Episode 6

Published on:

4th May 2024

Parenting Transgender Kids - The Bigger Picture

Sometimes as a parent or ally of a transgender person you can end up doing more harm than good when it comes to speaking out because you are running the risk of outing that person.

And that’s why the guest in this episode is keeping their identity private, to protect the privacy and safety of her transgender child. 

But that doesn’t stop the conversation covering topics from the importance of grassroots activism and personal connections, what it means to be an ally, the struggles parents face when it comes to medical options for their children and having to adjust your dreams for your children’s future. 

Josephine and her guest also discuss how their own societal prejudices were an issue when their children first came out, but through reaching out to the community and learning they are overcoming this.

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.

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.


Hi, I'm Josephine Hughes.I'm the mother of two transgender daughters who came out in their teens and early twenties. The personal is political. When I first came across feminist arguments during my sociology degree, I knew my life had changed forever, and I would always view society through a different lens. Since then, I've experienced a very personal change when my children came out as transgender. But increasingly, what was personal has become politicised. During my recording of the third series of gloriously unready transgender issues have never been far away from the news. Sadly, identity politics are being used as a political football with no real consideration of the impact on transgender people and their families. So, in gloriously unready series three, I want to give people a voice to express their love for their transgender children and their transgender partners.

Yet the podcast cannot exist in isolation from the political situation, and all my guests describe how they are affected. What I hope from this podcast series is to share that transgender people and their families are just human, just like the rest of us, and worthy of love and support. In this episode, I'm talking to a mum of a transgender son, and she agreed to appear on the show if she could do so anonymously. My guest is well known online, where she's a transgender activist and blogger. Before I hit the record button, we were talking about anonymity. So that's where we started the conversation. I wanted you to understand why it's sometimes necessary for parents to keep their identity hidden.


I like to engage people and talk to them from the perspective of being the parent of a trans kid, because so many people don't actually come into contact with young trans people, or if they do, they won't actually know that they're trans. And it's really important for young people to have that space to be who they really are without their parents or other well meaning people outing them. And this is definitely a journey that I've gone on in sort of understanding the importance of giving my son the space to be who he is in life while having a mother who is obviously fiercely defending him and wanting the best for him. And as he was growing up as a younger person, had to fight a lot of battles for him. But in the public sphere, I want to be able to give him that space to be himself without the fear of being outed as being trans, so he has that opportunity in life.


To really be himself and to have that privacy. Yeah. And this is what I've found talking to other parents. They want to be able to say something in public, but doing so will mean outing their transgender child. And I think in a way, that means that it's more difficult for parents to be able to stand up for their children in public, isn't it? Because, you know, it means outing their child, and that's not something we want to do. It exposes our children to, you know, being out in possible danger.


It's really, it's a tightrope, really, that parents have to walk. And there are these two tensions in play, particularly if you're a parent like me who is wanting to advocate for young trans people and trans people generally, because that's really dependent on visibility and just somebody knowing that someone else is trans and going, oh, but they're just like me, or I know them, they're my friends, or they're not like all of the things that I'm hearing about, you know, in the media or online or whatever, it really helps dispel myths when you meet people on a personal level and then understand that they're human just like you. On the flip side, there is that need to, you know, protect your young person. I think it's very sort of grounded in geography, in many ways. And you have your, the people who are immediately surrounding you and your friends and your family, and obviously you want to be able to talk to them. And, you know, part of the whole coming out process is actually sort of telling other people who are going to come directly into contact with your young person who they are and how, you know, their name and their new pronouns. And then there's the kind of the next layer out, which is the tricky one, which is those people that are maybe around you in your community who you don't necessarily want to go out with a loud hailer and tell everybody, because you want to allow your, your child to be able to interact with them in a world in the way that is authentic to them. And the moment they, other people know that they're trans, it brings a whole other dimension of, you know, the questions and the inappropriate comments and things like that because you have no knowledge of how that person is going to react to that news.

And then there's another layer beyond that, which is people that are probably never going to come into contact with your child, who you can probably be actually more open with because. And you have to do it in a controlled environment. And that goes back to why it is that I am anonymous because I'm not here to sort of broadcast, you know, myself personally. And I definitely don't want to draw attention to my young, you know, my child, because I want them to have that freedom to navigate through the world as they see fit. But at the same time, I do go out into that wider space, that more general space, and talk about what it is to be a parent of a trans kid, because I think it's really, really important that people hear all of these voices, and they definitely hear the voices they wouldn't normally get to hear. So I can maybe speak about things in a way to an anonymous audience, in a way that maybe somebody can't in their local community because it's too close to them. So it really depends on that context of where you're speaking and who you're speaking to and sort of judging the situation accordingly. As long as you protect yourself and your child, it is really, really vital.

It's really important to do that. And I would actually encourage parents and friends and partners and people who know trans people to actually become more vocal as advocates. And that's one of the things that I try to do.


Yeah. Yeah. My husband's a bit of a mathematician, and we were talking today about people's sort of thoughts about the future and what's happening at the moment. And some people are optimistic that things are changing in the same way that, say, 20 or 30 years ago, people were very homophobic, and that has changed. And he was saying to me, he said it's a numbers game. He said, there are so many of us who are actually connected to transgender people. He said, it's not as much as maybe it was with the gay community, but there's still, you know, the number of, you've got a transgender person, you've got their immediate family, and then you've got their wider family, and then you've got the people that they mix with. I mean, it's not a huge proportion of people, but it is becoming a significant portion of people.

