Family of transgender child talks about problems and support in Moldova

Moldovan news media NewsMaker talked to Larisa and Natalia,  mother and grandmother of transgender boy Jake.  Global Voices translated the interview, edited for clarity and republished it with permission from NewsMaker

Larisa is the mother of a 17-year-old boy Jake, and her mother, Natalya, is the teenager's grandmother. Four years ago, their entire life was turned upside down. Their child, whom they had raised as a girl, affirmed that he felt like a boy. In an instant, all the expectations, beliefs, and plans for their child's future changed. They had to learn what it's like to be the family of a transgender child. From denial and helplessness, these two women have come a long way to acceptance and even activism. NewsMaker interviewed them before the “Felis Conference,” an international conference for parents of LGBTQ+ children organized by the Information Center “GENDERDOC-M” (GDM Center), which ran from April 12 to 14, 2024. 

Four or five years ago, Larisa began to suspect something. She was scared that something was happening to her only child, whom she was raising alone after a divorce. 

Now I know that you shouldn't force a child, that you need to let them unfold at their own pace, but back then I didn't know that. Well, what could I do… I asked him then: Do you want to be a boy? What I feared most was that the answer would be yes. Now I understand that he could have lied to me, and I am thankful that he didn’t.

What Larisa feared came true: the child confirmed that he felt like a boy and that he was transgender. Denial overwhelmed her.

“I didn't even know what the letter T in the LGBT acronym meant! Maybe I was even homophobic, though now I am ashamed to admit it. I was in denial, thinking that maybe it wasn't true,” she explains.

But she wanted to support her child. “I had one thought: I want my child to be happy.” 

NGOs assistance

After the revelation made by Jake, Larisa and Natalya found themselves in an ocean of uncertainty and desperately needed help. Soon, they heard about the GDM Center and gathered the courage to come there, meeting with the coordinator of the parent group, Natalya Ozturk, whose contribution both acknowledge.  

“I didn't want to go to GDM at all, but it was there that all the changes happened, and it was there that I changed,” Natalya says.

Larisa confirms: “I can't convey the psychological barriers one has to go through to get there, the fear you feel entering those doors. At first, I went alone and just cried there for about three hours in front of Natalya [Natalya Ozturk, coordinator of the parent group]. At that time, I needed hope, what parents need to hear in the first days, and support” 

Gradually, acceptance became part of their daily life. Over time, Larisa was able to overcome the psychological barrier and buy her child clothes from the men's department. However, their visits to the doctor are almost nonexistent.

“Fortunately, we don't need to see a doctor. But honestly, I think about it with anxiety because I don't know what kind of doctor we will encounter,” Larisa admits.

But the biggest challenge for their entire family remains the school.

Problems at schools

Jake finished high school and took a gap year. He refused to go to school, and his refusal was a big shock, especially for his grandmother Natalya, a former school principal. The woman says that education is a top priority on her list of values, and having recently had a child who was an excellent student, it was very hard for her to accept why he dropped out. However, now having a transgender grandson, Natalya recognizes that school is a very challenging environment for people who do not conform to traditional gender roles.

Schools are absolutely unprepared for LGBT children and do not understand them. I am a person with democratic values, and still, I was not ready; I did not know about these children at all.

Larisa adds:

Even in such a progressive school that my child attended, he didn’t go to the bathroom all day because there was no unisex bathroom. When there was a physical education lesson, he would leave home in sportswear to avoid changing in an inappropriate locker room. We have so many problems in schools that it won't even get to the toilets.

In their opinion, the solution to this problem is time, as well as small acts of rebellion and courage. Larisa laughs and proudly tells how, when he was still in school, Jake refused to go to craft lessons for girls and switched to the boys’ group to do carpentry. Both remember this incident with pleasure and laugh.

I learn to solve problems as they arise. We try to see the good and it is important to us that he is happy. What happened in our family has only changed us positively. I try not to judge or criticize anyone, not focusing on appearance, lifestyle; I have discovered that the LGBTQ+ community is much better than us, it is an example of an ideal society that accepts everyone. And I became an activist, although I never thought I would be one. And I am no longer ashamed of myself, it has given me courage and strength.

Larisa says that she finally understood that for any child, LGBTQ+ or not, the most important thing is to be accepted.

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