en English

 

Marlo Mack, the creator of the How to Be a Girl podcast, joins Dr Helen and Marianne to share her personal experiences of life with her transgender daughter. Marlo talks about her daughter coming out aged four, some of the people she has met along the way and how the simple act of acceptance was the key to an incredible journey.

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please contact us via the Help Centre. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss, or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us. If you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

 

Links:

Twitter – @girlpodcast
Blog – http://www.howtobeagirlpodcast.com/
How to be a Girl: a Memoir by Marlo Mack: Amazon
How it all began: https://vimeo.com/93816674

 

The GenderGP Podcast

Marlo Mack: Accepting Your Trans Kid

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Dr Helen Webberley:
We have the lovely, lovely, and inspirational Marlo Mack with us today. And I’m just going to tell you how I first came across Marlo before I introduce her. So I was in a conference in at the WPath in Amsterdam in 2016, and I was listening to somebody talk about looking after transgender children in healthcare. And it was the first talk that I’d been to, which seemed to absolutely understand what I was feeling about transgender children and what they needed. And halfway through the presenter played a video, and it was a cartoon video of a little cartoon girl teaching us how to be a girl. And I was absolutely spellbound by it.

 

What are your favourite things to play with? My princess things? Your princess things? Why do you like princesses so much? I just kind of do. Do you think it’s okay for boys to like princesses? But I am a girl.

 

Dr Helen Webberley:
And that was my first introduction. I remember going out and telling anybody I could find that I’ve just seen this most amazing video which just tells you all about it. Fast forward to 2020, and I now delighted to welcome Marlo Mack and her inspirational videos and podcasts and now audiobook onto our podcast. So Marlo, thank you so much for joining us. I’m really, really excited to have you here. Tell us a little about you and how you, how you started your lovely campaigning work.

Marlo Mack:
Oh, well, thank you first off. So thank you so much for having me. This is a real honour and pleasure for me. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing. And I really enjoy listening to your podcast as well. I’m just a regular mom, I guess I’m a regular American mom who ended up with an unusual situation, and I happened to have access to a recorder. And when my daughter was very young, when I still thought I had a son, began recording her and she began saying these very interesting and at the time, very surprising and unsettling things. I’m not a boy, mama, I’m a girl. And I was recording this, all that all along. I happened to be also working in for a radio show at the time I was learning how to work in work in radio. So I, I took all those pieces and put them together to tell our story. I think hearing her little voice has an impact in a way that, that all of us adults talking doesn’t. And she did end up transitioning at age four, which people,, I’m sure you’ve encountered many children like that, but people find that shockingly young unless you ask them about their cis-gender children and they say, of course, my four-year-old boy knows he’s a boy. What child in kindergarten or even preschool doesn’t know their gender? But I now am, fast-track to now, I am now the proud mother of an almost 13-year-old daughter. And she has not for one moment in all those years for a millisecond even said anything other than I’m a girl as, as you would expect from your average girl, right. I always sort of, I’ve come to the kind of, I kind of bristle a bit actually, when people say, well, are you sure? And I try and gently and kind of with a little, little twinkle in my eye, see, well, are you sure that your daughter is a girl? Are you sure that that your 13-year-old doesn’t want to grow a beard when she goes through puberty? My daughter doesn’t either. So that’s sort of our story in a nutshell.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Lovely. Well, I’m just going to challenge you on a couple of things that you said early on there. So you’re talking about when your daughter was saying some surprising things and some unsettling things, and then you talked about it being shockingly young. I mean, why, why is it that we have to use that, that kind of language in this day and age? Why is that language still attached to this experience?

Marlo Mack:
Right. Well, I hope, you know, I’m putting shockingly in quotes.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Of course.

Marlo Mack:
Because certainly but at the time it was shocking and that’s what I try to stress over and over again in my podcast and in my book that I just released is how much I did push back how much I did, you know, people, I think, I think there’s a stereotype or a belief that parents like me jumped right in with both feet or that we directed or led this whole gender project for our children that somehow this is what we wanted. I’ve never encountered a parent like that. Especially when I was going through this almost 10 years ago, I had no reference points for this. And so it was really shocking. I had never heard of a child saying what my child was saying, which was, you know, mommy, I don’t want to be this person. I’m not this person. She’s even said I want to go back in your tummy, put me back so I can come out again as a girl, something went wrong in there.