And we were talking about how certainly in the US that, you know, there's all this anti trans legislation that's going through, but quite often when people stand on an anti trans ticket in the US, they find that actually it doesn't work for them and that hopefully, you know, in the UK that might ultimately perhaps affect the culture wars. That people will maybe learn that this actually doesn't work because the vast majority of the public are actually happy to accept transgender people for who they are. I don't know what your view is.


I mean, there's two things that you kind of mentioned there. The first one is the numbers. And I think, yes, there is a correlation between how lgbt or the LGB part, lgbt people acceptance in sort of previous decades. The difficulty, as you pointed out, you know, with your husband's numbers, is about reaching kind of a critical mass with that, because the trans population is a much smaller population. And so it is a lot harder to actually get the numbers of people where it actually becomes seen as a significant force for influencers, for politicians, for whoever it might be that they go, oh, actually, yes, this is a group of people that are worth listening to because they have volume. And therefore, I care about them, and I care about their vote, or I care about their money or whatever it might be, or I care about the backlash that they're going to give me if I say something transphobic. And so that is definitely a challenge.

And it's also a challenge, kind of going back to my original point in terms of visibility, because it then crosses into territories of talking about notions of going in stealth and passing and being visibly trans or not being visibly trans. Because actually, lots of trans people, they just want to assimilate, or the majority of trans people, they just want to assimilate into the everyday world. They, you know, they will take hormones or they will have surgeries in order to pass, in order to be, you know, to be seen as their gender. And the difficulty then becomes is that people might well be knowing a trans person. They don't even know it. And so without them outing themselves or without somebody around them outing them or them actually standing up and being visibly counted, then nobody else knows that actually, we are legion. There are thousands.

And so it's this really kind of like a catch 22 situation. And that gives, that then plays into and leads onto the point you made about the politics of it and how it has been weaponized, is that there are certain narratives that are being sort of spun by those on from the kind of the gender critical, anti trans side of things, or just cynically by politicians that, oh, there's all these kind of unknown number of masses who believe in me or who side with me in being gender critical. And actually, that isn't true, because people are, at the moment, in the toxic environment we're in, are feeling very nervous and feeling very scared about standing up and being counted and being visible. So trans people are not wanting to necessarily come out. And parents or family members or partners, friends are finding that if they do stand up and are very vocal in advocating for trans people, that they are being targeted. And there is a form of intimidation, really, to try and put trans people and to put trans support and trans acceptance back in the box. They're trying to roll back awareness and roll back visibility of trans people and say the one thing that we have in our power is, and into our advantage, which wasn't around when we had the whole kind of gay rights movement, is we have social media now that anybody can go and they can reach out and they can have a voice and they can do so anonymously, and they can speak about their experience of being trans or being the parent of a trans child, or being the partner of a trans person or being a friend or a colleague. And given that, particularly in the UK, there is no kind of trans supportive mass media outlet, the news is blanket sort of transphobic or trans hostile, I would say, mainly because they know that it gives them revenue and it creates outrage and therefore it creates clicks and it's a money making exercise.

I think that social media is the way that we need to use that to reach out with our voices and have visibility. So there is a positive future. But I think it might take longer. It's going to take more people, and we need to gather people together in communities to stand up and have a voice in support of trans people. And I do think that that is happening, but I don't see an end in sight quite yet.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. One of the things that I sort of find really difficult, actually, is, you know, occasionally I will get involved in discussions with people and it can get really difficult, can't it? You know, when people come back at you and tell you that you're wrong and you actually know that, you know, it's so possible to get radicalised, isn't it, by what you read on the Internet. And people are following stories that actually have no basis in reality. You know, they're not scientifically evidence based type of stories. There's a lot of misinformation out there that people will quote. For example, you're talking about de transitioners, where there's only a very, very small number of people who regret transitioning, but then always come back to the same stories, the same people. And it's this very small sample of people. I just find it so difficult to cope with, you know, having these discussions on social media.

I think possibly because with those sorts of people, you're not going to convince them, but it, it just feels, I don't quite know what I can do, really, in terms of, you know, talking to people. And you can only hope that perhaps there will be people who are more open to learning about it, who are, who are reading the exchanges. But personally, I find it really upsetting. Do you find the same. Or have you sort of hardened yourself?


Oh, I've definitely hardened to it now. It's like water off a duck's back. And I've definitely kind of developed a bit of a sort of a strategy for dealing with it. And I won't say, you know, it hasn't upset me originally. I mean, I definitely went on a journey of initially focusing, my child first came out and it was all about them and supporting them. And then it was sort of like, well, how can I help other people that are maybe in my immediate network and talking to them? And obviously with him coming out with family members and talking to them about it. And then I sort of decided, oh, well, I might sort of go and talk about this online and just sort of like advocate for, you know, trans kids online or being a parent of trans kids and use that voice. And then it sort of developed into, oh, actually, there's other things I need to, you know, advocate for trans people in general.

And it sort of has definitely sort of spun me into a great kind of journey of discovery and knowledge and understanding, which on a personal level has been incredibly enriching, honestly. I mean, I find it fascinating, but it's obviously also so personal to me that I am incredibly passionate about this. And I joke with people, you know, when I go on social media, I just run on rage. And it's that that keeps me going because I hate to see the injustice of it. But honestly, my intention when I started using social media was to actually go on there and network myself to a position where I could influence the influencers so that I could have a top down approach and talk to people who could then cascade that knowledge, you know, within their own networks and, you know, and hopefully embed that compassion and understanding and, you know, support for trans people. But, as over the last few years, as things have become, you know, more toxic and have become more polarised and I've actually kind of changed my approach. And I really think that the way forward in improving the situation for trans people is to really talk on that kind of grassroots, bottom up approach. And although it is much more labour intensive, it's much more meaningful and has longer term, you know, profound impact.

And it goes back to what I was saying before about somebody knowing somebody else personally who is trans or who is the parent of a trans kid. And so it's, it really is almost that kind of going person to person and having meaningful conversations in real life. I look to try and make a difference in a very personal and practical way now. And I use my social media to allow me to talk to people and make suggestions or bring information to other people so that they can then do the same so they are empowered with that knowledge. But I don't actually use social media now to try and have individual conversations because it's just. It's so polarised and so toxic and it's life sapping and time sapping to do that.


Yeah. Thank you. That's a good. I really like that, really sort of going in with an objective. And it just leads us really nicely into maybe talking a bit more about the personal and what it was like for you. So you're the mum of a trans man. Were they a teenager when they came out or were they younger?


No, they were younger than that. They came out right after they left primary school. So in that space, that voyage between primary school and secondary school, which, I mean, as any parent would tell you, you're already as nervous as hell about how they're going to start in a new school and they haven't had a great time at primary school, you know, retrospectively now, for obvious reasons. And, yeah, it was just terrifying, to be honest. The thought that they were going to go and be challenged by all this. They wanted to march straight into school and go, I'm a boy. And I was like, whoa, no, hold on, hold your horses. And it was very much a thing of educating myself, coming to terms with the sort of shock and all of those emotional, that emotional roller coaster which I think anyone whose parents of a trans child will recognize of kind of, you know, questioning and fear and not understanding and education and reaching out and, you know, that whole thing of.

I remember one of the first questions, you know, or thoughts that I had was, oh, my God, who's going to love my child? You know, and you just don't know anything. So you're basing all of your gut reactions are based on kind of transphobic tropes and things that you might have seen in the past or negative things. So I went through that personal kind of roller coaster and very quickly, and I'm the sort of person that very much grabs the bull by the horn, stares it in the face and go, right, what do we need to do here? And I went on that kind of voyage of discovery of googling the hell out of everything, you know, watching YouTube videos, you know, looking for inspiration with trans men and what the journeys mean. I mean, I honestly, I didn't even know what a pronoun was. It's like, pronoun. I've seen this word. What is that? I had to kind of google the definition. And it's just so I was starting from kind of like round, you know, ground zero on base level.

Yeah. Education very quickly to then knowing that I had to step up to a point of being an advocate for my child so that when they started school or when we went to speak to the doctor and when we had interactions with clubs or social groups or whatever, friends and family, that I was there managing that situation. And I very much put myself in a position of wanting my child's life to be as anxiety free and combat free as possible so that they could smoothly continue on, you know, through their life or at least through their childhood. And I was going to be like the fierce mum in front of them, like the snow plough clearing the way and having all of the battles in advance so that they just sort of followed on in my wake and it made it as easy as possible.


So can we just sort of go back a bit? Because I was really interested. You know, often when people try and educate themselves and they go on the Internet and they start googling, they're going to come across a lot of doubt and fear and uncertainty and people saying, it's not real. It's rapid, on set gender dysphoria and all this sort of thing, especially for people who are assigned female at birth. There's all this stuff out there, isn't there, that really frightens parents. How did you sort of, like, you know, separate out those different viewpoints when you were exploring? Because I know this is really difficult for parents because you're in that place of fear and you don't really know what to believe, do you?


I was really lucky in that my son came out about nine years ago now, so that wasn't there then. And it was really on the cusp and just in the wake of what they called the transgender tipping point. And there was sort of like, Laverne Cox was on the front of Time magazine, and it was seen as, you know, quite a positive thing. And it was really before it started, this sort of hell bent, you know, downhill dash into toxicity. So, honestly, the information out there at that time, there wasn't very much, but it was. It wasn't toxic in the way that it is now. There wasn't that massive glut, the thing.

And I still think back to this now. I remember having a conversation with my mum almost immediately, you know, within the week or so after my son coming out. And she said, I can't remember exact words, but she said, oh, you've got a really important decision to make because you know that if you take that step in one way, you're going to go in one direction, and if you take a step on the other way, it's going to lead you in a completely different direction. By that, she meant me as a parent, it's really that moment where you're sat on the fence and you almost sort of feel like it was sat on this really narrow fence. And you have a choice as a parent of whether you're going to go, yes, I believe you, or you're going to say, no, I'm not accepting this. Depending on that immediate kind of gut reaction will spiral you and can spiral you very quickly into two very different ways.

Having sort of been, you know, looking at this whole area for quite a number of years, I've actually given a lot of thought into the process that goes towards somebody who spirals into transphobia. And it's the thing that's really concerning and upsetting is that actually there's quite a lot of parents who do that. And I see this happening again and again because their gut reaction is one of fear, is one of not understanding. Very much like mine was. It's sort of like, I'm fearful. I feel scared. You literally feel it in your stomach. I remember I was sat, you know, crying about it because your whole world has been turned upside down.

