Jesse Thorn opened up about the journey of understanding his daughter and what gender really means.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 9, 2022. It has since been updated.
Learning your child doesn't identify with the gender assigned to them at birth and wants to transition can be a lot to process for a parent. Their child looks up to them for guidance as they're figuring themselves out and don't fit into the predetermined labels society throws at them. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding transgender people and transitioning, leading to incorrect presumptions on the matter. One father, who learned his daughter is trans, posted an illuminating thread that discusses his daughter's transition, what he learned and how he approached it. Jesse Thorn, who hosts multiple podcasts, posted the thread and it's an eye-opener for parents who find themselves in similar situations.
In the thread, Jesse Thorn says one of the most important things a parent can do is to tell their kids that private parts don't determine gender. This gives them the space to understand themselves and not assume that there's something wrong with them. Thorn adds that it's important to listen to kids and not just blandly dismiss them, which can be confusing for them and also hurtful. Thorn also added that he and his wife, Theresa, were aware his daughter could be a target for others and also sought the help of a therapist to support her. His daughter's transition also made him reflect on his own parenting. "I realized how tightly I had held her identity as a boy. I'm not exactly Mr. Butch, I didn't have masc goals for her or anything, but I realized how hard it was to let go of my idea of her as a boy," wrote Thorn, before adding that it helped him understand gender. He hopes the thread will help other parents who are learning or have learned that their children are trans.
I'm the parent of a trans kid. I want to clarify what that means (as best I can), because a lot of folks don't know or make incorrect presumptions. Happy #TransDayOfVisibility.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
My daughter is nine. When she was born, we assumed she was a boy, gave her a boy name, called her "he." We gave her all kinds of toys, she generally preferred the ones our culture associates with boys (like building toys, trucks and robots.)— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
She hated getting haircuts and always wanted her hair long like my wife's, but we just figured kids hate haircuts. She loved The Jungle Book, especially the part where Baloo the bear dresses up in a hula skirt, but what kid doesn't love that? pic.twitter.com/jCvhd40zfB— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
When she started kindergarten, my wife was bathing her. An adult friend of ours had just come out as trans, and my wife mentioned that not all girls have vaginas and not all boys have penises.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Our daughter asked, "some girls have penises?" My wife said yes. Whether you were a boy or a girl wasn't about your private parts.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
"I'm a girl with a penis," my daughter said.
All of a sudden all these things that had confused us about her when she was younger made sense. We went to learn about gender and kids - I mean I'm from San Francisco, grew up with a trans neighbor. My wife went to Sarah Lawrence. We were open but pretty ignorant.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
At first we called her gender non-conforming, which is an umbrella term for kids who don't fit into the gender binary. We wanted to be able to call "backsies" on the whole thing if she changed her mind. But she was very clear. She was a girl.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Talking to trans friends, I learned why it's so important to clearly tell kids that private parts don't determine gender. Little kids often don't know what "trans" is, so they just assume... well... that they're broken. Give kids some language and they can tell you who they are.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Anyway, she told us her new name, Grace. Actually, she initially said "Grease," but we figured out what she meant. Not the clearest enunciator back then.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
She socially transitioned in kindergarten. She had girl play clothes already that she wore at home when she felt like it, but my wife took her to Target to pick out some clothes. She chose a pink and purple My Little Pony dress.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
We still had to (have to) be on guard all the time. Every new care situation (camp, sports, babysitter, friends' parents) had to get a briefing. We had to check every room for jerks. Because being misgendered, or forced to explain yourself is traumatic for a young kid.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
We basically had to be the professional trainers for every set of grownups that entered our kids' lives. It was and remains exhausting. I can only imagine what it's like for adult trans and gender non-conforming people.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Trans kids first transition socially. That usually means changing name and pronouns, often manner of dress, hairstyle, all the parts of our lives that are gendered. Bathrooms. Sports teams. Lines coming back from recess.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
We hired a therapist. It can be scary to be so different. Trans people are the targets of harassment and violence, and have to find their own way because they have so few peers and role models who are like them. We found ours through LA Gender Center. https://t.co/bCCPv5gjDG— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Our kid is nine. Puberty is on the horizon. This year for the first time she saw a doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine for trans kids. We're so grateful we live in LA and have access to caring medical pros who are up on the latest research and standards of care.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Trans kids take hormone blockers because while stated gender identities are stable starting from the time kids can express them, a ten or eleven-year-old's brain is still growing by leaps and bounds. So long-term decisions about bodies are postponed a bit.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
When our kid is in her teens, she'll decide how she feels about her body. She can do nothing and have a "boy's" puberty. She can take hormones and go through a "girl's" puberty. When she's a young adult, she can (if she choses) have surgical interventions.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Plenty of trans young people are comfortable letting their bodies and gender identities be separate issues. Many want others' perceptions of their bodies to match their identities. Lots just know what is the "right" body for them. None of this is determined by parents.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
This is the course of action endorsed by doctors, mental health experts, gender experts and kids. It is backed by evidence. Kids whose identities are unsupported have horrible outcomes. Kids whose identities are affirmed have outcomes pretty similar to cisgender kids.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
In fact, cisgender kids have had their gender identities affirmed. I am cis, and no one ever tried to call me a girl when I was a kid or call me a girl name. I was always supported in my identity. No one is being "convinced" here. It's a matter of supporting the kids. Parenting.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
No parent would try to convince their kid to be gender non-conforming. It is a long, scary, rocky road, even in the best of circumstances. We all want our kids' lives to be smooth and easy. But if your kid is trans, that is unmutable. A parent's choice is whether to support them.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Kids' genders have nothing at all to do with sexuality. (Neither do adults'.) My kids (9, 7 and 4) have never expressed a word of sexuality to me. They're kids. Trans kids and gay kids have some commonalities of experience, but don't conflate those two things.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Generally speaking, the research suggests that kids who have declared their identity ("I am XXXX") have very stable identities. It's very unusual for them to change. If our daughter ever suggested she wasn't a girl, we'd be entirely supportive. She has been very clear, though.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
When my daughter transitioned, I realized how tightly I had held her identity as a boy. I'm not exactly Mr. Butch, I didn't have masc goals for her or anything, but I realized how hard it was to let go of my idea of her as a boy. That has helped me understand gender in my life.— Jesse Thorn (@JesseThorn) March 31, 2021
Paria Hassouri, who's a parent of a transgender kid, said it was important to not be pessimistic and paint negative pictures when kids come out as trans to their parents. They were also channeling their fears into conversations with their child which can be harmful. "Once our daughter came out, the language in our home became predominantly negative. Are you sure? Your life is going to be so much harder and you’ll be discriminated against. You are so smart with so much potential, but some people won’t see that. You could be the victim of a hate crime," wrote Hassouri in New York Times. She then added that along with her husband, they took the conscious decision of being more optimistic about it.
Multiple studies have also shown the benefits of supporting children, especially teenagers. The studies showed that supporting transgender teens in their identity significantly improves their mental health and reduced the risk of suicide by three times as when compared to the rate of their cisgender peers.
Jesse Thorn and Theresa cited The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill as one of the books that helped them how to help their daughter realize her true self. His wife Theresa has also penned her book on gender identity — It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity — that can help you more on the subject.