Voices: I’m the mother of two trans kids and I wouldn’t change a thing about them

‘I have had to filter out the negativity for years to protect my family, as well as myself,’ writes Jo Self (Getty Images)
‘I have had to filter out the negativity for years to protect my family, as well as myself,’ writes Jo Self (Getty Images)

The Cass report into NHS care of trans and gender-questioning kids is out and dominating discussion, both on and offline. I saw it on the front pages of many newspapers. I noticed how tearful I have become – this is something that does not happen very often. I have been tentatively watching breakfast news, dreading the debate, bracing myself for what is to come from “expert” speakers.

I am pleasantly surprised by how sensitive most people have been, instead of sensationalising the issue for clickbait. My concern, however, is the way they are still trying to make sense of the idea of why some young people want to transition. Autism is mentioned – as if this might be the answer as to why people are not conforming to the societal norm.

Why? I suppose, as humans, we are always trying to make sense of our behaviours and choices and interpreting it within our own framework. Perhaps there are high percentages of autistic children identifying as their chosen gender – but what makes their way of questioning and choosing any less important than our normative way? Maybe, finally, autistic children are finding their voice? Perhaps we should stop talking and start listening.

When I was asked to express, from a parent’s perspective, the issues surrounding the care of children and young people within the gender identity service – and my own experiences as a mother (I have two adult transgender sons) – I was, again, reduced to tears. And I think I know why.

Finally, someone has asked me how I feel. I have been hearing other people’s opinions a lot, recently – we all have, especially on social media – but they are rarely the voices of those with lived experience.

I have had to filter out the negativity for years to protect my family, as well as myself. I am so lucky that my children have had grandparents who have shown nothing but love and support – as well as cousins and a huge network of friends who love us. Yet I have still had intrusive questions asked about my children’s bodies.

Just because the trans “debate” is being discussed publicly, does that mean they have a right to know? No, it doesn’t. Would I ask you about your children’s vaginas; their breasts, penises or sex life, simply in passing? As conversation? No, I wouldn’t – it is private and I like to think I am self-aware and respectful enough not to. Why don’t others pay my family the same respect?

The Cass review mentions the “extraordinary toxicity” at play when it comes to discussing trans rights in this country – I can attest to that. I have seen it firsthand, on various platforms.

Now, I get free speech. I am all for it – we should all support and defend the right to express our personal views. But when people who my family and I have admired in the past feel they have the right to stoke and provoke hatred against us – against children – then I can’t be alone in finding this hugely worrying and confusing.

Are they not educated adults who know that what they say publicly holds a huge amount of sway? Where is their sense of responsibility? Do they not think about the safety of others? I almost feel sorry for them – it seems to me they have a lot of hate and rage and have not had the privilege of getting to know the wider trans community: a community that has been a huge support for not just my children, but for me as a parent, too.

Don’t get me wrong – I have questioned my children many times along this long, surprising and (sometimes) difficult journey. I’ve challenged them and we have cried together. Neither of my sons wanted to take hormone blockers to delay puberty, that was their choice – but I did put my foot down and asked them to wait until they were 18 before taking T (testosterone). They didn’t start that until they were older. My motivation for delaying them starting T in the first place was that I wanted them to be certain, well read and confident in their choices.

In the early days, I couldn’t help but berate myself: was it something I did in pregnancy? I even tried to find answers from healthcare professionals as to whether my divorce from their father could possibly have prompted their transition (by the way, my sons would be shrieking: “Don’t be so ridiculous!”)

I suppose I was trying to give them the armour they would need going forward, when faced with that infernal question: “but why?” I wanted to help them build an irrefutable argument, because their lives are so easy (far too easy) to pathologise. They are so often demonised as though something has “gone wrong”.

Thankfully, since then I have done a lot of reading. I’ve watched relevant, thoroughly-researched documentaries and – crucially – I’ve learnt so much from talking with my children directly. They have opened my way of thinking – I used to think I was the most liberal person, but even I have discovered I am still evolving and learning. All I can do is urge others to do the same.

As for the Cass report: we now know that many young people have been seriously let down. Dr Hilary Cass made some 32 recommendations, including taking a more holistic approach to gender transition. It’s evident there must be more care and greater nurturing for each individual child. But I still have questions.

For example: in what context will this care be given? And who will be doing the questioning, decision-making and caring – how much training will they have had? Will they have any lived experience? And how will the services be funded for and provided? We already know the NHS is on its knees. Today’s sobering statistics only highlight that.

I’d like to think there will be a clear and open-hearted commitment to truly nurture each unique, individual young person and to act in every child’s best interests. From my experience, as a parent who’s raised two beautiful trans sons, I’d also recommend engaging with trans communities and charities. They have been invaluable sources of support for us.

But most of all, I’d like people to remember that these are children’s lives – and how vulnerable and vital it is to be a teenager in the first place, let alone to be a teenager who’s transitioning. It’s on us all to be mindful, loving and respectful at all times.

As for my family: well, it’s just us – and I can’t imagine it being any other way. They’re my kids and I wouldn’t change a thing about them.