And this person who you absolutely love and would do anything for, and it just feels at that point, from a position of ignorance, it feels absolutely tragic. You're looking to try and find any way out of that, to find a solution, or. And a lot of the time, you know, the reaction will be based on that information that you've subliminally taken in over your lifetime of, oh, my God, this is awful. This is negative. And obviously now there's so much more toxicity. There's going to be all of these things like, oh, well, you're going to be mutilating yourself or you're deluded or it's a mental health thing and you need to be cured or you're a paedophile to going or whatever the other horrible kind of language that is used. And you subliminally absorb that. And at that almost exact moment, you as a parent are being forced to make a decision.

And the difficulty is that the moment you then start looking into it nowadays, with all this toxicity around, you can very quickly get pulled into these, one of, like, two camps. And the scary thing is, being pulled into that camp of gender critical kind of transphobia because it. It is done, you know, through a process of, you ask a question, there's people who are on that side who will kind of recognize that, oh, they've got this parent who's asking these things, and they will love bomb parents and they will literally drag them. You can sort of see it into this well, and this echo chamber of conspiracy theories, of negative rhetoric, of pseudo research. And it all sounds very, very plausible because they've built up layers of veneer and endorsements from medical professionals who have ideologically invested or scientists or therapists or whoever who have these letters after their name. A lot of them might come from America or whatever, but on the face of it, you're like, well, that sounds legitimate.

I better believe that. And so it's. It's really, really scary, you know, to see that as a parent and as somebody who, you know, is a trans ally and a trans advocate, to see these parents being dragged into these spaces which they understandably don't know any different, you know, and they're then being validated that actually what you should do is reject your. Your child and that you should be looking to challenge them and that you should not be looking to support them because that is somehow seen as being complicit in their, you know, in air quotes, mental illness or whatever the reason is. And the thing that I find most upsetting when I think about that is actually to think that every parent in that space behind them is a young trans person. And they are going to be suffering, and they're going to be suffering because they don't have the support of their parents or the people that love them the most and who are meant to be there, you know, for them every step of the way, whether they are under 18 or over 18, it doesn't really matter because your relationship with your parents is such a profound thing. And you see so many young people, and particularly trans adults, who sort of talk about the relationship with their parents being destroyed, and they don't speak to them, and they end up, you know, being estranged from them and having chosen families or, you know, having to cut them out of their life or in some instances, parents throw their kids out.

I have a friend who used to work with an lgbt homeless organisation, and he specifically supported young trans people who had been thrown out of their homes by their parents because they were trans. I just find it devastating. I just want to be able to intercept those parents at that moment, you know, where they are feeling so scared and so kind of overwhelmed and that their life has been turned upside down and just to say it's going to be alright. And you don't have to make a decision right here, right now. And by being there for your child and supporting them, it doesn't mean you have to go along with everything they say, and it doesn't mean you can't have conversations and questions, and it doesn't mean that you don't know your child. You still know your child. They're just telling you something and something very profound, very important, and it's up to you to listen and it's up to you together, to work out the way forward together, you know? And I. Yeah, that would be my wish.


Yeah. I just sort of identified so much, so much with what you're saying, because a real turning point for me was when my friend's daughter came out as gay, and I said to my friend, she'd been so supportive when my kids came out as transgender. And I said to her, well, how are you feeling about it? And she said, well, what? So what? And I thought, oh, my goodness, why am I not saying that about my transgender kid? We'll say, what? Why does it matter? And I realised at that point that actually, my distress, to a deep extent, was actually because I rejected transgender identities. And that was a real turning point because I realised at that point that actually, where I was coming from was from transphobia. And the more I read and the more I understand, it's that actually, this transphobia is a product of our particular society and that other societies and other cultures are more accepting or have been more accepting of transgender identities and that transgender people have always been there. It's not some weird and wonderful thing that we're just suddenly getting into. We might know more about it in our particular culture now than we used to, but transgender people have always been there.


You're absolutely right about we come from a culture which is inherently transphobic. And by that, it doesn't mean we're all going out and people are saying horrible things about trans people. It just means that what we believe and our thoughts about trans aren't actually neutral, we're led to believe that they are. And we would like to tell ourselves that we're all lovely, decent people and, you know, why wouldn't we? But actually, our whole history and culture, you know, from way back when, but also very, you know, recent culture in the media that we consume, it drags that Overton window to a position, and it is being dragged further still at this moment in time to a position which frames trans as being bad and being a bad outcome and negative and a lot of negative things associated with it. I mean, I would encourage all of your listeners to go and watch a channel documentary called disclosure. Laverne Cox sort of launched it, and it's from a few years ago. And it talks about the very kind of recent history of the representation of trans people within film and within cinema particularly. And that's, you know, been one of the main areas that we, you know, particularly our generation have sort of learned about what trans means.

And it very much comes from, you know, uses a lot of sort of transphobic tropes. But you see, just using that as an example that we've had those sorts of messages from all, you know, different areas of our culture. And we do really need to kind of not be critical of ourselves because we have to understand that we grow up and we're born into this society. But I think we just need to be aware that that is the starting point we're coming from. And we need to try and reset ourselves to one of neutrality which actually says, as a parent, okay, being trans or being cis, they are both equally valid outcomes. There is not a bad outcome. I mean, as I've said to other parents and to other people, when I've spoken to them before, I've said to them, do you want to know something? Oh, my God. Being trans is absolutely horrific.