 

Do you remember what, what you felt like when people called you a boy? I felt sad when people call me a boy name and didn’t understand, I felt sad, and I didn’t feel like who I was. How does it feel to fit, to be a girl like afterwards, like how did that go? Now I feel happy that they understand. So if someone asked you, what does that mean to be transgender for you? What would you say? Well, I guess I would say that if you were born and your mom and dad thought you were a boy, but in your heart and when you grew up, and you could talk, can tell them and you want it to be a girl, like let’s say they thought you were a boy because you had a penis, but you felt like a girl, and so for example, a girl with a penis would be transgender or a boy with a vagina. What’s your favourite thing about being transgender? My favourite thing about being transgender is that I’m myself now. When you choose to be more yourself. Do you have any advice for kids who are transgender? If somebody keeps saying no, you’re a girl, or no, you’re a boy, don’t give up. Just keep on convincing them that you’re a girl, not this. If they tease you and all that kind of stuff, you don’t give up on being transgender.

 

Marlo Mack:
And I’ve heard that now heard versions, dozens of versions of this story often from children about children. I’m sure you’ve heard these. And it stops you in your tracks. Children who are five years old saying, can I, you know, how high is the roof? Can I jump off and come and go to heaven and come back as a girl or, you know, trying to jump out of the backseat of a car on the highway. I know I’ve heard too many of these stories from parents and I think my own, my own daughter’s experience was the same of really not wanting to be alive anymore because this felt so wrong at such a young age. And to your question about the shocking you know, I think we just, most people still are not exposed to this and assume that it’s somehow a modern fad, something born, you know, last decade in San Francisco. I live in a very liberal city in Seattle. So there are a lot of assumptions made that somehow this was, you know, a cool trend that we were hopping on to. But you know, it’s unnerving when you encounter something, something new. And I think people do get very scared. They worry about children, and that’s fair, but if they get to know us, if they come to our homes, if they meet, meet our children as you know, from working with these kids there’s nothing more real and sort of innate about what they’re telling us.

Marianne Oakes:
Can I just interject? A couple of things. I think you’re right. And one of the things I think you’ve done brilliantly is you’ve been able to make this real thing through your podcast. That too many times we talk about trans children like they’re a separate entity away from the rest of society when really we, you know, they just are there and then amongst us getting on with their lives when they’re allowed to. So that’s, how was the first thing I want to say? The second one, you made a really good point there that struck me, you know, 10 years ago in Seattle, you know, which is a liberal city, but there was no Marlo Mack. There was very little spoken about 10 years ago in relation to children being transgender. And I just wondered where you found your help? Where did you learn? Who had gone before you?

