Episode 4

Published on:

16th Nov 2022

Telling Other People

Please Note:

Everybody mentioned in this podcast series has agreed for their story to be told.

We are keeping the names of Josephine's children private.

One of the things you have to navigate when your children come out as transgender is your own thoughts and feelings about what being transgender is.

In this episode Josephine describes her feelings around why her children were transgender an what this meant for her.

And also how that sense of her daughters coming out being something enormous and something unusual meant that it was difficult for her to tell people.

But when she did tell people, their responses were just what she needed.

Has a young person in your life just come out as transgender or non-binary? Do you feel confused and have a lot of questions?

Perhaps you’re feeling frightened for them? Or maybe you’re feeling upset?

Download Josephine's guide for parents Help! My Child Is Trans at GloriouslyUnready.com/transgender

The information contained in Gloriously Unready is provided for information purposes only.

The contents of this podcast are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this podcast. 

Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this podcast. 

Josephine Hughes disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this podcast.


Episode 4 Telling Other People

Hi, welcome to the Gloriously Unready podcast, all about being unready for anything.

I'm Josephine Hughes, and this series is about becoming the mum of transgender children. Everyone's agreed to me sharing my story, but I'm mentioning no names. And sometimes I use clumsy language - please bear with me, I'm still learning. I don't mean any harm by it.

One of the things you have to navigate when your children come out as transgender is your own thoughts and feelings about what being transgender is. And what I describe in this episode is my feelings around why my children were transgender and what this meant for me. And I talk about the concept of initially thinking it was wrong and how I've been able to move from that place, but also how that sense of this being something enormous and something unusual meant that it was difficult for me to tell people about my children. But then I'll tell you about what people's responses were.

In some ways, I do think I'm very lucky in that I'd had counselling training before the kids came out. And so I'd had an awful lot of time to look at the ways I tend to think. And one of the traps that I can fall into is to feel very sorry for myself and to think, oh, why is this happening to me? And I think what I learned through my counselling training, and it's always an ongoing process, and I don't think I'm in any way a finished product, because I don't think any of us ever are. But I think part of what I learned through the work that I've done is about personal responsibility and that I can have a lot of choice and that you can't control circumstances. Things happen that you can't control, but what you can try and do is choose your response to the circumstance. And so when I say that, for me, the guiding light was to love my kids, that was me thinking to myself, how can I choose to respond to this situation? Coming back to what's important to me, knowing what my values were. So in some ways, the question of why has this happened to my family wasn't a huge question in my mind. But also, to a certain extent, I think there was part of me that thinks, well, yes, this would have happened to our family. And I think part of that is the fact that I think there may be quite a strain of neurodiversity in our family. I personally have always felt a bit different, a bit odd, perhaps a bit eccentric. But as you grow up and you mix more with people who know you and who are like you, you sort of lose that sense that perhaps you might be a little bit different to other people. And I think, as well, you have to question most of us feel quite different to other people, and so it's difficult to know if you're different or not. But we've always been quite a sort of geeky, nerdy family. And so if any family was to do something that was a little bit out of the ordinary, in a sense, I'm not really surprised that it was us. And so there's almost a part of me that just sort of thinks, well, if you were to choose anyone that this would happen to, yes, it would probably be us. And one of the things I remember about when I went to antenatal class with my oldest daughter, when I was pregnant with her, we had to do an exercise where we had to think about what would our top characteristics for our children be, what top characteristics would we like our children to have? And my husband and I, independently, said the same thing. We both chose curiosity. And that's because we both love learning and we'd love our children to be intelligent and lovers of learning as well. And in fact, they are all lovers of learning. But I think that curiosity is something that really did come out in our children. And what's so lovely about them is that they know themselves well enough that they feel able to be themselves, and that they don't necessarily always feel the need to conform. And so, in a sense, I can explain why they were able to come out because of that, because they did have a strong sense of who they were. It was like many people I think the reason we're talking so much about transgender issues nowadays is because people have got the language for it now. And I know with both of them, they felt different, but they couldn't explain why. And it's only as we've talked more about what it is to feel transgender that they've been able to articulate, yes, that's me. They've been able to recognise themselves in that description. I think this is what's been happening recently, is that more people are able to acknowledge that that's how they feel. And so, in a sense, I think, why did this happen to me? I can sort of explain it, but also there's that sense of, I did do a lot of soul searching as well as to, was it something to do with me? And as someone who tends to take on sometimes responsibility that isn't my own, I'm one of those people that apologises for everything, that, in a sense, I did a lot of soul searching because I wondered if perhaps they were transgender, because there was something about my body. Was it something to do with some chemical imbalance or hormonal imbalance while they were in the womb? Was that something to do with me? And we know now that the way a baby develops in the womb is that the genitals develop at one point of foetal development, but the gender identity develops at another point. So was that something to do with me? That there's a mismatch between their bodies and their gender? I don't know the answer to that, but because of my own personal family circumstances as well, because there's not just my two children who are transgender, there's someone else in my family who is transgender that made me question myself as well and think, is it my fault? Is it something that's there? And I do think that actually there might be possibly, it might be genetic and it may have come through my genes. But I think the change in me now is to acknowledge that, well, if that's the case, it's not a problem. Because I think this idea that anybody is to blame or that it's someone's fault is very much locating being transgender is something that's wrong with people. And the place I'm at is that it isn't wrong, it's just another expression of the way we are as humans. And I don't think we really know and understand why it happens. We don't really know and understand the complexities of the full expression of what it is to be human. But I know for sure that I'm not going to say that it's wrong, I just think it's another way of being. And so when it comes down to why did this happen to me? Is it my fault? I think that takes me down a rabbit hole, which I don't need to go down because it's not there's nothing to blame. This is just part of being human.