I cannot personally think of anything worse than being trans, but that's because I'm not trans.

Of course I feel like that. And that's going to be my gut reaction. That is a terrible outcome to actually go and transition and to, you know, to present myself as something that I am not. But then on the flip side, for somebody who is, that is absolutely the best outcome is to allowed, you know, to be accepted as being, you know, trans and to actually do the things that actually make them feel better about themselves and affirm them in their gender and they think about being cis or about continuing to present themselves in the gender they were assigned at birth as horrific as we would if we were being forced to present ourselves as trans.


Thinking about Disclosure, the film, I actually sat down and watched it with my daughter, and I actually found it really uncomfortable to watch because it confronted me with my own transphobia. And I didn't actually finish watching it with her because it was too uncomfortable for me actually. That could be a really difficult part of what is going on inside us, can't it?


I actually think it's really important that we sit with that discomfort, particularly as, you know, people that live in the sphere of other trans people. I think it's really, really important. And one of the first things we need to do is to actually confront that face on rather than trying to brush it away because it makes us feel bad or it makes us realise that, oh, yeah, actually we're, you know, we're feeling that, or we're thinking that. I mean, I ask myself some of those really tricky questions that are used, you know, in the current sort of toxic discourse to try and trigger people into being transphobic. So, for instance, when they're raising questions about, say, trans women prisoners, as an example, there's obviously somebody who has done something absolutely horrific. And there is that initial kind of reaction of, oh, we must punish them. You know, we must punish them.

They deserve to have x, y and z, you know, done to them. And I would absolutely agree that, yes, you know, people who've done something wrong, people who've done something horrific should be punished. But we then need to really carefully unpick how they should be punished. And it shouldn't be that. We should put them into unsafe environments. So in the case of trans women, it doesn't mean, oh, yeah, we need to, like, feed them to the wolves and put them in, you know, with a men's prison and in an unsafe environment. Or if we do, we need to make sure that they are protected and it shouldn't be, oh, no, we need to take away their support, or we need to dehumanise them, or we need to take away their medication, or we need to stop them from transitioning or force them to detransition.

Because actually, what we're talking about then is removing human rights or removing people's support, which has got nothing whatsoever to do with the awful deed that they've done and the thing that they need to be punished for. And I think as parents of trans kids, although that's a very extreme example, we need to make sure that when we do look at how we think about trans people generally and more importantly, how we respond to our young person, that we unpick it from our internalised transphobia and our immediate emotional reactions to situations to ensure that we are acting in the best interests of our young person or trans people in general. And we're not just having a knee jerk reaction of disgust or fear or upset or anger or whatever it might be, because that's what we've internalised from our upbringing or all of the, you know, the negativity that we have sort of sucked in over the years. So I would actually like to challenge you, Josephine, to go and sit and actually watch that again, and if it is a difficult watch, to stop and sort of question why it is and actually start thinking yourself, okay, so that made me feel that. Why did it make me feel like that? And maybe that's something I have done myself and I reacted like that. And that's okay. You know, it is okay to be uncomfortable. It is okay to be wrong.

It's okay to have done things in your past that have been transphobic. And actually, it is much better to look back and say, do you know what? I did that in the past or I behaved that way, or I said that thing and to acknowledge it and say, I acknowledge it as such, and I'm going to make sure I learn from that and I move forward and I use that as part of my experience to be better in the future. Nobody's perfect. You know, I've laughed at transphobic jokes in the past. I watched Ace Ventura as a child and I laughed at the stuff that was transphobic because I knew no better at that time. I did it from a position of ignorance. And that's okay that I did that, so long as I now go but you know what? I'm not going to do that in the future. And I'm going to recognize those things for what they are. And then actually the step beyond that is to say, I'm going to see those things in the future, and when they occur, I'm going to call them out. And that's the position that I'm in now. I'm going to say, no, that's not good. That is coming from a place of transphobia, and I don't want that in the world, and I don't want that in my child's world. And we know better than that now. We need to do better.


Yeah, I think there's something around our expectations about the way people should be. And when we start expecting people to be the same as us, we're denying people like you say that, that human right to choose to be autonomous and to choose, choose what is right for them. And when we start trying to force people into being something other than they are, if we're not prepared to accept people for who they are, we're on a really difficult downward slope in terms of human rights. And I really think that's the point you're making, isn't it? Is that, you know, we're really talking about human rights here.


Obviously, we have an idea of how we would love the world to be. We have our own kind of ideas and ideology. You know, we'll have different political opinions. We'll have different ways of raising our children and how, you know, what the best thing is for doing that. And we need to allow scope for everybody to do what's best for them and do what's best for their family and do what's best for their children while still respecting the fact that we are all individuals in this world. We are collectively these, you know, there is no way of defining everybody, that they fit into these set categories. We are so unique and wonderful as individuals, people and human beings. We need to respect that.

And that means when somebody does something really bad, that they don't reflect everybody within a certain sort of subcategory. It also means that when somebody does something good, that they can shine as well on their, you know, on their own virtues. And I think we need to just make sure that we see people as people and we try and support them as such in their own individual journeys.


