Pride 2014 parents: Fiona Chen on being a parent of a transgender child
Vancouver mother Fiona Chen knew in the first few years that the child she thought was a daughter wasn’t like other little girls.
At the age of three, this child adamantly refused to wear skirts. Dolls went untouched. And when the family visited Toys “R” Us, the toddler headed straight for the boys’ section and played with trucks.
Chen told the Georgia Straight over the phone from her home that she wasn’t overly concerned at the time because girls can grow up to be construction workers, crane operators, or engineers.
“I never believed in these gender boundaries and such strict rules that girls should wear a skirt and boys should not play with dolls,” she said.
Eventually, Chen realized that her child was gender-nonconforming, and at the age of 10, he publicly declared that he wanted to be called a boy.
Chen asked that the Straight not publish her photo or identify her son by name. That’s because when she appeared in the news media after speaking to the Vancouver school board about revising its sexual orientation and gender identities policy, she was recognized by some students at her son’s school.
Her son is still 10 years old and is in elementary school. “It created an unpleasant situation for my son,” she said.
She and her husband didn’t attend the June 16 meeting at which trustees voted by a 7–2 margin to amend the sexual orientation and gender identities policy.
Chen said the family was sitting at home when someone sent them a video clip with the news. She called it “a major morale booster” for the family.
“We were all in tears,” she said. “My son had a big smile on his face. He knew that he’s supported.”
The vote ensures that students in Vancouver public schools can choose bathrooms and change rooms in accordance with their gender expression.
Complaints of bullying on the basis of gender expression will be investigated, and students who are experiencing gender-identity issues can discuss them with school officials in confidence.
“I know we are lucky because we have a really, really, really supportive principal,” Chen said emphatically. “I couldn’t ask for a better one, really. She’s wonderful.”
The Taiwan-born Chen obtained a degree in social work in Taipei before immigrating to Canada.
She said that in high school, she was a voracious reader who was keenly interested in social justice. By her first year in university, she firmly believed that gay, lesbian, and transgender people weren’t being treated fairly.
“Nobody has the right to put these people in a dark corner and label them,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
She acknowledged that her Taiwanese heritage has likely made her more liberal-minded than some immigrants from China.
That’s because Taiwan is a democracy with a free media and a vibrant arts and culture scene. Over the centuries, Taiwan has been influenced by Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese colonizers, as well as by the arrival of a huge number of Chinese people from the mainland after the Second World War.
“I think that Taiwan has the most Chinese values,” Chen said. “Because in China, they lost [these values] through the Cultural Revolution.”
She claimed that many opponents of the board of education’s policy were from China and suggested they may have been fearful because they misunderstood the policy.
She blamed part of this on a poor Chinese translation of a teachers’ handbook, which left some parents with the mistaken impression that their children were going to be shown videos depicting sex.
“I’m not criticizing them,” Chen said. “It’s a fact that there was a lot of misinformation there.”
In closing, Chen said she’s troubled by “frightening comments” she’s seen on websites about the board’s policy.
“So how can we reach to the other side and make them have a better understanding?” she asked. “That’s my main concern. The hurt and the anger is still there. We have to deal with it. Otherwise, it’s not beneficial to anybody.”