Marlo Mack:
Oh, that’s a great question. And yeah, 10 years ago, it is, it’s a lifetime ago on this issue. We didn’t have Caitlin Jenner in the, in the world that we knew of. We didn’t have Laverne Cox so many people. Elliot Page. And all we had and all I had in my mind were the most just horrendous stereotypes from really salacious talk shows here in the US we have this thing, this show called Jerry Springer, which is just notorious for really, really you know, horrible sort of train wreck lives. And people shouting at each other and it’s, you know, shock television. And that was the only time you would see transgender people. And you know, it was impossible to see that or also, you know, in films people who were criminals, usually sex workers, you know, that’s, that was the only image that I had of a transgender person. And so as a mother, you think, well, how could that have anything to do with my beautiful little child? So I had to dig. I had to dig for information. I mean, I asked my mother, she’d never heard of this. You know, she says, I asked, you know, my great, my grandmother who had nine, great-grandchildren was absolutely perplexed. All the aunties, you know, there wasn’t, this just wasn’t spoken about in my family or in the culture at large. I eventually, I mean, I was so lucky, our timing really. I pinch myself when I think about our timing because had my child been born, I think even five years earlier, I think we would have had a vastly different experience. There really was almost nothing then. The support group that I eventually found, which was in my hometown of Seattle was one of the few earliest and, and groups of its kind anywhere, I think certainly in this country it. I believe had its first meeting the month my child was born, which I thought was really beautiful symmetry, kind of poetic. And by the time we found it a few years later, it was still this tiny little crew of parents sitting around a conference table, maybe five parents, sometimes as many as 10. And a major metropolitan area like Seattle, and you’re talking parents of kids from, you know, of any age who are gender non-conforming and this is all they’ve been able to bring together at that point. Now it has, because of there’s been so much more awareness and support, now it’s grown and, you know, I think the same group has split off into many, many groups because there are so many people realising this is happening with their children and they’re seeking the support. But I was able to find a couple of moms who had gone before me who were just a few years ahead. And I particularly bonded with this dear woman who’s still my dear friend whose daughter is now 20. But at the time she was sort of our, our go-to for what was coming several years down the road. And so we watched her go through her, you know, getting her blocker and starting high school as a young woman. And so, they, I did have a few people that I managed to find who were sort of blazing a trail for me. We were certainly not the first to go down this path. But I think I was one of the first to, to sort of start saying, well, let’s, let’s put a story out there. Because I could not find any stories like mine. I first, before I started the podcast, I started writing a blog, and I thought, well, some surely somebody’s written this down and put it on the internet, everything’s on the internet. But no one apparently had that I could find. So one day just sort of sat down in a pub after work with my beer and typed it out and made a blog. And, and that was the beginning of sharing, sharing our story.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So lovely to hear you talk in that soothing voice I’ve heard so often on your podcast. So going back to you, you didn’t know what was happening. It also has been very, very early age. Then saying that something was wrong. I feel sad about that actually because it’s not wrong, is it? It’s not wrong. Again, I hate, I hate the language that’s sometimes associated with this, but anyway, that’s how—

Marlo Mack:
I absolutely agree. And I hope it’s not, I’m not giving the impression that—

Dr Helen Webberley:
Not at all.

Marlo Mack:
It’s just that she felt wrong. And certainly, because her mother wasn’t seeing who she really was. I truly believe that.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Yeah. You said that when you were explaining it, you were saying that Marianne and I will have come across stories like this. And of course, we have, you know. And often we hear the guilt of the mum who at the beginning when you’re explaining that you did push back and you didn’t jump into quickly, you know as if you would, as if you would somehow be accused of wrongdoing if you hadn’t pushed back and you had jumped in too quickly. Jumped in too quickly to what? To accept your daughter? But anyway, we do, we hear those stories. We hear those stories time and time again. So I was just wondering for you, like, if you had kept on pushing back and hadn’t allowed your daughter to transition at that shockingly young age of four, what would you think would have happened? What would have–would your life have been different?

Marlo Mack:
Yeah. And, you know, you, I suppose at the time, and even now I do feel sort of defensive because the world is sort of a raid against us saying, you know, are you sure, are you sure? Are you sure? How could you know, how can you know, how can she know? And so you do kind of get into this defensive mode. And you’re probably hearing that from me now. Even though I know, I’m speaking to a friend. The audience is very well-informed. But yes, you do sort of have to make your case, I think, and you get used to making it because there is such a misperception that this is somehow my agenda, I think, and not my child’s. I mean, it really was the saddest thing, our house before she transitioned. I mean, you know, she still had her beautiful little spark. She’s just such a, just such an enthusiastic, you know, a person who just loves life and it is, and I think it comes through in the podcast. She’s very, she’s just a fun, happy person by nature, but that was fading. And all my sort of machinations, you know, you can be any kind of boy you need to be, I thought that surely that will work. Surely it’s just that we’re not allowing her a space to be a boy this different kind of boy, but I, you know, so I, and that’s such a major thing that’s levelled against this situation is that, oh, well, it’s, you know, you’re homophobic, you don’t want your, you know, you’re uncomfortable with having a son who’s non-conforming or who’s potentially gay. And so I, I do think it’s really important to make that point that you know, most parents are going to be more comfortable, I think having a son who’s, it’s an easier life, right? It’s probably going to be an easier life for your child to live in the gender that was assigned to them at birth. So most parents, you know, we would joke in the support group of, oh, I just wish my son were gay. Now I, now I actually kind of bristle at that, you know, I’ve really come–I think it’s disloyal and transphobic, frankly, to say, I wish my daughter weren’t trans, I wish you were a gay son. I want her to be her. And I adore who she is. So I wouldn’t change a hair on her head. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, you know, I want her life to be easier. I want the world to change, but I don’t wish my daughter were not transgender because I wouldn’t wish she weren’t herself. And I feel like I’ve strayed from your original question. An apology, please feel free to redirect me back.