Yeah. And I think the thing that we don't hear enough of, which I do hear from trans people and also people who've, you know, parents who've seen their children through. Through a few years, is that actually transgender people, when they're allowed to be who they are, are just much happier. You know, they. This is. This is the person that they are, and they're able to be who they want to be. And, you know, my kids are, you know, they're really happy. They're in relationships. All the things that I sort of worried about when they first came out, all completely baseless.

They're living their lives, and I know it's not true for every transgender person because they face a lot of discrimination, but obviously, I'm coming from a place of privilege. But so often I talk to people and they say, even though it's difficult, even though there is a lot of hostility, I still would be who I am today because this is being true to myself.

How about your son? How are they getting on?


They're just a regular young adult in as much as they have the same challenges as any other young adult has. You know, they're going out into the world. They're trying to figure out what it is that motivates them. I'm trying to figure out how to get them out of bed and off the mobile phone, you know, is just incredibly mundane and regular in that sense. I mean, them being trans is just an unremarkable part of their, who they are. And it's been, you know, like that for many many years. So, you know, obviously there is that extra layer of challenge of them having to kind of, you know, manage their healthcare and manage their interactions and deciding, you know, who they're going to talk to and, you know, about who they are.

And at this point in time, they really don't want to kind of disclose to anybody and they don't have to, you know, so everybody who they meet for the first time would not see anything other than a young man. So, yeah, I mean, there is that challenge. I think that particularly for younger trans people maybe it’s harder because they are coming into themselves and they are maturing as young people at the same time that they're sort of trying to navigate this space. And that is quite a challenge. It makes them very mature on one level, I'd say. And it also potentially gives them extra challenges which make things harder on another level because, you know, they're having to navigate other teenagers who might not be, you know, saying nice things or, you know, in a way that maybe if you're coming out as an adult, you wouldn't have in quite the same way. I think there is very different experience that and journey that trans people go to depending on the age that they come out as well and also the environment that they come out within, whether they have a positive or unsupportive environment both at home and also, you know, maybe at school or with healthcare or things like that as well.


How was it for your son? They sort of, like, came out to you between primary and secondary school. So what happened? Did they then go to school as a boy or did they transition later or how did it work?


It was very much a thing of they went to school as a girl for the first term and because I had not prepared the school and I just thought, they can't just march up and say, this is who I am, because the school will be shocked. They won't know how to deal with it. And I literally walked up to school and the first day of him starting school and went, I need to talk to you, to the head of here. And she was absolutely amazing. So we've been so incredibly lucky because the school was immensely supportive. They did all of the right things, you know, protected his privacy. They brought in training, and we kind of worked out a way that he was going to come out towards the end of the first term to his year group, which he did. You know, they've been brilliant.

And then, you know, there's been incidents, you know, occasionally since then. You know, they've been fantastic in supporting him and making sure that it isn't a space of bullying or transphobia or anything like that, and be very accommodating. So I can't, I cannot criticise them. And I only wish that every school really was like that. And I think it's really important and positive actually for people to hear the positive stories as well because those can then act as a blueprint for others to follow. You know, it's very scary for professionals at this moment in time to be doing things that are actively trans inclusive and supportive because I think they are fearful that they're going to get a backlash, whether it's in the media or from, you know, other parents or from their professional bodies or from, you know, whoever that they have confidence in taking positive, you know, trans supportive actions. And that that was one of the things I did actually, both, you know, with his school and also with our GP is I went and educated myself on what needed to happen and the best path forward. And I kind of went, okay, this is what I think needs to happen and this is the plan forward.

And then I went in and I kind of presented it to them in a very reassuring way and going, look, I've done the work for you, so you don't have to be scared. Here is, you know, the plan here is what I think should happen. This is why I think it should happen. Here are, you know, the other professional bodies that also say this is what you should, you know, should do so that they could look at it and go, okay, it's not just you saying, I want this. My union or my professional body has also got research and look, I don't even have to go and look for it. It's been given, you know, straight. It's been laid out for me, so I can just go and follow that blueprint that has been laid down. And I would encourage, I encourage everybody, I'd encourage parents to do that.

And any other professionals, anybody else who wants to advocate for trans people in their lives that, yes, I know it's not right that, you know, we should be the ones doing the legwork and, you know, actually telling professionals what they should be doing. But at the moment, they are also people and they are also scared. And they're also hearing a lot of information in their other ear from people telling them why they shouldn't be supporting trans people and why they actually need to be removing protections from trans people. So I think to be a voice of reassurance and to be a voice that gives the research and the credibility and the authority to support trans people is probably one of the best things that parents could do for their young trans person.


You know, where would parents go to find out where to find trans inclusive policies? Where can they look?


I think the best places actually are kind of like peer to peer support groups because there's parents in those groups who have gone through exactly the same journey and quite often are just ahead of you. And so it's so much easier to kind of follow in their wake as well because they've done a lot of the heavy lifting already and there's such a wealth of knowledge and resources. And I would signpost anybody towards Mermaids and their helpline initially and to become part of their parents forum. There's also Facebook groups. There's a couple, you know, sort of parents of trans kids and parents of trans adults. I think it becomes very clear the moment you're in it, if you were in one, which is, you know, trans hostile as, you know, if they're trying to reject people. And I would just say, if you're in that environment, just leave, because it's incredibly distressing to look at that information and sickening.


