In this video and photo montage, the Whittington family chronicles the young life of their transgender son, Ryland, through not only his transition, but also through the recovery of hearing prior to his transition. It's a powerful statement about the normalcy of transgender individuals. Ryland is a typical child in all ways that matter.
I found it hard to watch this without tearing up, and I don't easily cry, even on days where my hormones are a bit out of whack and weepiness is not an unusual symptom. Although my own gender identity and personal story is the binary opposite of Ryland's, and I was perhaps a bit too smart for my own good to declare myself a girl at such a young age (I also steadfastly refused to publicly identify myself as a boy, however), I can recognise the pain, anguish, and ultimately the confusion in Ryland's expressions throughout the pre-transition parts of the montage.
The Whittington family cited two major facts about transgender individuals which accompanied their decision to support Ryland's transition, two major facts I repeat here on ROYGBIV and in my work more generally: 41% of transgender individuals in the United States will attempt or succeed at suicide. And that for most individuals, transgender or cisgender, gender identity becomes set between the ages of three years old and six years old, and for those whose gender identity does become set it cannot be changed. With these two facts in mind, the family decided they would not take the risk that Ryland would attempt self-harm. With transgender children, especially, there is the further risk of attempts to self-modify the body.
I can honestly say that no matter how horrible I felt about the many aspects of my history, I have never seriously considered suicide. Barely entertained the idea beyond a hypothetical which could never apply to me. Not even after my sexual assault, where thoughts of suicide are unfortunately also far too common. Yet, I know the desire to "get the damn thing off me" (and I'll be discussing this a lot more in an essay on body dysmorphia vs. gender dysphoria), and in some of my worst moments as I child, I did indeed consider that specific self-harm. It was more my aversion to pain (and a strong phobia of blood) which possibly prevented me from going that far.
Childhood is hard enough, and adolescence even harder, without the constant misery of your body rebelling against your whole self-conceptualisation. I applaud the Whittington family for supporting their son. And further, I praise Ryland for the bravery he showed in speaking up, and speaking out, and for being "persistent, consistent, and insistent," the three hallmarks of gender identity which isn't a phase. I wish I had had that level of courage as a child, but I was far too scared of a world in the 80s and 90s which was not prepared to believe me, and not prepared to consider my parents to be good parents for choosing to support me.
I wish them all the best in the long road ahead. It's not over, but they're well prepared for the journey.
Video via The Whittington Family/YouTube.