Dr Helen Webberley:
No, I love your story. Marianne, what do you think?

Marianne Oakes:
I mean, the truth of the matter is, you said something earlier on that I think was really powerful, that if she’d have been born five years earlier, may have been a different story. Anf Helen asked the story that if you push back and I think the truth of the matter is you know, you don’t just start one continual fight because your data is trans and nothing was ever going to change. That the only thing that would have changed was, would be her route to discover are to exploring it. But then, then five years, definitely, it was crucial. I’ve actually seen it over the years so quickly. So yeah. Bringing back to that question.

Marlo Mack:
Thank you. Yes, I did kind of lose my way there, I apologise. I get very passionate when I talk about my daughter. Straight to my heart. Yes, I think I saw what was going, I saw where it was headed. I realised that there was no–I had somebody very wise tell me, you know, if she’s transgender, there’s nothing you can do to make her not. And if she isn’t transgender, nothing you can do will make her transgender. And I think that is, of course, the other sort of huge things, people claim, or a fear parents fear. I have parents a lot email me and say, well, what if I say this word, transgender? And then they become it. You know, as if, you know, as if you could force someone by just suggesting that something exists, that they’re suddenly going to jump into some identity that doesn’t fit them and is frankly, you know, a much harder life. I finally accepted that this, it was a relief, actually. It was well, she is, this child is who this child is, and I’m in. I’m in for whatever that is. And that was the best decision I ever made. And it was terrifying. But I let go. And I just said, you know, are you still a girl? There was a moment. I actually sat her down on the couch and said, are you, do you still want to be a girl? And she said, no, mama, I know. And I would say no. And she said, I, I still am a girl. And, and that I think is one of the most profound statements, the truest thing I’ve ever heard, you know, it was, oh, okay. Whatever this gender thing is, it just emanates from something deep and inherent inside of her.

 

Do fairies and princesses wear particular colours? Fairies wear purple, and princesses wear pink. There are some pink fairies and purple princesses, but they live far away in a very far away land. We cannot see them. Too far away? Yeah.

 

Marlo Mack:
If I had not gone down that path with her, the thing is I felt like I really felt like I didn’t have a choice at that point. It was starting to feel like abuse, you know, just questioning her so much. And I watched her little face fall. I would avoid pronouns altogether. I would just avoid her birth name because it hurt her so badly. I would call her my precious, my sweetheart. And but it just was, it was getting way too tortured. And then when I let go, and I embraced her the light shown again, and we were happy, and it was easy, it was easy then. Everything that had been hard and painful was gone. Of course, now we had just normal problems, like every mother and child. But yes, I think that I could not have imagined pushing back harder than I did without literally just destroying her spirit. And I hear from young people all the time writing me saying, how do I convince my mom? How do I convince my parents? I hear from a lot of kids in the UK, actually. And they just say, tell me what to do, tell me what to do. And I just say, please, you know, please don’t give up hope really. But I don’t know how my child could have had a life really worth living if we hadn’t, hadn’t gone down this path. Yeah.

