they wanted. My child’s response will always stay with me; they burst into tears. Their class teacher accepted it. This was an amazing boost of confidence for them. We now had a way forward and after a few weeks we talked to the headteacher who also reacted positively.

The day after the headteacher meeting was one of those days that will be remembered forever. It was a pivotal moment when we drove up to the school and sat in the car. We held hands and said ‘we can do this’, together. We both felt sick. We walked to school and that day, they did everything they could to make the process as easy as possible.

Although there were a few ‘concerned parents’, the headteacher nipped these ‘concerns’ in the bud telling one parent, who complained about my daughter using the girl’s toilets, that he would be happy to find her daughter an alternative toilet.

From this point on, it became increasingly obvious that our child is transgender.  She socially transitioned completely, changing her name, and has faced a few challenges along the way. She has now been herself for over four years. She has blossomed and is confident to be herself. Because she started secondary school as her authentic self, and the school is very LGBTQ+ friendly, she has improved in both her social skills and academic achievement.

She is accepted by her family, friends, teachers, and the wider community. I want her to be proud of who she is. Her history and her journey is important.  It is part of who she is.  Her journey as an adopted child and as a trans child are similar and she can look back at how she became the person she is today.  We all know that she is a girl and always has been. As her family, we will stand by her to help her every step of the way as she matures into adulthood.

Transgender people have always existed, but they are now facing similar challenges to those faced by the lesbian and gay community in the 1980s. The media onslaught is relentless, healthcare is worse than it has ever been and trans people are having to fight their corner at every turn. As an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, I have a greater understanding of my cis privilege and I will do my best to educate people and challenge homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and transmisogyny wherever I see it.

Anonymous Colleague, University of Lincoln 

*cis – a description of a person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth