Photography by: Ryan Francoz
Hair/Makeup: Natalia Zurawska/Judy Inc

After a suicide attempt, self-harm and other troubling behaviour, 17-year-old Terry’s call for help was answered. He was transgender. Now, despite the change in identity, the Murphys finally have their happy teen back.

This Toronto, Ont., family is all about supporting each other and working as a team. Thomas works as a Nuclear Operator in the Assessing department for Ontario Power Generation at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, and Jessica works as a customer relations coordinator for TD Canada Trust. Thomas had Terry in a previous relationship when he was just 17, and later started seeing Jessica, whom he later married and had two boys, Quinn and Rohan. With their blended family dynamic, they try to make spending time together a priority by taking frequent family trips to the bookstore and going to Scouts. Despite spending lots of time together, Thomas and Jessica felt distanced from Terry. He began avoiding his friends and family, growing distant and eventually resorted to cutting himself in an attempt at suicide. It took more than four months of counseling sessions, twice a week, for the Murphys to uncover the root of Terry’s troubling behaviour; he was struggling with his gender identity. Now, nearly two years after coming out as a transgender man, the Murphys are excited to finally have their happy teenager back.

On coming out

Jessica: I remember that he was very much into anime and cosplay, so he had already been talking about getting into a binder for his breasts. There was a convention thing he wanted to go to, and he wanted to cosplay a male character so he didn’t want to have boobs for it.

Thomas: I had actually taken him down to Come As You Are (a Toronto adult entertainment store) to get a binder because it is the only place where you can buy one.

J: That week, he went to get his hair cut. I came in and asked to see the hair cut, thinking it was like a trim, and it was a short, Justin Beiber-esque cut. A little longer than how he has it now. He was wearing the binder under his clothes, and he was like, “I’m transgender and I go by Terry now. Are you OK with that?” I asked, “Are you OK with that?” And he said yeah. Initially, I was surprised.

J: There was [a period] of barely passing classes, not handing in assignments, having friends but not really hanging out with them, there was the suicide attempt, there was cutting, there was the girl hiding in her room, not talking to anybody. There were all of these things and, as parents, you’re like, “What do we do?”

T: I thought this could actually be the answer to what has been happening. That everything was pushing out to the point that he was going down into a hole. Now [that] you’ve realized who you are, this could take you out [of that hole]. That was it. That was the answer. That’s what you’ve struggled with. That’s why you’ve hated wearing dresses and hated going to get girl things, because you’ve never been a girl. You just didn’t know it until puberty hit and your body started to change and it started to fight you. This could actually be the solution.

J: And then he came out, to school and everything, and that was end of Grade 9. He went to school in Grade 10, passing classes, getting A’s, hanging with friends all the time, going out and doing activities again. Literally, he did a complete 180 in how he was.

On supporting each other

J: I think what Terry struggled with the most was trying to get everyone to accept him. Even to this day we have family members who have a hard time using he/him rather than she/her.

J: Terry is an odd mix of outgoing but not. If things offend him he won’t generally call people out on it. In those situations, he’ll just be like, oh it’s “he”. But he’ll say it once and then after that if people keep using “she” or “her,” he just kind of closes in and won’t talk to them. I think the biggest struggle for him is that when people do that, he feels like he’s been slapped in the face.

On explaining Terry’s gender to Quinn and Rohan

J: We said, “He goes by Terry and he’s a boy.” And [Quinn and Rohan] went, “OK.” Within a day or two, they were using his new name. To the point that friends and family were finding out, and if [the boys’] friends were over and they were using the wrong pronouns or name, they’d be like, “It’s Terry and he’s a he!” They had no problem whatsoever.

T: That was the easiest part.

J: What I had gathered from [Terry] was that he had already been kind of playing with the pronouns and the different name with [friends] before he really came out.

On advice for raising a transgender child

T: Listen to them, talk to them.

J: Follow their lead. A lot of the time, they were already thinking about it. So chances are they’ve already looked up where to find stuff. If they want to go on medication, they’ve already looked up medication and options, for the most part. They’ve already looked at operations if that’s what they want. Talk to them and find out if it is enough that they need to buy new clothes. Or ask them, “Do you want to go see doctors” or “Do you want to get into clinics?”

J: Most of these kids know that they are different. They know that they are not in the right gender. However, it could be many months, even years, before they get to take more steps to feeling more themselves. So find out what they want. Research it, because there is really a whole spectrum. There’s the clear, “I want to be another gender,” and there’s “the gender neutrals.”

T: There are agenders (people who do not identify with a gender) and gender fluids (people whose gender identity varies over time). Terry has moved more towards the gender fluid. He’s put it at 90 per cent male and 10 per cent female. But some days he’ll feel more feminine and will dress that way. Just take what comes and be patient with the youth. Be patient with the process.

T: That’s one thing we made clear to Terry. Medicine doesn’t move that fast. You will be on a waiting list and it will take you at least six months to get to start seeing these processes. Take the time to really determine that this is what you want. Now that we’ve waited, he’s found that yes; he’s more fluid than full-out male.

J: Find groups for yourself. There’s the Parents, families, friends & allies of Toronto’s LGBTQ* community (PFLAG) here in Toronto where you can go and talk to people. It’s one thing to talk to your friends but they don’t quite get it. There are multiple Facebook groups online. Twitter things [too]. One thing that hits me are Facebook memories; there will be comments and pictures and things where I think, that’s not who he is anymore. I can tell my friends but…they don’t really get it. When you go into [the groups], people know and they relate. As parents, you need that because, even as a couple, we react to things differently. This way you can go and you have people in your community that understand.

T: You’ll need to find your own support group and be ready to be an ally for your youth. Talk to them and figure out what they need and talk to other people to see what they’ve done.