Dr Helen Webberley:
And there were two things for me that, that come from, if you don’t accept trans children and allow them to be who they are, you’ve got the first one, which is the real pain that you were just describing in your own family relationship. When your daughter wasn’t being accepted for who she was. And the joy that came out of you accepting her. And then I think about those, those children who are emailing you saying, how can we get my mum to understand this? Because it’s not like that’s the only thing, the bad thing that’s going to happen because then puberty is coming. And I think that’s the second thing for me is not only not being accepted by our parents and for who you are, but then knowing that something is coming and you never know when it’s going to come, you don’t know if it’s going to be nine or 10 or 12 or 15, but you know, it’s coming, and with that, it’s going to come to some travesty, and it must just be so, so scary for these young people, but your, your daughter got her blocker recently. And obviously, we’ve just had a little bit of a hiccup if I can call it that in the United Kingdom taking a back step. But how was it in your country for your daughter getting her blocker?

Marlo Mack:
Well, I mean, I have to say we’ve been incredibly lucky as you, I’m sure, you know, that medical system in the United States is kind of a disaster you know, where the privilege to get wonderful care. And many people are left with no care. It’s a travesty, really for such a wealthy country. But I happen to have a good job and good health insurance. And so my daughter–It also varies hugely by state. So some states like the one I’m in require that insurance companies cover transgender care. And our provider, my child’s doctor, was incredibly supportive. So we had, you know, it was just a breeze, frankly. We went in to see her doctor about a year ago and said, you know, we think this is probably coming, you know, she was 12, she was a little bit of a late bloomer, I think, on the puberty side. So we knew that it probably wasn’t immediate, but we wanted to kind of lay the groundwork. There was no question when we went into the doctor’s office, you know, in her first meeting with my daughter she encountered this, you know, little long, you know, long blonde hair, a little sprite of a girl and who was, I guess, 11 or 12 at the time. And you know, we say, well, she’s, this is, you know, she transitioned at four and here we are. And she just said, okay. They did have a few sort of gatekeeping steps. There was a very rather uninformed psychologist. We had a very awkward couple of interviews with, and some very silly paperwork to fill out asking questions that were, you know, sort of, really not approach, not really relevant to a child of my daughter’s age, because a lot of them were geared to older children, you know? But you know, so there was some, there was some kind of silly things in the system. I understand though that they need to kind of have these I guess checks. I, you know, I don’t quite know, I know it needs improvement, but for us it was easy. It certainly felt like just checking a box rather than an interrogation. I think that’s, what’s important here is that the assumption wasn’t that we didn’t have to prove anything.

 

The blocker furries and it blocks my puberty. What puberty does it stop? The wrong puberty. If you didn’t do that, then what would happen, if you didn’t get the blocker? Well, my voice would change, it would be lower. And I would get more hair. I would start getting facial hair. And those things are? Not what I want. Yeah, do you feel like it’s kind of like you’re entering like a rite of passage, almost? Sort of something, I’m getting my blocker. How are you feeling about that? I’m nervous but excited. I don’t get why I can’t skip school the day before.

 

Marlo Mack:
And when you meet a child like mine, it’s very clear. And so we had it very easy time. Our biggest challenge was actually that COVID hit right when puberty did. So she went into her blood test, showed that she was in Tanner two. And because of the lockdown, they were not doing any non-essential procedures. And I said, wait, this is essential. This is a life-saving medical intervention that she not go down the wrong puberty path, but they, fortunately, we were able to get her in last month and, and get that done. And she has an implant which I think is a wonderful thing. So she doesn’t have to have regular shots and really doesn’t have to think about it for the next couple of years or so.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Marianne, what difference would that make to some of our UK young people?

Marianne Oakes:
It just blows me away. You got the access, and I know you said there were some gatekeep-y things, but the tool we have with young people in this country, that the process can actually be traumatising for them. And I don’t think how they look to the professionals makes one jot of difference and that suddenly it has been proven to be the case time and time again. You said something earlier which I kind of made a mental note of when you said that you asked your daughter, does she still want to be a girl? And she said I am a girl. And I think something that as the trans representative on the podcast there, that I think some cis people really struggled to get their heads around. We are not dealing with a cisgender person, that all the appropriate questioning and all the appropriate approaches to their care has got to come from a trans perspective, not a cisgender perspective, but unfortunately the medical profession. And it sounds a little bit the same where you are, although an easier route to care, they haven’t got that computer in their brain that I am dealing with a trans girl here. I am not dealing with a boy. Does that make sense?