Yeah, because I have to say that one of the things I found really helpful was meeting other transgender people, you know, chatting away to people online. I did find, particularly in those early days, the parents of transgender adults type of groups, really helpful because people were further on than me and they were able to help me understand. One of the things that was really helpful was someone saying, you know, they've always been transgender. It's just that you didn't know. And that was just so helpful. You know, it was just. Yeah, it just put it into context. But I have to honestly say that I think meeting other transgender people has been really, so helpful to me.

You just realise that these are just, like you say, just normal people who are trying to get on with their lives, who just feel differently about their bodies in the way I do.


The other, I think, really important thing about being in those spaces is that it offers a private space for parents to learn and grow and maybe use the wrong words or turn a phrase or maybe they might have picked up something elsewhere and they bring it into the group and then, you know, there's other parents going, oh, actually, I think you might find that people, you know, your young person might find that really offensive if you say that. So it allows you to trip up and make mistakes. And I think that's really, really important to have those private spaces because doing it in the public sphere, like on social media, you can find yourself in a whole world of pain if you do it. And you will get called out for that. And in some ways, sort of rightly so, but obviously, a lot of people aren't as gentle or might not understand that actually you're doing. You might be saying things out of love, but you just don't know the right, the right words at that point. So, yeah, having those kind of spaces, I think, is really important to kind of learn and grow and feel stronger and more knowledgeable and then give you, you know, the space to, you know, away from your young person as well, because you don't want to be working all of that out necessarily with them. You want to be there as somebody they can turn to, as the adult who can give them reassurance and support.

But it is an emotional thing for a parent to go through. And I know a lot of trans people can be quite critical of parents going, well, why is it a big deal? And it's like, well, yeah, but they know their experiences coming out. As a trans person, everyone is entitled to how they feel and their own emotional journey, and that's fine. Some parents, they're just like, yep, it was no biggie. And others, they go through a real kind of, you know, struggle, and there's no right way, there's no wrong way. And we, we shouldn't criticise ourselves or beat ourselves up for not going through a particular journey in the way that somebody else has. I'd say the most important thing for a parent who has a trans child or a trans adult who coming out is to be kind to yourself. Be kind to your young person.Acknowledge the fact that you don't know everything. Acknowledge the fact that actually the stuff that you think you know might actually be wrong. And you've taken in a lot of negative stuff, you know, from the media or just generally sort of sucked it up from the background. Be open to any outcome and to not prejudge any outcome as being right or wrong or better than any other. And try and stand next to your young person as much as you can to support them in their journey because they're the ones that are leading the way. And if you're lucky, you will get to be a bystander to that and be able to say to yourself, yes, I helped them them to become the adult that they are and to have a good life and to have a happy life as the person that they want to be.


There was a great need in me to sort of almost know the answer, you know? So when they came out, I wanted to sort it out. I wanted it fixed. And I think you're going through so much. You just want to make a decision and get on with it. But actually it takes longer, doesn't it? You don't really know. They believe they're trans. They tell you they're trans. And I went very much along the line of, you know, yourself, I'm going to support you, while also hoping that it wasn't really true, but it actually turned out to be true, but also sort of, you know, in a way, wanting it to be fixed, just wanting to sort it out.

And of course, it takes so much longer than that, doesn't it? Because they settle into themselves, I think.


Yeah, I mean, that's. I'd say that's definitely one of the big challenges, particularly as a parent of a young trans person. So someone who's under 18 is that unlike with a trans adult, who could basically make the decision, and they say, I'm going to go off and do this, and you are either kind of supportive or you're not. As a parent, as a parent of a young trans person, they are dependent on you to make things happen. It's a very complicated and involved and difficult process to get involved in, whether it's changing or being accepted with the new pronouns and name at school, or whether it's getting a referral for medical or therapeutic support. You as a parent, you're the one that needs to make that happen. So they are absolutely dependent on you to actually help them in very practical terms.

And then I remember when my son was looking to start hormones and, you know, hormone blockers, and it was really kind of like, you know, me having to sit with myself and go, okay, so is this the right thing to do now? Is, you know, should I be saying, yes, we can do this? Should I be making this happen? And I really, you know, had to kind of go through a very deep thought process and almost go back to the beginning and revisit at each stage, okay, yes, this is why we're doing it. Okay, yes, we have had these conversations, okay, yes, this is what he said. And I would go and revisit some of those conversations with him and go, okay, we're at this point, we need to have conversations again. You know, as bad as it might sound, he needed to, you know, convince me again. You know, he needed. We needed to touch base to go, okay, you were saying that at that point, okay, we're now at this point. Let us touch base. Where are you at now? Is this still what you want? How are you feeling, have things changed? And also being really acutely aware of the fact that that was an unfair burden being put on him because as an adult, he could obviously just go off and do these things, you know, with all, you know, the restrictions of waiting lists and everything that that entails, but that he had full autonomy, but he was still having to go through me, you know, to make these things happen.

