A mother-of-two from Vancouver, Canada, by the name of Anne Bruinn has always prided herself on being flexible when it comes to parenting — and especially so when it comes to supporting her transgender daughter.
And when her 3-year-old son, Ryder, began to request pigtails and dresses — her flexibility did not make an exception. Ryder is now 9 and now, Anne is sharing what her experience has been like raising a daughter who is transgender.
“At first, I thought ‘it’s just a phase’ because that’s what people kept saying,” Anne revealed to POPSUGAR. “You hear that a lot from people. Kids go through phases, sure. There’s the toddler rant phase and the teenage phase, but beyond that, there’s something deeper. When Ryder wanted to wear dresses and ponytails to preschool, I let her because it made her happy. I told her people might think it strange, but that she was going to be their teacher and show them it’s OK for people to wear what they want and be happy.”
While Anne continues to support her daughter, she does admit how she used to worry non-stop about how others would treat Ryder.
“In the early years I was scared, worried, and anxious. But you can’t show that or else your kids catch on and then they are worried,” Anne shared. “So I slapped on a smile and learned how to shrug [things off]. If people rejected my child, I used to be offended. Now I just feel sorry for them because they will never know the joy of Ryder. It must be so lonely living in a stifling box like that. Negativity has never been my go-to, so it’s easy to keep at bay. If I don’t live in the light and ooze positivity, how can my children learn to be positive?”
And while Anne is forthcoming about what it is like to raise a daughter who is transgender, she does not accept unsolicited advice, especially when they inform her how Ryder should see a psychiatrist.
“People are who they are and there’s no need for a psychiatrist to read into anything,” Anne stated. “People are different and what’s normal for some isn’t normal for others. Ryder is a normal, happy child. If she had a broken leg, I’d take her to a doctor. For cavities, I take her to a dentist. For education, she goes to school.”
And while Anne will absolutely look into the next steps to help Ryder physically transition, for now, she just wants her 9-year-old to enjoy being a kid.
“In the next few years we will have to decide if we are going to put her on hormone blockers so at that point we will need a psych assessment just to get her into the gender clinic,” she said. “But that’s neither here nor there at this point. She is who she is and no assessment is going to reveal anything outlandish.”
Being unabashedly open with Ryder is a vital element of Anne’s parenting handbook. Anne has refrained from having a “formal” conversation with her daughter to help normalize Ryder’s experience, instead, weaving discussions into their everyday activities.
“I told her early on she can wear whatever she wants, as long as she’s comfortable and can handle whatever backlash comes her way,” Anne explained. “It’s important to normalize every experience for kids. If she was missing a limb, that would be our normal. If she had allergies, that would be our normal. There are all different kinds of people and children in the world, and somewhere there is someone else who is ‘normal’ just like you.”
Anne knew that she did need to confirm Ryder’s pronoun preference to ensure her comfort.
“I casually asked Ryder a few years ago if she wanted to change pronouns,” Anne explained. “She said yes, so since then I have tried to stick to that. I ask her every six months or so, just to see if she’s changed her mind. At some point, she may just want to be a boy and then we’ll switch pronouns again. We are all learning as we go and rolling with the tides.”
Since Ryder made the choice to transition, her classmates and teachers have been extremely supportive. Regardless, Anne wants her daughter to be as confident as possible. “She doesn’t need to worry about other peoples’ expectations because it only matters how she feels inside,” Anne explained. “Of course, I was worried for her [at school], as any parent would be. But with our support, I knew she could grow up safely and happily, be it in whatever form.”
Anne believes the most positive role parents can play in their childs’ lives is being their advocate. And while having a transgender child may require additional conversations with friends and family members, she urges parents to support their kids at any cost.
“Every parenting experience is different because all parents are different. We have different values, different ideals, different expectations of our kids,” she shared. And while Anne notes how she can’t give out specific advice other than putting one’s children first, she does encourage parents to stand up for them whenever necessary.
“If anyone — even a relative or the other parent — endangers your child’s feelings of self-worth, then it’s up to you to shield them,” she said. “I would never allow my child to be around people who didn’t accept her for who she is, and that includes family members who scoffed when she wore a dress. My kids come first. Always and forever.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.