Vanessa, a teacher in Washington DC, and her husband Ron are experts now in how trans kids should be treated. But they had to learn fast, when they realized their four-year-old daughter, Ellie, is transgender.
They are a family rooted in strong values. Vanessa’s parents lived the ultimate love story – meeting young, falling in love and spending their whole lives together. Ron’s parents were also in love, but the family had to deal with tragedy. When Ron was 10, his dad died of brain cancer.
‘The emotional scars were still deep, knowing my dad was no longer living. So, when I met Vanessa and thought about raising a family, I really wanted to ensure she and our kids were what I focused on – my role as a husband and dad. They came first,’ he told me.
Their son, Ronnie, was born first. Ellie was due 18 months later.
‘We had an amniocentesis and found out the “sex,” but at the time we really didn’t think about sex and gender being different. We pretty immediately formed a family identity as “Vanessa and Ron with two small boys.”’
The amnio did not tell the truth about Ellie, however. The packaging was misleading. As soon as she was able to speak, Ellie set about clarifying who she was to her parents. ‘I’m not a boy. I am a girl. I’m a girl in my heart and my brain. My penis is my only boy part. The whole rest of me is girl,’ she would explain to them out of the blue, without prompting.
Vanessa was disturbed when she witnessed Ellie trying to fight her own inner truth. Ellie would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, poking her chest and attempting to convince herself of something she was told but did not believe: ‘Boy, boy, boy! I have to be a boy! I have to like Power Rangers!’
Witnessing this struggle, Vanessa and Ron knew it was time for them to transition. Their daughter had spoken, and they had to listen.
Ellie had already rejected the name she had been given at birth. She had been okay with it until she realized people would see her as a boy if she used it. So she informed her parents that she was ‘Ellie.’
The results of Vanessa and Ron’s full acceptance of Ellie was dramatic. ‘She blossomed, became happier and just seemed more herself,’ Vanessa says. ‘We have a happy, silly, strong-willed, outgoing daughter. Before her transition, she was mostly quiet, shy, sometimes angry and certainly not outgoing.
‘At the forefront of parenting is ensuring the happiness and safety of your children. It was clear that by not listening to her, we’d be putting her at risk, and that is not something we were willing to do.’
Ron and Vanessa then did the incredible; not only did they not hide what was going on in their family, they built a new community consciousness around their child.