So when the children came out, I had so much going on inside me, so I didn't really know what to do or what to say. But I do have some really good friendships and so I was able to tell a couple of my closest friends about what was going on, but I asked them to really keep it secret and not tell anyone. And part of that was because in the early stages, you're really not sure what's happening and you need time and you need almost to have the time to talk it through with your child. So it was like an ongoing thing. And I think that's a really important thing to remember is that you're not going to sort this out in one conversation. It's not going to go away, it's going to take time. And so for a few months, we were probably talking with my daughter, talking with each other, and we talked with a few really close friends and I've got older sisters and I talked to both my sisters about it as well.

So initially we told people who we could trust and I began to find that as I talked about it, that people were really, really supportive towards us and people understood that it was a big thing that we were going through. And I had so much respect from people and I'm so grateful that every single person that I told was able to understand that this felt like a really sort of big thing for us. And it's funny how you have these visual memories, isn't it? And I remember being in a car with three people that I knew. We were going out to a tea party together and I think it was on the way home that I told them. And then afterwards, I just thought, oh, God, I didn't ask them not to tell anyone. And I remember talking to one of the girls and she said, of course I wouldn't tell anybody. I know that's your business. Of course I wouldn't tell anyone. You know, that meant so much to me, her response, because it was that respect for us and that understanding that it was a big thing for us. And my own family were absolutely fine with it. And then we had to tell my husband's family, and we had to tell his parents. And we're very close to his parents, and they're very close to their grandchildren because we live quite near them. So they spent a lot of time with their grandchildren growing up. And we really didn't know what to do. But we knew that we had to tell them because it was getting to the point where our daughter wanted to come out. And so we knew that we needed to tell them, but we didn't want her to be the one to tell them because we wanted to check out their response, because we wanted to protect her, we wanted to keep her safe because we didn't want her to have a negative reaction. And so we actually went round to tell them. And I'm very glad to say that they had the immediate response that we'd had, which is they were their grandchildren, they were going to love them. And my mother in law, who pretty much rules the roost, she just said, you tell those children they can come around to our house, dressed however they like, and I don't care. And that was her response and it was always true and still is true. And although my lovely mother in law has left us now and she's died, but my father in law, he's just been wonderful as well and always been really respectful about pronouns and names and they've been really supportive of our family. But I do remember my mother in law as we were leaving, just calling out to us, let's not have any more shocks for a while.

So she handled it really well and to their credit, to their absolute credit, they've coped with it and they've coped with their feelings and they have never, ever said anything that's been unsupportive to us. And I told my own father, who was another ten years older, and he just laughed and poo pooed it, I think. But again, he just accepted it and that was okay as well.