So trying to do that in a way that was supportive but at the same time was, you know, responsible as a parent of a young person, you know, as parent of somebody who was, you know, quite a bit younger. And that's a really, know, a difficult challenge for, you know, for parents to go through. And it's particularly a difficult challenge when they're being barraged as well with a whole load of really negative information telling them this is wrong and that's a bad thing to do. And, you know, you're an awful parent, and if you allow your child to transition or you're an awful parent if your child went on blockers or supporting them to, you know, take HRT, you've obviously got to have a lot of internal strength to be able to, you know, go against the flow of, you know, these predominant, really negative media narratives. And that goes back again to making sure that you have a good support network around you and actually have available to you the research and the information and not the negative rhetoric and not the kind of pseudoscience that's being pushed out. But it is, you know, it is hard, you know, as a parent, having to fight through that. It is a. A battle, you know, to do that.


And what I wanted to say actually was even though by the time my youngest went on to hormones, they were actually an adult, but I still had all those conversations with them about, are you sure is this the right thing? You know, it partly was a bit selfish because I needed to know for myself, but also, yeah, I mean, you know, you do feel a responsibility as a parent to double check those things. I think it's an important part of parenting, isn't it?


This is where it's important to know your child and really think about your child as opposed to what you want for them. You know, it's to really have that moment to take a step back and go, okay, do I know them? What else is going on in their life and how can I best support them?


Yeah. So let's just. I just wind it up with the sort of last question, which is, what advice would you give to parents with children who've come out as trans.


Don't make any hasty decisions initially for yourself because you will be undoubtedly starting from a point of feeling quite emotional about it and reacting to it on a very personal level. Take time to feel settled yourself before you make any decisions going forward. But be mindful of the fact that your young person has probably already gone through a long and extensive period of actually understanding themselves. And they're probably at that point where they're going, come on, let's go. And it's okay to say to your child, actually, I can appreciate that you're at that point, but can you just give me a moment? I just need to really be able to kind of take this all in. So have those open conversations with your child in an age appropriate way. Find yourself a space where you can speak openly. So find yourself other parents, and, you know, peer to peer support group, I think, is probably the most important thing that will allow you to go through that process yourself.

You know, there's often talk about going through a process of grieving, and I, you know, I went through that as well. And most parents I've heard have gone through that. And the way that I describe that to other people is, I say, I thought that I was always my life, and even before my child was born, imagining, oh, this is what it's going to be like having a girl and having a girl baby and the kind of the future as it could be with, you know, my child of this particular gender. And they could be, you know, there's a massive spectrum. They could end up being, I don't know, some drug addict on the street, or they could end up being, you know, a prince or a princess and, you know, marrying royalty or whatever. I mean, there is a massive spectrum of how people's lives can turn out. But I always imagined that I was watching this game being played out on this pink football pitch or playing field. They liked football at the time.

And it was the biggest shock to me to realise that actually the game was going on behind me on the blue playing field. And I had to do a 180, and I had to turn around and I had to figure out and unpick all of those hopes and dreams that were particularly ones that were particularly gender. But just that vision, just that picture of the kind of person they were that had been part of me since before they were born. And it obviously takes a while to unpick that. As a parent, you are obviously invested in your child. Part of being invested is you have these dreams for their future. You have these sometimes very visual images in your head of what their future could be. And that's the same for any parent.

And some parents have very kind of rigid ideas, and they are the helicopter parents that are making that happen, and others are much more hands off, and they're kind of letting their children lead the way. And it's up to every parent to decide where in that spectrum of control they want to be. It's not for me to tell another parent how they should parent their child, but at the same time, I think it's really important to recognize that your child is going to go off and be whoever they're going to be. And actually, our role is to be their caretakers. You know, we. We are not here to mould a child like plasticine into the object that we want them to be. We are here to nurture this flower, this little seedling that is going to grow up, and they are going to be the kind of plant that they are going to be. They are going to be growing into this shape and this being, regardless of how much we might want to prune the leaves off and, you know, convert them into something, we can do that like pruning.

But actually, the best thing is to water them and feed them and nourish them and grow them and work together and figure out what they want to be and to support them and to shape them and be do all of those wonderful, etsy, excellent parenting things of, you know, keeping them safe and, you know, keeping them well looked after and keeping them loved and nurtured and supported, but let them grow in the direction that is right for them.


Yeah, that's brilliant. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk to everybody and bring your knowledge and wisdom. I really appreciate what you're doing because I know you do a lot. So thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you.


Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.


The personal is political. That's a slogan from second wave feminism. It argues that politics are in play even in the most personal circumstances and relationships. Although transgender people transition because of their personal feelings about themselves, in our current society, transitioning has in itself become a political act. As a parent, it's impossible to ignore the politics around transgender issues. Throughout this series, I've sought to find out how people cope. My guest today is someone who channels their energy into advocating for transgender people, but it's noticeable that they're now seeking not to influence people at the top. I'm very grateful for the politicians who do speak out on behalf of the LGBTQ community, but they rarely get heard because the nature of news is to prioritise the sensational.

So, as my guest said, it's helpful to encourage people, people like myself at the grassroots, to come together and share our experiences so that we can gain strength from each other. So I hope this series of gloriously unready has spoken to you, whether you're a parent, a partner, a therapist, or just someone who's interested in learning more about transgender people. My hope for this series was to humanise transgender people and their families, to show you that we're just normal people facing an unusual set of circumstances, and we're just muddling through, trying to love each other as best we can. This has been one of the hardest series for me to record. It's been so difficult to face the politics that are going on at the moment as I record. And so really, what I hope this series will encourage you to do is to be an ally, because, believe me, we really do need you.

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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.