How Pennsylvania Can Help My Transgender Daughter Live a Happy, Safe Life

Jessica & Her Daughter Ally • Allentown, PA

Having lived in Pennsylvania their whole lives, Jessica and her husband DJ knew they wanted to raise their family there. Though they went to different schools they grew up in neighboring towns, which each held its own small town charm. In the end, they decided to settle down in Jessica’s rural hometown outside of Allentown, PA with lots of farms and miles between neighbors.

But it wasn’t long after the birth of their second child, Ally, before Jessica and DJ began to realize their family might be a little different. Ally is transgender, born as male but identifying as female.

Living in rural Pennsylvania made it more difficult to find the right doctors and specialists for their child. Lacking guidance, DJ and Jessica were concerned and unsure of what to think at first, because they couldn’t get the answers to so many of their questions in regards to what was happening to Ally.

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“From the age of two and a half, we were asking doctors, ‘What’s going on, why does our son insist he’s a girl?’” Jessica recalled. “And our pediatrician – who you’d think would be the one to give us answers that we needed – continued to say it was just a phase and that “he” would outgrow it. We felt helpless and very much alone.”

For several years, Ally lived a secret life. But as she got older, she didn’t understand why she couldn’t live her true identity as a girl outside of the house. At age 6 or 7, Jessica says that Ally started to feel ashamed and began acting out at school.

AllyProfileEventually Jessica and DJ were referred to a parent support program for families with transgender children in the Philadelphia area and to a doctor who specializes in gender identity in youth. “That was finding the first piece of our life’s puzzle – one we had long been searching for. It was just such a relief to know that we weren’t alone and that we were finally headed in the right direction and getting the answers we desperately needed for our child. It was both eye-opening and comforting to know there were so many other families like ours out there and children like Ally we could connect with. From there all the other pieces started falling into place.”

It was both eye-opening and comforting to know there were so many other families like ours out there and children like Ally we could connect with. From there all the other pieces started falling into place.– Jessica, Allentown, PA

At the suggestion of a parent from the support group, Jessica, DJ and their children decided to take a beach vacation where nobody knew them and agreed, for that one weekend, to let Ally live publicly out in the world as a girl.

“That vacation changed our life. When we were on the beach and my husband and I were watching her play in the sand and the water, it finally made sense. Seeing her out in the world as herself and the true happiness she exuded was the turning point. I don’t think she stopped smiling the whole weekend. Everything clicked at that moment for us. After that weekend, there was no more holding on to our son; finally, we saw Ally for who she truly was – who she had been trying to tell us she was for so long – and, after that, we were 150% committed to allowing her to transition full time. We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would happen – and we would take all the necessary steps to ensure that the transition process was done the best way possible, for everyone.  We wanted Ally to be happy, but we didn’t want to compromise either of our daughters’ safety or well being in the process. We needed to put a lot of time and thought into how we let our families, friends, and community know and, at the same time, teach them as much as we could about what being transgender means so they would hopefully understand why we were doing this.”

The summer between second and third grade, Ally transitioned and started leading her life as a girl.

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By and large, Jessica and DJ were floored by the incredible support they received for their daughter – from their neighbors, the school board, her peers, and teachers. They hosted a “celebration of a new beginning” party, inviting their extended family and close friends.

Although some family members weren’t sure what to think about this transition at first, after seeing Ally at the party they saw a newfound sense of confidence that was never there before. She finally seemed completely comfortable with who she was. The child who had always hidden behind her mom’s leg or ducked her head down when someone talked to her was no longer shy. Instead she was sociable and outgoing and, if nothing else, that helped their extended family to understand that this transition was in Ally’s best interest.

But not everyone has been supportive. Some parents at Ally’s school took their concerns to a recent school board meeting.

Jessica said, “We knew that would probably happen in middle school, but we weren’t anticipating that happening now. We were shocked. We weren’t ready for it – but we had to be.”

Jessica knows that not every child receives the support that Ally has. And even though the principal and the school board support Ally now, Jessica worries that her daughter might face discrimination when she enters middle school, high school, or beyond.

When Jessica attended the next school board meeting to make the case for her daughter to be allowed to participate equally in school functions and to be treated with the same respect and dignity as other students, again Jessica was touched by the support from other parents who stood with her in defense of Ally.

“It can happen to anyone, and I think most parents can imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes – what if it was their child?”

AllySchoolworkJessica knows that not every child receives the support that Ally has. And even though the principal and the school board support Ally now, Jessica worries that her daughter might face discrimination when she enters middle school, high school, or beyond.

That’s why she’s urging her state lawmakers to pass the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, to ensure that LGBT people like Ally are protected statewide from discrimination in employment, housing, or public places like restaurants, shopping malls and parks.

“We’re just trying to let her live the best life she can, the happiest she can.”

Jessica and DJ live with their daughters outside of Allentown, PA. Jessica works in the travel industry, while DJ is a police officer. Below, watch this video produced by Ally’s older sister:

Ally’s Journey from Shelly on Vimeo.



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