It’s a Boy
As many parents often do, we decided to find out the gender of our unborn child before birth. “It’s a boy,” the doctor said. Having had a boy and girl prior to our third child, we were just thrilled to be welcoming another soul into the world after nine years of praying and wishing for another child. A human being was growing inside of me and the miracle of the process of a life forming was an incredible feeling. We began to mentally prepare ourselves to raise a son.
We started noticing that Dev was behaving in a peculiar manner at around three years of age. He only played with the girls at preschool. The toys associated with boys were of no interest to him. He seemed very confused as to why he was dressed in shirts and pants every day and would often remove his clothing shaking his head saying “no”.
By age four, the mannerisms became more and more feminine. For example, he would sway his hips the way girls do and when he danced, there was nothing masculine about it. My initial thoughts were, perhaps I have a gay son. At the time, I was ignorant to the fact that gender identity, which is the gender we identify with in our hearts and brains regardless of the anatomy of the body, has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
A four-year-old has no clue whether they are gay or straight. Sexual orientation is something we figure out as we get older sometime before or after puberty takes place. The truth is, I had no idea what to think. I was an Indian woman raised with very traditional ideas. The LGBTQ world was foreign to me. The assumption that my son was gay was very incorrect. I would learn this later as I sought to understand my child.
Initially, we highly discouraged this behavior by preventing him from playing with our daughter Sarina’s old dolls and dress-up clothes. We also tried to have Dev spend most of his time with male figures such as his older brother and dad in hopes to masculinize him and somehow change the situation. During that time period, we were failing as parents.
I remember the sad expression on Dev’s face when I would take Sarina to dance competitions. Dev was kept away from that scene. As time went on, he became highly anxious and frustrated, unable to sleep at night and biting his nails to the point of bleeding. We were completely unsure of what was happening to our child.
Luckily there was a teacher who truly changed our lives. Dev’s kindergarten teacher was his safe place. He confided in this teacher that he was actually a girl, but asked her to keep it a secret from us. From the signals that we had given him up till then, he sensed that he could not share this transgender truth with us. Then one-day his teacher called us in for a conference and showed us a picture that Dev drew of an elephant trapped in a cage. When we asked Dev to explain the picture to us, the flood gates opened up. Dev explained that the photo of the elephant was actually a picture of how he felt trapped inside the cage of a body of a boy.
State of Shock
That day I felt like I was hit by a car. I was in a state of complete disbelief and confusion. At the time, I did not even know the meaning of the word transgender. After consulting with several specialists, it was confirmed. Our son was transgender. Although the gender assigned at birth was male, our child identified as a female. What most people don’t realize is that this group of people know at a very young age how they feel. Furthermore, the statistics for transgender kids who are unsupported by family and community are grim. Forty percent of these kids try to end their lives at some point in life. Science has shown that transgender brain scans reveal that the brains actually align with the gender they associate with rather than that assigned at birth.
Five years later, I asked Devina how she felt that day when we asked her to explain that drawing. “I was scared and I felt jittery and wondered if I would be punished,” she said. “I was nervous that my parents would not like me anymore.”
Once we realized what this was, we immediately accepted her unconditionally. Dev returned to school as Devina. The social transition took place immediately. We were devastated, but did not show it at all. Sarina was our rock during this time. She accepted it like it was no big deal almost overnight. Nik, our son, took time because he was really sad that his baby brother was gone. Now Nik is super supportive and has spoken about it publicly during television interviews.
Devina has encountered some bullying from kids school, but the supportive staff and principal put a stop to that immediately. We surround her with a support group of children like her in the area. She has published a children’s book about her story that is available in school libraries.
Our daughter speaks openly about who she is and refuses to her transgender identity. Her message is this-if your young child tells you he/she is transgender, believe them. To do otherwise, will result in great pain. We have received much backlash in response to allowing our child to live as her authentic self. We have also been met with great support.
Advice for Parents with a Transgender Child
The advice I would give to parents in similar situations would be that life does not always go as planned. Letting go of the ego is the real lesson here. True happiness can only be achieved with acceptance. Denying your child to be anyone else than who they are is never a good option. I believe as humans we are truly defined by how gracefully we smile when life brings us painful situations because they will come, in one way or another.
My dream for Devina is to be peaceful and to live a life where she feels true to herself. I am an Indian mom who grew up in a very traditional home. I live a very different life now. I have no regrets five years later in the decision that we made to support our child. It really was not ours to make in the first place.
I was five-years old when I transitioned from boy to girl. I remember it like it was yesterday. My Dad had picked me up from kindergarten. We drove home and as soon as I walked through the door I saw my sister Sarina, my brother Nikhil and my mom. My first thought was “Uh Oh, I’m in trouble”. But then I saw my mom had something in her hand. My dad squeezed my hand and sat me down between my mom and sister. I was worried. My mom said, “Your teacher gave me a piece of paper yesterday at our parent, teacher conference. My mom showed me the piece of paper. It was a story I had written a week ago. It was about an elephant named Beautiful who lived in the zoo. It lived in a cage that she so dearly wanted to get out of, but couldn’t. My dad said “Dev (Dev was my boy name) tell me about this picture about Dumbo.” I was nearly crying at this point. I replied, “Daddy, that’s not Dumbo, it’s an elephant named Beautiful.”
“Who Is Beautiful?” Mom asked. I didn’t answer. “Who Is Beautiful?” she repeated. I burst into tears saying, “Beautiful is ME!!!!”
They understood. All my life they had to drag me away from the girls section at the mall, snatch away dolls and tell me not to put my hands on my hips, but now they knew. I was so happy that my parents accepted me for who I am, I just sobbed with tears of joy, hugging my mom for what seemed like days. I fell asleep that night, not knowing or caring that my future would be filled with doctor’s visits, surgeries and bullies. The next morning, my Mom took me to buy girls’ clothes to replace to my old clothes. I showed up late to kindergarten because of the detour that morning. Many people didn’t accept me, but many did. Within the hour I had five new and great friends that I still have now. Five years later I am a strong trans girl who can overcome anything.
Follow Vaishali’s motherhood journey on her Instagram.