We are the parents of a transgender child, Jackie. And we decided to tell our family's story on television, in the April broadcast of the national public television newsmagazine series In the Life. Few families like us would want their story made so public, with good reason - and that is exactly why we decided to do it.
Before Jackie came into our lives, each of us had our own expectations for her. Brian is more interested in superheroes and science fiction than sports. When he first found out that we were having a boy, he was thrilled. Brian would have someone to watch Star Wars with and read comic books to. For Halloween, he would dress up as Batman, and the boy would dress up as Robin. He could not wait for that. As for Maria, she knew before her sonogram that her baby would be a girl. Little did she know that she would end up being right.
Maria and Brian Singer with their children, Lucas and Jackie
(Photo by Courtesy Brian and Maria Singer)
One of the first questions that we always get is, ''When did you realize Jackie wanted to be a girl?'' In Jackie's case, she never was a boy. She never wanted to play sports or dress up as Batman and Robin, and we have still not watched the original Star Wars trilogy. When Jackie fully came into her identity as a girl at around the age of 3, she was all girl. She loved princesses, Barbie dolls and wearing dresses. She would wear a Cinderella dress over her regular clothes. She wore it everywhere: to the mall, to pre-school and even to the doctor's office. When, after much discussion and preparation, we allowed Jackie to start fully dressing as a girl in school her happiness was impossible to ignore.
Were either of us ever upset that our Jack was now Jackie? No. We did have to adjust, but we were grateful that she was simply alive. When Jackie was 3 years old, she fell out of a second-story window at her daycare. She was rushed by helicopter to the hospital. We still have images of her with tubes down her throat and a neck brace. More than anything, we are glad that she is alive and that we get to see her every day, hug her, and be with her.
Jackie is our child, and we are going to protect her because that is our job as parents. Period. Our memories of the day she was born, the day she said her first word, or the day she took her first steps, did not change. She is in so many ways an ''ordinary'' little girl who prefers Disney princesses and The Doodlebops to superheroes. She still hates to go to school because she would rather be outside playing, and it is still difficult to get her to eat her vegetables and brush her teeth.
Jackie is a girl, no more, no less. She is not a boy who dresses like a girl. She is not dressing like a girl to sneak into the girls' locker room.
Yet society will not treat Jackie like the girl she is. She is still not allowed to use the girls' bathroom at school, because she is classified as a boy. And she has to deal with more anxiety than any 7-year-old should ever have to deal with, because she is acutely aware of how other people can judge her for not conforming to the gender she was born as.
Until recently, we had no idea there were so many parents of transgendered children, many of similar age to Jackie. Through a PFLAG group in Columbia, Md., and the aid of an organization called Trans Youth Family Allies, we were able to connect with other parents who are going through the same thing that we are going through.
We hope this episode of In the Life, ''Becoming Me,'' speaks not just to other parents of transgender children, but to those who have never faced the set of issues we, and Jackie, have to grapple with each day. We want to tell the world: ''There are more of us out there than you think.''
Being transgender is no longer something that anyone, let alone children, should be stigmatized for. No one should be ashamed of being who they are. And if you are a parent of a transgender child, your child is still -- and always will be -- your beautiful child, no matter what his or her gender is. Never, ever forget that.
If other parents of transgender children, and their friends and peers, heeded our message, the world would be a far better place for these children. Being loved and supported for who they truly are makes all the difference in the world in the lives of these children for the rest of their lives.
To our beautiful daughter, we say this: You are strong, beautiful and can be anything you want to be. There will be no limits on what you can accomplish with your life, because we as parents will fight those who would impose obstacles. You are our daughter, and you will be a strong, independent woman who will travel, get her education, and love life, because that is what life is about: being who you are.
Brian and Maria Singer have been married for almost 10 years. They have two children, Jackie, 7, and Lucas, 4. They live in Laurel, Md.