Listen To This! How To Be a Girl

In 2015, PBS’s Frontline presented an in-depth documentary called Growing Up Trans. The film detailed the lives and struggles of teenagers who embraced their true gender identity. Some had support of parents. Some didn’t. It made for powerful viewing because these kids had taken control of their own gender identity, and they weren’t about to wait for mainstream America to catch up.

With teenagers, you could be fairly sure that they know their mind. If there were any doubt over their gender identity, they would probably know that too. But what about younger kids?

“He looked me in the eye and told me something had gone wrong in my tummy that made him come out as a boy instead of a girl. He wanted me to put him back. He begged me to put him back, to fix this mistake.”

Marlo Mack (not her real name) is a single mother raising her young trans daughter in the Pacific Northwest. Her child was only three years old when he told her that he was a girl and not a boy. He looked Marlo right in the eyes and informed her that, “Something had gone wrong in my (her) tummy, and made him come out as a boy instead of a girl.”

What is a mother to do?

Marlo’s podcast How To Be a Girl takes listeners through her journey to accepting her child’s true gender identity, and what’s happened after her child began to live as a girl. She goes through many of the question a mother in her position would have. How do you know this isn’t just a phase? Don’t kids play dress-up? How do you approach preschool teachers about your child’s transition? Are teachers equipped to handle privacy needs of transgender students?

How do you protect your child from harm, when a national study of transgender people says that they are nine times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide? [1]

Through her own personal experience, Marlo addresses these questions head on. What’s striking about her stories is how sure her daughter is of her own gender identity even while Marlo wavers on whether she has made the right decision by letting her child transition. What does it mean when her daughter gives up girly dresses for pants? What does it mean that she likes Xena: Warrior Princess instead of girly princess shows? Her child tells her, “Mama, most people who likes Xena are boys. But I’m a girl who likes Xena.”

To me, it serves as a reminder that kids know themselves better than grownups think. As adults, we tend to assume we know what’s in their hearts. Or what’s best for them. I’ve learned a lot from listening to How To Be a Girl, not just about being a parent of a transgender kid, but about being a parent in general.

Marlo has recently teamed up with Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW to expand her reach. In the latest episode, she interviews her ex-husband about their daughter. Give it a listen.

Marlo Mack’s podcast: How To Be a Girl
Marlo Mack’s blog: Gendermom

[1] Mack, Marlo. “Episode III: How Old Is Gender?” How To Be a Girl. Podcast audio, July 8th, 2014.

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