Marlo Mack:
Yes, it does. And I, you know, I don’t, not sure that, you know, and I hope I didn’t sound like I was sort of approving of a bunch of gatekeeping at all. You know, I think you know, I found that the process, we went through very respectful, some of it a little silly, but I think, I think you’re absolutely right that you know, it’s something as a parent. I mean, I’m not transgender, so I, I can’t pretend to understand what that actually feels like, but I do love with my whole heart, the person I love most in the world is. And so I do see right up, I have a front-row seat on, on her experience and how, how just ridiculous it is the kinds of questions that people ask the sort of assumptions they make that don’t take into account her experience. I think I get it in my gut, you know, that people, they just don’t understand that this is a fundamental part of her. And just as anyone else, just as much as my gender is to me. I think what’s so frustrating to me about the gatekeeping around, well, particularly now it’s coming up, especially in your country, the blocker. And unfortunately, we’re having a lot of that here. In various states, legislatures are coming forward with legislation to outlaw, to prohibit the use of this, which is outrageous. Why should lawmakers be telling doctors, you know, what they can prescribe to their patients? So we have the same debate here. And the thing I come back to again and again is, you know, is just the innate transphobia of, of the arguments. You know, that what they really are saying is that one cisgender child’s experience, one cisgender youth’s experience outweighs the incalculable suffering of a thousand children like mine. That we’re willing to deny this life-saving medical intervention to hundreds, perhaps thousands of children like mine because God forbid we get, we give blockers to one cisgender child or hormones, you know. That that child’s, you know, and of course we want to get it right. And of course, you know, there is no such thing as a hundred per cent you know, effectiveness rate, right, of any medication of any intervention. But, you know, I talked to Dr Johanna Olson about this actually who’s going to be on my podcast. And she said in no other area of medicine would you expect a hundred per cent success rate? And if you couldn’t get it, deny the care to everyone. And anyway, that’s kind of, that’s where I come back to again and again, it devalues my daughter’s life, you know, inherent in these arguments is that a transgender life is worth less than a cisgender one. I actually borrowed that from Julia Serrano. I can’t take credit for that argument. She wrote beautifully about this in an essay.

Dr Helen Webberley:
The example that I use, I mean, I’m a big fan of Johanna’s work. And the example I use is it’s just like, well, it’s interesting that why do we have to use such extreme examples to try and make this very simple point, but, you know, young children who have to have a heart operation and I know that the doctor has to tell that family that there is a chance that your child won’t make it. And there might be even a 10 or 20% chance that your child won’t make it. But if they don’t have the operation, there is also a chance that your child might not make it. And child and family kind of have got to make that hideously awful decision on having the child under an anaesthetic, and then walk away from the operating theatre, not knowing whether their child is going to be one of the ones that make it or not. And that’s what we’re talking. We’re talking in it, that’s an awful statistic, isn’t it? So are we saying that one single child should have a heart operation because 10 or 20% undergoing that horrible operation will not make it, and therefore the other 80 or 90% of children who go through the operation won’t make it either because that operation is needed? And it’s so true, isn’t it, you know, one cisgender youth outweighs all those transgender children who are being denied the care that they need it just in case we get it wrong for one. And actually, you know, if we look at (unclear 36:41) where are they all? I mean, okay, we’ve had a couple in, just recently where we’ve had one who, who regrets the steps that they took in taking medicines, which walked all to their parents and they regret that. But that’s one story. Where, if there were so many that, that we were doing this to, they would all be coming out, going, I agree. I agree. I agree. But we don’t hear those. What we’re hearing is cisgender people saying we must be careful. We must be careful not to hurt our cisgender children, just in case. Nevermind all those transgender children that don’t exist. You know, it’s shocking.

Marlo Mack:
It is, it is.