So that was the sort of immediate family. And then in terms of telling everyone else, we gradually, the number of people who knew expanded and expanded, and then it got to the point where we thought, we've just got to tell everybody now. And so that was Christmas and we sent a letter. We always send a letter with our Christmas cards. And so to the people who for years we've been saying the children's names, love from Jo and Tim and the boys, we just said, We've got something to tell you. And again, this is always the thing that surprises me, and I think this goes back to being a member of a large family and your needs don't always get particularly noticed. And so you don't sort of imagine that people would really respond, you sort of think they just say, oh, for the number of phone calls and messages that I had after I sent out that letter saying, oh, how are you? What's happening? That's a big thing that you're going through. The amount of love and support that was poured out to us, it was really, really helpful. And so I guess, I know this isn't the experience for very many parents whose children come out as transgender, and I know this through reading comments.

If you're interested, and you're listening to this because you're interested in what it might be like for parents, I would just ask you to acknowledge how big it is for people and to ask them how they are and what is happening and do they need to talk about it and how do they feel. And I think the hardest thing that you can do is to minimise what it means to people, because it is a really big thing. And I think, yeah, I'm lucky, I've got a lot of friends who have acknowledged that it is a big thing, but it's massive and it may be difficult to understand why it's massive, but for many, many parents it is. And we all have different responses and I'm only talking about my response and why I found it difficult. Other parents might not find it as hard as I did, and that's fantastic. bBut I certainly don't think it's helpful to tell people that they should pull themselves together or it's not about you and it's true, it's not about us. But what you have to remember about parents is they're usually trying to support their gender dysphoric child while processing something that's completely and utterly unexpected and out of the blue. And sometimes with younger children, perhaps they've given indications that they feel this way, but sometimes it isn't that. They've given an indication, and I certainly know with one of my daughters that I spoke to her and said, well, how long have you felt like this? You've never, ever expressed anything before about feeling like you were a girl. There wasn't any of the stereotypical girly behaviour when they were growing up, so it was completely out of the blue. And if that's what parents experiences are, believe me, they are going through a massive, massive transition themselves. And it's not only the children that go through the transition the parents are transitioning to, they're having to get their heads around this whole new reality.

I think often we make assumptions about what other people will think of us and expect that people will think badly of us. We can expect that people's response to our situation is going to be harsh. But I think what my experience shows is that while we might have our own internalised transphobia, very many people in society, although perhaps they don't understand what being transgender is like, they actually do want to support people to be themselves. People are always much more willing than we give them credit for. I've learned that when things are difficult that even though we read a lot about transphobia and hate crime, there are very many people out there who go out of their way to be accepting.

Thanks for listening. Parents of transgender young people, download my free guide, Help! My child is trans! at the website www.gloriouslyunready.com, where you could also find out more about me.

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About the Podcast

Gloriously Unready
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But humans like routine, it helps them to feel safe and in control. Change can be difficult to navigate – whether it’s welcome or not.

So Gloriously Unready is all about change: how to make the most of life and the surprises it deals to us.

In Series 1 Josephine shared her story of becoming a mum to two transgender daughters.
In Series 2 she's finding out more about transgender people's experiences because as she adapted to having transgender daughters it helped her to get to know transgender people.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Everybody mentioned in this podcast series has agreed for their story to be told. We are keeping the names of Josephine's children private.

About your hosts

Josephine Hughes

Profile picture for Josephine Hughes
Josephine is a BACP Accredited Counsellor and Mentor who helps other counsellors find clients. With a deep ineptitude for anything technical, Josephine is testament to the power of marketing being first and foremost about relationships - having built an active and engaged Facebook group of over 10,000 counsellors. In her Facebook group and podcast, Good Enough Counsellors is a phrase that resonates with many therapists and Josephine is on a mission to help therapists overcome their self-doubt and make a difference to their clients' lives.

Josephine's other passion is in advocating for transgender people and their families. Initially thinking she had a family of 3 boys, she lost two sons and gained two daughters when they came out as transgender in their teens and early 20's. Her podcast Gloriously Unready was named a "Best Podcast of the Week" in the Guardian who said:

"Hughes is brutally honest and endlessly wise as she tells their story, outlining the moments that many parents face with so much love and support she can't fail to help others".

Josephine lives in Essex with her husband Tim, a programmer who despite having a brain the size of a planet, still has to issue instructions like "Alt-Tab" at regular intervals.