When we first moved to Utah, there was a little boy in Gus’s kindergarten class, and our families became friendly. Today, that little boy is an impressive 17-year-old young woman. When I asked Cassidy when she first realized that the gender she was assigned at birth was wrong she said, “For almost as long as I can remember I have had a feeling of wrongness, but I only figured out this was related to gender at around 12.”
This self-awareness at such a young age isn’t uncommon. According to a study led by Cedars-Sinai urologist Maurice Garcia, M.D., director of the hospital’s Transgender Surgery and Health Program, 73 percent of transgender women and 78 percent of transgender men first experienced gender dysphoria by age seven.
Dr. Garcia says, “All of the study participants came to my clinic asking for surgery, and every one of them experienced gender dysphoria around the same early age. What they experienced earlier in life was not a ‘passing phase,’ which is often suggested about transgender people seeking surgery. They knew exactly when their gender dysphoria started. It’s like asking about your mom’s birthdate – you just know it.”
Cassidy agrees. “Knowing what I wanted all that time has freed up much more space in my mind than I thought to pursue the rainbow of things that bring me joy.” For anyone who thinks it’s a passing phase or trans kids are confused, she suggests googling “Are trans people valid.”
Thankfully, attitudes are changing. A 2017 poll by the American Osteopathic Association showed that 53 percent of adults would support their teenager’s gender change. Family support is important. Cassidy’s parents and her siblings accepted her with open arms. They chose to tell other family members in person whenever possible, and Cassidy’s mom, Beckie, called those who weren’t local. She said, “I was honestly worried about telling my sister, as she is deeply tied to her Christian faith, and I wasn’t sure how she would react. She reacted with love.”
Dr. Garcia added, “Like their kids, parents often feel that they’re the only ones going through this experience. It’s our job to provide guidance and reassurance for them, too. Both should be aware of how care providers and parents can help, and the many options available for children early on and when they enter adulthood to successfully navigate the future more confidently and smoothly.”
Cassidy’s courage seems to have rubbed off. Her 9-year-old younger sibling, Em, identifies as non-binary.
In coming out early in life – a text to mom late one night – Cassidy seems to have made her life easier, too. “Since I transitioned so early in my puberty, I passed pretty much instantly.”
Beckie adds, “It’s terrifying, as the parent of a trans child to know they are going to grow up with a target on their backs for people with hearts full of hate. Luckily Cassidy ‘passes.’ I hate that ‘passing’ for one gender or another is a necessity for people to feel a modicum of safety.”
But it still took Cassidy a while to be comfortable using the women’s restroom in public, and Beckie had to remind her not to stand to pee in the stalls in women’s restrooms.
Beckie offered some great advice to any parent with a transgender child: “Look at your amazing, strong kids and do not grieve. You have been gifted the chance to raise a butterfly. You thought you had a caterpillar. You were wrong. Wrap them up in your arms. Love them long and love them hard and then watch them fly.”
Thanks to Cassidy, Beckie, and Em for sharing their story. Learn more about Dr. Garcia’s work at https://www.cedars-sinai.org/programs/transgender-surgery-and-health.html