Marianne Oakes:
Just to put it into context, I think, and I’m not sure what the actual figures are, what you could argue, there’s a 1% chance the doctor could get it wrong with a trans child. And if we actually had a better environment where there was less media coverage and more social acceptance, that 1% would reduce, you know probably to nearly not 0.1%. So, you know, I think the climate that we’ve created isn’t helping that 1%. But that’s what I believe it is. Still, it wouldn’t be justified to restrict access to care. I just want to, I’m conscious of the time, and there was a question that I’ve been burning to ask you, Marlo, if you don’t mind, I know when I work with parents of children that are prepubescent, the biggest anxiety they have is how do I prepare my child for the future? How do I help them to overcome the idea that they may never carry a baby or the surgeries that they are likely to have? And I’m just wondering whether you navigated that and what advice you might give to parents that are facing this.

Marlo Mack:
Oh, that’s a good question. Yeah, it is. It’s really good. My heart just kind of swelled to that, you know. It’s, I mean, there are multiple things there. I think the medical side, the sort of potential for medical interventions, shots or surgeries or whatever. You know, that for me, that, for us, that emerged very, very naturally because she wanted to be reassured at age four and five, that she wouldn’t end up looking like her dad when she grew up, that was terrifying for her, you know. Oh, gosh, mom, I can’t grow a beard. Please tell me I won’t grow a beard. And so when she was very young the way I put it was, well, you know, when you’re older the doctor can give you some medicine to make sure that you look the way you want to look. And that if you want to look more like mom and not, not daddy, then the doctor can help you with that. And so just very, very, just simple language, this medicine to help you, sweetheart. And I, and that was enough for my child in terms of sort of dysphoria around her genitals. That’s been fairly minimal because we’ve, I think because she, I’ve always tried to say, I actually really don’t like the phrase born in the wrong body. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her body. And it implies that, that everyone should, should have the same kind of transgender body or cisgender body. And so I’ve always tried to say, you know, if you want to change that part of your body, when you’re older, you can, but you can also stay how you are, you know, because surgery is very frightening, I think for children to imagine. It’s very, I think it’s very scary. And so especially for my daughter who doesn’t like any kind of shots or medical things, so I try and keep it very gentle and just say, you know, you’re beautiful. We’ll make sure you get what you need, and it is good, there are doctors, and there are medicines to help you when you’re older. And that really did the trick for her around the fertility thing, you know, that’s a tough one for me. And I think I’ve seen this with, I have now a lot of friends who are mothers of transgender daughters. And in some cases, these, you know, you have these little girls who are five years old, six years old, and they’re just heartbroken when they realise that it’s very unlikely that they’ll ever be able to carry their own child. And you think, wow, this, this runs deep, huh? I mean, they dream of being mothers at that age. Wow. You know, if that doesn’t speak volumes about who they are, I don’t know what. That’s my daughter’s always been a little prickly with little kids, so she thinks babies are really disgusting. And so there’s less of a, I think, a heartache for her at this point, but that could change, right? I mean, most humans, most of us do want to, most of us do end up having children. And so I know that that may be a very painful thing for her at some point. Because I mean, there are really amazing experiments going on now to provide her with a path to biological parenthood, but it’s you know, it’s, I think away down the road and probably a lot less likely than the other options for parenthood for her. So we’ve been talking since she was very little about adoption and we have a lot of friends. In fact, our dear friend, who’s the older trans girl who kind of models things for my daughter is herself adopted and is every much as, you know, as every bit like a real daughter to her mother. So you know, I, I do try and I hear from a lot of adoptive parents on this issue who get, they bristle just the way I bristle when people say, you know, my transgender daughter is somehow less of a, you know, a wonder, they say, you know, this adopted child is just as every bit as my, you know, my daughter. But of course, it’s very painful. Any time you have to tell your small child that they may be, may not be able to experience one of the things that all their peers, you know, expect to have as part of their human experience. And as a mother, as someone who dreams of being a grandmother, that’s a tough one for me. And I know that I need to get over myself and, and go, how lucky am I that I may have a beautiful, adopted grandchild someday, you know? But that’s when I still, I still grapple with, were there any parts of that question that I didn’t get out?

