A Chinese mother’s journey to accept her transgender child

Jun 21, 2024
Young person with a transgender pride flag. Image: iStock/nito100

“I didn’t tell my husband that our child is a transgender person who likes girls, until months later. His smile froze after hearing what I said.”

Good evening! Today’s piece delves into the emotional journey of a Chinese mother coming to terms with her child being transgender.

GRR has remained dedicated to issues of self-exploration for individuals in China. The story about teens at a transgender clinic in Beijing, originally featured on the WeChat blog Truman Story and translated by GRR in January 2023, ranks among the most popular stories in all GRR newsletters.

Today’s story also comes from Truman Story. Due to the original article’s length, we’ve translated and retained the most essential content to facilitate an easier reading experience. For those proficient in Chinese, I also recommend reading the full text in its original language. The original title of the story is “After a mother knew that her child is transgender.”

After a mother knew that her child is transgender

One summer noon, my child’s bitter cries pierced me over the phone. Scared, I immediately asked what had happened.

I recalled that he had short hair and wore supposedly-unisex sport pants and T-shirt at high school. At that time, I still identified him as a girl. To be honest, I didn’t care that he dressed up in a unisex style and was slightly overweight. Deep down in my heart, I felt relieved, partly because I believed that dressing in a unisex style would shield her from the attention of boys, allowing her to focus on her studies. Another reason was that I also dressed up like a boy when I was young, but became “lady-like” after taking up my first job. So I thought my short-haired girl would gradually become more feminine as she grew up.

“I didn’t tell you and dad because I feared being abandoned once you know the truth!” That was the first thing he told me.

That call came in 2016, when my child was in his junior year at university. That was the first time he openly told me that he is transgender. He identifies himself as a boy and is attracted to girls. “The soul of a boy finds itself wrongly placed in the body of a girl.” It wasn’t until then that I knew about his first girlfriend in high school. The girl with big eyes, who had always been with my child and stayed over at our house every weekend throughout three years. I had thought they were just besties.

After high school, he dated several more girls, with breakups and makeups. Half a year ago, he made a new girlfriend, but was considering a breakup because they did not get along. The girl threatened to reveal his gender identity to me. He panicked and decided to tell me everything himself.

I gave birth to my child in 1994. My mother-in-law was there with me as I lay in labor. When the nurse announced that it was a girl, she couldn’t hide her joy. Already grandmother to three grandsons, she had yearned for a granddaughter.

So my child was assigned female at birth.

I’ve always labeled myself as an open-minded person, including about gender minority groups, yet I had always considered myself to be at a long distance to them.

Now, looking back, I am grateful that I maintained a level head at that time. Despite the inner turmoil, my first instinct was to offer him comfort. “That’s OK. No matter how others may despise you, your father and I will always stand behind you and provide you with steadfast support.”

It’s easier said than done, though.

Reflecting on the past, I blamed the situation on my being too strict with my child, and my selfishness and irresponsibility. From the time my child was young, I’ve never allowed him to act like he was being spoiled in front of me, different from what might be seen in some other girls. And for a long time, I was unable to spend meaningful time with him because of my work commitments.

Half a month following that call, I appeared calm around others, as if nothing significant had happened. But when I was driving alone, I would often drift into thought, not knowing that my tears had fallen on the steering wheel.

Once, he asked me, “Mom, why did you bring me to the world without asking me?” I didn’t know what to say.

I tried to console him, explaining that many people are even more unfortunate than him. Some are born with disabilities, others lost their loved ones during childhood, and still others battle serious illnesses at a young age.

He argued that his situation was not comparable to what others experienced.

I felt miserable. I could only comfort him from my perspective, only to find that I was unable to fully empathize with him. All I ever did was lecturing him with the authority of an adult, a “very healthy individual”.

Every time, my child would interrupt me and request that I go to sleep. Worried about him, I wanted to be with him for as long as I could, despite my own fatigue. Sometimes we’d talk till three or four am and I’d get up at seven in the morning to go to work.

Seeing me worried, my child attempted to reassure me. “Mom, to be honest, I’m really struggling. I can’t find purpose in my life and don’t want to go on living. But, please, don’t worry. I promise I won’t harm myself as long as you and Dad are here. Even if I were to think about that, I’d do it after you’re both gone.”

I knew he was trying to comfort me, but those very words caused me great pain.

Thankfully, I had the support of my mother-in-law, a wise and open-minded woman, during my period of confusion.

One day, I told her what happened. She listened patiently. When I finished, she smiled and told me everything would be alright. “Your child is still young, and it might just be because he hasn’t met the right person. Just be patient and keep talking with him. Perhaps, over time, he will change his mind. Even if he doesn’t, there won’t be any consequence. You see homosexual people around us. The worst outcome may simply be not marrying. That’s OK. Today many young people are opting for life paths that may not include marriage in a traditional sense.”

Even if she said so, I knew she actually hoped the child would change some day. Still, her response gave me great support.

That day, my husband’s two sisters were also present, and they were both open and inclusive about it. Their support was my great comfort.

I didn’t tell my husband that our child is a transgender person who likes girls, until months later. (We were having a happy dinner at my mother-in-law’s.) His smile froze after hearing what I said.

Before that day, my husband was very optimistic and humorous. With friends, he was the soul of conversations. He took great pride in having an excellent and well-mannered daughter, to the envy of his friends.

