The day a Pokemon helped me to understand my son’s gender dysphoria

The blue, pink and white transgender flag

The world I exist in now is very different to the one I grew up in, and so many things are normalising now that, when I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, were not spoken about.
I was probably in my late twenties before I first heard the term cisgender and came to understand what it meant. I have always made an effort to educate myself about the issues that make people be, what society deems as, non-conforming. It helps me to understand that this is why some people feel the way they do about things, and to live in, as inclusive and non-judgemental a way, as far as I humanly could.

So, when my oldest child came to me to tell me there had been a glitch in the universe, that had caused him to be born into a body that had been assigned at birth as female when he was actually a boy, I knew there would be a lot of learning to do in my future. My son is a wonderful human being. He is kind, warm, generous, sensitive, and funny. And he is brave, make no mistake about that, to come out and say to the world “I am different, I do not conform to your norms”. What is even more astonishing, is to be able to know who he is and do this before even hitting his teens.

And so I told him, when he sat down one day recently, came out to me that he was male and asked me to use He/him/they pronouns, that the mistake was made somewhere out there in the universe, and it is not his mistake but that of whatever had caused this glitch. Viscerally I knew he was the same child I had been raising, his heart and soul were unchanged.
He has absolute, unconditional love and acceptance from me, because he is still the child I felt grow under my heart. When I looked at him I still only saw that child. He will be supported and loved his whole life through as that same wonderful child, and if this is his life path then he is leading the journey, I will just be following him to support him and always have his back, the way I will do for his, as far as I know, cisgender younger sister.

Equally, if this is something he is exploring in a quest to understand himself, and wishes later down the line to decide to be my daughter again, then I understand that gender is a very fluid social construct, and will simply begin using his original pronouns and name again. There will be no need for recriminations or judgement because, once again, he will be that self-same heart and soul I recognised the day he was born.
I spent some time reassuring him of this and discussing what he feels the future will look like now, what his needs were at this moment in time, and what level of social and medical transition he wants so that I could help this be put into motion.

I am learning more or less constantly at the moment. I try to ensure I do not reinforce stereotypes in any way, as it has always been a bugbear of mine as a person who has never enjoyed the stereotypes that come with being female, the ‘trappings of woman-hood’. I do wonder if, had I been born at a later time, whilst I would not have been transgender perhaps I would have identified in a more genderfluid or nonbinary way, feeling as out of place as I do with the expectations of being female.
Despite this however, I have my own unconscious gender biases, and when he came out and told me he was transgender I immediately overcompensated and fell into gender stereotypes of my own. He has gently reminded me along the way if I fall into one of these tropes. He has some interests, and enjoys some clothing, that society deems feminine, and he has reminded me that being male gendered doesn’t always mean wishing to have a completely masculine energy and look.

As society we give very little thought nowadays to a cisgender man who enjoys a more feminine side. We have many celebrities who wear nail polish or make up, and Tom Daley managed to normalise men who knit during his down time at the Tokyo Olympics this year. And still, if a person comes out as a transgender man we seem to expect them to wash their hands completely of anything considered feminine.
My son has helped me with this understanding, but the onus is still on me to learn. I am reading where I can, to educate myself. More importantly, I am speaking with fellow parents of transgender children, and speaking to transgender adults. And most important of all, is I am asking my son, who is a leading expert in the field of being himself.

However, my son is an eloquent young man, but can have times where he finds speaking about his feelings far more difficult. As a neurodiverse adult I can empathise, however I learned over the years to verbalise things better. I am now having to pass this experience on, to both him and his sister. His younger sister is also neurodiverse, with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), the diagnosis I also have. And my son is awaiting assessment by Paediatrics, but there is the possibility he is also neurodiverse in some way. As such he can have difficulty in verbalising his feelings, which can lead to frustration. As I like to put it, he goes full teenager on me.

So when trying to find a commonality that we would understand when discussing periods he hit upon a stunning analogy. I had been asking him to explain how they made him feel, and he had simply been responding with “I don’t like them”. However, I am pretty certain that every single woman reading this would say the same, cisgender or not. I can reasonably assume that very few women get their period and immediately shout for joy. So I asked him again to try to find a way to explain it and he came out with an analogy about Pokemon.

For those who are not in the know, or have chosen not to be, the Pokemon game involves catching these ‘Pocket Monsters’ and using them to train and battle with. Some Pokemon you catch remain the same Pokemon for their whole lives. But some Pokemon can evolve into stronger ones, some evolve once, and some evolve twice. Some can also evolve via the medium of a special talisman such as a stone, that triggers their evolution.
I have played Pokemon on computer game platforms pretty much since its inception in the 1990s, but when Pokemon Go! hit our mobile phones five years ago it became something I did with my children. The smallest child tired of it pretty quickly, but my son has enjoyed playing it with me for a few years now.

So he asked me to imagine he was a Pokemon, and he chose one called Charizard. Charizard is a powerful Pokemon that is created when a Pokemon called Charmander goes through two evolutions. Charmander is a little dragon type Pokemon, it has a flame at the end of it’s tail that burns very low when it is sad or hurt. As Charmander becomes more powerful it evolves and becomes a Pokemon called Charmeleon, which eventually becomes Charizard. This is also a Pokemon that you can use a talisman on; you can use an evolution stone to turn it into Mega-Charizard. All with me so far?

He said to me that when he was living as a girl, he felt like he had not evolved to where he was meant to be. He then said that he felt like the process he was going through now would be what evolved him to where he was meant to be. Because he should have been born as a Charizard but for some reason he wasn’t and had spent his life being a Charmander or a Charmeleon. Once he had come out to me and begun living as a boy, he had felt like his evolution from Charmeleon to Charizard had occurred; then when his dad had first called him by his chosen name, when he had gone to school as a boy and had his teachers and friends call him by his chosen name, and when I had taken him to a Pride pop up shop at our outlet village he had felt like Mega-Charizard.
He told me he felt he was on the right track now and didn’t want to de-evolve back from being the evolution level he had now reached, but when he would get his period he would de-evolve back through all his levels and go all the way back to being a Charmander. And the flame on his tail would burn very low.

This analogy hit me in my heart. I suddenly was able to feel so much more of what he must be feeling and empathise on an emotional level, rather than an intellectual one. I’ve been that misfit, that out of place person, trying to find a place in society when I don’t fit into the form I had been given.
My journey has given me a way to travel towards the final evolution I hope to make, and feel more like I am at the evolution level I wish to be at. There may be more in my future but I no longer have to feel like half a person or less, and I am more able to be at peace with who I am now than any time in my past.

And as a parent I felt inside how painful it must be for my child to not be there yet. This understanding has given me some idea of the tools we need to move forward, some that I can give him and some that I can steer him towards developing for himself.
His life journey may now be an unconventional one but he is travelling it as who he really is and I see big things for his future. I never want him to feel he is de-evolving again.


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