Dr Helen Webberley:
You can’t see us, Marlo, but we’re both spellbound listening to your beautiful answers. I feel like I’m sitting there in the room with you, with you and your daughter, it’s lovely. Well, the only thing you can’t see, Marlo, but I can see Marianne’s Christmas tree behind her. And it’s near Christmas here, and I say that as if it is not Christmas for everybody, but for someone listening in the future it might not be Christmas. Some of these stories I’ve heard from families have been the most warming when for the first time ever the child had a boy Christmas present rather than a girl Christmas present, or the Christmas card was in the right name. Or the family member, grandma, grandpa, auntie uncle came over and used the right pronoun. I just wonder whether we could have, cause we’ve talked and it’s been a little harrowing talking about some of the challenges. And I wonder whether we could really introduce some spirit here and hope and thinking about the real positive ways that families can add at Christmas time or at any other time, really, really make a difference to a young person and their family who might be struggling a little bit.

Marlo Mack:
Yes. Well, I mean, I would say our lives are, you know–we don’t sit around and talk about gender. We don’t talk about transgender. That’s not a word that comes up much any more than we sit around and talk about what colour her eyes are, which hand she’s writing with, you know, it’s just, this is part of her as part of our life, and our lives are joyful and lucky. And my daughter and I are so close. I feel so lucky that she still likes me as a teenage 13-year-old. I think the future for children like mine is just full of hope. And I think that these, these young transgender people are already changing the world and will continue to do so. And they, and they are such an example of something that I think we should all aspire to, which is listening to our own hearts about, you know, who am I, and what do I need to be in the world and asking to be seen and loved for that. And when that happens, I see it over and over again. And I have now so many friends with, with transgender children and they’re thriving. I mean, there are just, they’re like my daughter, you know. This is, this is one important piece of who they are, but it’s not–as my daughter put it one time in a recent episode of the podcast, which I love. She said you know, transgender is, it’s an important part of me, but it’s just one part of me. And, and first and foremost, she’s a little girl, she’s a teenager, she’s a human. And I think if we keep focused on that you know, and don’t get over-anxious about how is this going to turn out, you know certainly with parents who are just learning this, just getting this information from their children and are surprised and scared. You know, my number one piece of advice would be to just take a deep breath and stay there and listen, and be with them, walk with them and, and let them know that wherever that journey leads that you’ll be there. And then, I think all will be well. I really believe that.

Marianne Oakes:
I just want to say that, just listening to you talk, even with the question that I asked before, the one thing I picked up, the one theme is that you’ve–I’m assuming that you’ve given your daughter the environment to grow up and be confident in who she is and are offering her all the aspirations of any 13-year-old girl, you know. That she’s going to come with, you know problems that 13-year-old girls have. And that’s just how it should be. It doesn’t need to be about anything else other than just getting on with her life. And I would say too, you know, a family asked me recently, I sat with them and right at the end of the, so if you’ve got any more questions and they said, we have actually, what kind of–it was a trans boy–so, you know, what kind of a life can he expect? And I said I just said it, you can expect the life of any 17-year-old boy. If you don’t believe that, then they might not. You’ve got to believe that they are your son. They are going to get on with their life, and they’re going to fulfil their potential. And I think if you can instil that in your children, whatever. You know, it’s a bit like if you did have a child with some kind of disability, and if you limited their expectations because of that, then they’ll only, they will not flourish. You know, they will not thrive picking up that’s what you’ve been doing. I don’t know whether you’d phrased it that way, but that’s what I’ve kind of picked upon.

Marlo Mack:
Well, I would say that you know, our problems are really normal problems, normal in quotes, of course, but you know, all her problems are the problems all her friends are having. You know, she doesn’t want to do her homework. She wants more time playing with her online, Minecraft, you know, with her friends and doesn’t want to go to bed. Well, you know, these, these are our problems, and I’m so grateful for that. Yeah, it can be and absolutely should be just a regular life. And that’s what we aim for. Yeah.

 

(little girl singing Let It Go from the movie Frozen).

 

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