After we got back home that day, he cried, saying he would never have a chance to be a grandfather. He worried how a boy [girl] would turn into a girl [boy], given the huge physiological differences between them. How could the child protect himself when he meets bad guys? Our child said he wants to protect the girl he likes. But what if he himself was bullied? And what should he do when he gets old? My husband was also concerned about the opinions of his friends. He couldn’t understand why his life was so unfair and so unfortunate. He suffered from insomnia, and smile disappeared from his face since then.

Long-term anxiety and depression led to illnesses. Starting from November 2019, my husband suffered from six complications of diabetes: high blood pressure, cerebral infarction, fundus hemorrhage, macular edema, severe diarrhea and urinary incontinence, varicose veins and calf ulceration, accompanied by Alzheimer’s disease [memory loss].

At the worst of his eyesight, he felt it was dusk in the morning and almost pitch black at night — he had little sense of light and would fall without help from the family. The serious loss of vision and memory gave him low self-esteem, which only aggravated his depression. In hospital, he even discussed with me what kind of suicide would be painless in front of our child. During that period, the intense fear that I might lose him forever would grip me when I was not with him, even only for several minutes.

Luckily, his situation got better after two years of treatment. His blood sugar levels were stable; blood pressure was within a normal range; cerebral infarctions didn’t recur; the macular edema in his eyes absorbed well, and his vision improved from 0.01 to a naked eye vision of 0.4 to 0.5; his gastrointestinal function mostly returned to normal, with only occasional bouts of diarrhea occurring; even the ulcerated skin on his calves completely healed over with new skin. Most surprising to the doctor, his Alzheimer’s disease [memory loss] was reversed, and he could cook again.

Since the recovery, my husband has changed his attitude towards our child. Given his own health status, he feels he has no energy to look beyond himself.

When my child experienced severe self-attack and a sense of world-weariness, I took him to renowned hospital for professional assessments. At first, he took a blood draw for genetic DNA testing, which indicated he is no different from a healthy person. Then he completed an hour-long psychological questionnaire. The evaluation revealed he already showed signs of self-attack and minimal violent tendencies. Finally, he underwent psychological counseling in the psychological therapy room.

To my astonishment, the doctor appeared perplexed and couldn’t offer any valuable advice. It turned out that the doctor had little knowledge about transgender people. So the first therapy session ended up with nothing.

As a transgender person, my child has a gender identity different from his assigned sex at birth, which has prompted him to explore the possibility of undergoing a sex change surgery to be true to himself. In summer 2017, before he took part in a volunteer teaching program in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, I took him to Shanghai and met Dr. Zhao Yede, a renowned specialist in sex reassignment surgery.

I still remember to this day Dr Zhao’s three suggestions. First, stop self-blame, as this is an inborn situation. Second, it is the parents, not the child, who should see a doctor. Zhao commended me for getting on well with and accepting the child. Such harmony, he said, is rare among those who come to see him. Many parents had tense or even confrontational relationships with their child. Their behaviors were often extreme, including crying, depression, mania, and even resorted to threats of cutting off ties or committing suicide in an attempt to prevent their child from receiving gender-affirming care.

I fully accepted my child in 2021, five years after he became open with his gender identity to me.

For a long time following the phone call in 2016, I held onto the impossibility that his actions were merely a result of not yet meeting the right person. Deep down inside me, I wished that he would swerve his identity when he did meet the right boy.

That illusion persisted until 2021, when I finally accepted the reality that the child would never change his orientation, no matter how hard he had tried.

Eventually, I embraced a new understanding, convincing myself that I’ve always had a son, which is not a bad thing. With that perspective, there’s nothing to worry about anymore. My child was glad to hear that, and he even cited my words during a media interview.

In 2022, Lin Lin, the transgender child was at Swan Castle in Guizhou

Now, my child works for a big internet company in China, where his diligence and hard work have earned him considerable recognition. And he has been in a stable relationship with a girl for two years. He is no longer anxious about the future, and he says that the most important thing is to live fully in the present and make every day worth it.

My husband has also managed to stop overthinking about it. Again, he is proud to have such an outstanding child. Occasionally, he still worries about him, but not to an excessive degree. Also, he has no objections when the child brings his girlfriend home on holidays or weekends. We enjoy a cheerful time together.

As for me, I’m doing volunteer work, as a parent in similar situation, for families within the sexual minority community. In addition, I host a podcast series about the topic on an audio book platform. As host, I interview sexual minority children and their parents, hoping to break down misunderstandings and promote love and inclusivity by sharing their stories. By leading a busy and fulfilling life, I also hope to set a good example for my son, encouraging him to love life and never stop learning.

We often say that parents’ love for their child is the most selfless love in the world. However, what do we mean by selfless love? Imagine that one morning you wake up and find that your child, your pride as a parent, identifies as someone of sexual minority. In that moment, do you choose to bravely embrace and affirm your child, thereby making your love stronger, or do you respond with disgust, rejecting your child to make your love no longer pure?

Recently, a mother shared her views in a podcast. She said that most parents refuse to accept their sexual minority children because of priorities in their values. If parents prioritize themselves, they care about their own “mianzi” (face), about how others would see themselves and how that would influence themselves, thus finding it hard to accept the child. However, if they put the child in the first place and let go of egoism, all those thoughts will no longer bother them.

So my answer is, love your child unconditionally — celebrating their strengths and accepting their flaws; embracing what they have in common with other children, while also welcoming their distinctive traits. With that unconditional love, all I ask is that my child be healthy, safe, and happy as himself.

Therefore, I told my child: “Your father and I shall always stand behind you. Even if the whole world abandoned you, always remember that we’re here for you.” Only such love, I guess, is free from egoism and thus truly strong.


Republished from GingerRiver.com, 14 June,2024.

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