My Daughter Blake
This Pride Month and every month, we celebrate all our children in the LGBTQ+ community and the caregivers who love and support them.
By Tricia Grauert
My daughter Blake is the bravest, most wonderful girl I know. She is strong, tenacious, and bold. She is incredibly smart and is bursting with self-confidence. She knows exactly who she is and who she wants to be. And she is trans.
Ever since she was first able to express herself at around 18 months, Blake has identified as a girl. She was very vocal about who she was and consistently, with much insistence, she let us and anyone else who would listen know that she is a girl. She wanted to wear girl clothes, play with girl toys, and simply be a girl. When your child is so sure about who they are, you have to open your eyes, your heart, and your ears and listen.
We searched everywhere for guidance and help – much of it internet-based. The media was just beginning to treat trans children seriously, and there was a powerful story on former Congressman Mike Honda’s granddaughter that really spoke to us. One close friend who works as a psychiatrist initially seemed skeptical given her young age, until he met Blake and immediately understood.
Blake’s father and I agreed that it was in our daughter’s best interest for us to embrace her for who she is. It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly as we considered studies, doctors’ recommendations, and our own parental instinct. What we learned was alarming; transgender individuals are at a high risk of suicide, 41 percent compared to 4.6 percent of the general public. We found this statistic alarming and worked diligently, as any parent would, to provide Blake with a loving, safe, and supportive environment to prevent her from adding to that statistic.
When Blake was three, we took her to Disneyland, and we let her be her true and authentic self. She picked out her own princess outfit, took pictures with all the Disney princesses, and in general, was so joyous it bordered on euphoria. At the time she hadn’t fully transitioned, but if there was any fraction of doubt in our minds, this was the moment we were completely certain.
Ever since Blake made it clear to us who she is, we’ve made it our mission to help her journey be as smooth and as easy as possible. We embrace her for who she is, ensure that we and others use her correct pronouns, and allow her to find her way in this complicated world with our love and support. There are no guarantees in this world, but we all do our best to nurture and foster our children so they can find happiness. The only guarantee is that she knows she is loved.
Today, Blake is a happy and thriving 9-year-old girl. She has been able to go through life and school as the bubbly and confident girl she is, and we are so proud of the woman she is growing up to be. Most importantly to us, Blake is trans – but that doesn’t define who she is. Being trans is one part of the incredible tapestry that is our daughter, and we are so excited to watch her continue to grow.
We don’t know what the future will hold for our daughter – too many people today still hold outdated and even hateful misconceptions about trans people, but we are committed to standing by Blake and supporting her in anything she chooses to do. All we can do is to keep learning, preparing, and loving her unconditionally, just like any other parent would do.
Tricia Grauert lives in Connecticut with her family.
Advice for Professionals from Dr. Peggy Kemp, Executive Director at the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children
I was not fortunate enough to be Blake’s teacher when she was three, but I can envision myself listening to Blake’s Disney Princess experience, sharing in Blake’s excitement about meeting the Disney Princesses, and admiring her new princess outfit. The image brings a smile to my face. I am absolutely delighted imagining the joy in the experience but also in knowing that her family loves her and advocates for her to express herself as she identifies.
If I were Blake’s teacher, this would have been an opportunity for me to learn. Over the years, I have found that my most important skill is to listen to the families I serve and absolutely respect and honor the decisions made by each individual family. My most important lessons are learned in conversations with families.
In terms of learning to practice a gender affirmation model, the goal of any professional is primarily to listen. Listen to the children, listen to the parents, listen to the translation of the child’s behavior offered by the parents. With little ones, birth to three, behavior is communication. It is so important that parents and the professionals who serve them understand this and “listen” to the child through observing the behavior of the child.
As most of my work is in special education, I want to be sure to point out that gender affirmation work is not a special education activity. The concept of identity absolutely intersects with disability but only because identity is an element of every child’s development. That said, we should do all we can not to create the circumstances that could lead to disability. I wonder what happens to a child’s development when they are not listened to in relation to expression of gender, whose relationship with adults includes the issue of being mis-identified by those who care for him/her/them. It is something I think we need to spend some time researching.
As an early interventionist at a home visit or early childhood educator in a classroom my goal should be to offer curriculum that provides opportunities for action outside of traditional gender roles. My parallel goal should be to know how to encourage and support children who wish to behave outside of traditional gender roles. I also need to do all I can to foster, in the children and families I serve, flexible thinking about gender. And perhaps most importantly, how can I assure that I have done the work I need to do to assure that any bias I or the other professionals on my team might have is identified and addressed.
It is so important to allow children to express themselves and to encourage parents to provide support and allow for exploration for all children. Blake’s parents understood that early and have proven to be trusted allies on her journey. I hope she has found the same among the professionals who serve her and her family.
Dr. Peggy Kemp is a recognized leader and advocate devoted to quality services to infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families, and the professionals who serve them. Peggy holds a dual undergraduate degree in elementary and early childhood education with an MS in early childhood special education. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC). Peggy has worked at the local, state, and national level in the field of early childhood since 1984 and specifically in the field of early intervention since 1997.