Here's a fact: gay parents are much more attentive to their kids' gender expressions than heterosexual parents. Just from the nature of growing up different, sometimes in an unwelcoming environment, we don't want our kids to suffer the emotional pain that we went through.
This is a partial explanation for an amazing growing phenomenon, where gay couples step forward and adopt transgender youth who were thrown out of their homes. In this episode of Daddy Squared we brought on David Strah, a family therapist from Los Angeles who specializes in LGBTQ issues. David is also a father of a transgender boy, and shares from his own personal experience.
"It's sort of a myth that trans people or trans kids come out and say 'this is the way I am' at age 2," David explains. "There are normally a few things that happen or that show up, and sometimes it means that they are going to be trans and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it means that they're going to be somewhere in the middle. I think it's about educating ourselves, about being sensitive, about creating a household that's trans friendly, talking about things, really getting in front of the issues, talking about the gender spectrum – all the differences, and how it is a spectrum and you don't have to be one way or the other. You can be somewhere in between or you can lean towards being a boy or lean towards being a girl and then another day you can decide to do something different."
David thinks it's really important to listen to our kids and if they're saying something very clearly, to really respond to that and cooperate with them.
"I think that when my younger son, when he was a girl, probably at around 5 or 6, he definitely wanted to wear boys underwear, briefs," David shares. "So we went out to the Gap and bought boys' briefs and we were absolutely fine with that. We didn't really know what it meant but we felt that he was directing that and that's something he wanted to do so we did it, and at that time, to be perfectly honest, we thought, well, he's got two dads and a big brother so he probably wants to wear underwear like he sees on other people in his family.
"There was another time, around Rosh Hashanah, and she needed a new dress. She absolutely refused to wear a dress, she wanted a suit, so we said okay, and went to J. Crew and bought a suit and we said 'but you have to wear a flower on the lapelle - which was kinda silly in retrospect on our part—but that was a compromise, she was very happy and she looked very chic."
"There were also about two years, probably around 9-10, he only wanted to wear board shorts and tank tops to school. I thought that was a little odd, my husband at the time was in fashion, but we went with it. And then a little bit older, around 12, she went to summer camp and then we saw a real shift all of a sudden. She wanted really feminine clothes. She wanted bikinis and clothes from brands that we never heard of. I think she was dealing with the peer pressure at camp at that time so we sent her a bunch of stuff, and for years she was very feminine, she wanted her hair blown out, had her nails done every other week, and then it was kind of like a switch that went on at age 14 and she said 'I think I'm a boy and I wanna get my hair cut,' and so we said ok."
David says that he saw a lot of male energy in his child, and thought she maybe would be a lesbian, and that he and his husband were really surprised when their kid said he was trans. "I have really only recently come to the realization that our children are really not here to fulfill our own narcissistic needs," David says, "and that's really hard."
"As a parent, I will tell you honestly it was really difficult [for us] and we really did some soul searching. As a clinician, I think it's really important to have those conversations and if it's directed by the child then you have to go with it."
Marriage and family therapist David Strah has two masters degrees in psychology: a degree in Clinical Psychology (Antioch University, Los Angeles) with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Therapy, and a degree in Spiritual Psychology (University of Santa Monica).
His areas of expertise include: ADHD, addiction, gender spectrum, LGB, relationship issues, self esteem, spirituality, stress, transgender and more.
David Strah is the author of Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood. This critically acclaimed book features 24 gay-dad families throughout the United States and tells the stories of how they formed their families through adoption, foster care, surrogacy and co-parenting with women.