The California parents of a 6-year-old transgender child have gone public with their family’s personal story, posting a poignant seven-minute video to YouTube that’s drawn more than 3.5 million views in just a few days.
“Some told us it was ‘just a phase.’ The trouble was, phases end,” notes the video montage about Ryland Whittington, who was born a girl but recently transitioned to male, thanks to his parents’ full support. “This was only getting stronger.”
Ryland, who was born deaf, received cochlear implants and learned to hear and speak shortly after he was a year old. “We thought we had faced our toughest challenges, but Ryland had more to share with us,” the video explains. “As soon as Ryland could speak, she would scream, ‘I am a boy!’”
The video was created and first shared on May 22 at the Annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast in San Diego, a major event that honors the slain LGBT activist and, this year, celebrated the release of the new Harvey Milk commemorative postage stamp. Ryland and his parents, San Diego real estate agents Jeff and Hillary Whittington, received this year’s Inspiration Award at the event, eliciting much applause and many tears from the 1,000-plus attendees.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life,” Ryland told the crowd.
The family declined, through a spokesperson, to be interviewed by Yahoo Shine. But, Jeff told the San Diego LGBT Weekly about the video, “One of the most inspiring things that Harvey Milk had done, as far as our family is concerned, was to encourage people to come out — to let their voices be heard, break down the walls, break down the barriers and start allowing people to see them for their authentic selves and be true to themselves. And this is our coming out… This is us making our voices heard.”
Though 6 may seem very young for a child to know if he or she is transgender, it is “a typical age, because it’s when people develop their gender identity in a real solidified way,” Michigan-based transgender-youth expert and psychologist Antonia Caretto tells Yahoo Shine. She adds that often when parents of transgender children, even teens, come to see her, “They’ll say, ‘But he’s so young!’ And I’ll say, ‘At 13, did you know what gender you are?’”
The montage, which includes photos of Ryland through the years, as well as video footage of him with his younger sister, takes viewers succinctly through the family’s story. It explains that, soon after learning to speak, “Ryland began to display increasing amounts of shame … Through tears she asked ‘Why did God make me like this?’ She may have only been 5 years old, but we needed to start truly listening.”
The montage’s text adds that, after consulting with professionals, the conclusion was that Ryland is transgender. But then came the really scary news. “Through our research, we discovered a disturbing statistic: 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide due to lack of societal acceptance. The national average is 4.6 percent,” the story explains. “We were not willing to take that risk.”
The Whittingtons were advised to allow him to transition to male right away. They cut his hair and changed his room decor, as well as the pronouns they used. In addition, “We sent out a letter to friends and family explaining our change. We lost a few but the people who truly matter stuck by us…We signed up as parents with no strings attached.”
Since posting the video to YouTube, the family has received an avalanche of public attention — something that can be both positive and negative, according to Joel Baum, director of education and training for Gender Spectrum. “An obvious pro is that you’re telling your kid’s story in a way that is proud and celebratory and free of shame,” he tells Yahoo Shine. “Also, every one of these stories opens up the door a little bit more.” Possible tradeoffs are that it opens up a family to criticism from folks who may not understand, Baum says, adding that, “we don’t know how this kid will feel about it being out there in the future.”
However, “It demystifies who these kids and families are,” says Baum. And to those who fault the parents’ decision to allow transition, he adds a warning: “Until you live with or know a kid like this, be careful with the judgment, because most of these families have looked at about every other possibility… This is not an easy road a family is walking down."
More on Yahoo Shine:
Transgender Girl Wins Right to Use Bathroom at Public School
Laverne Cox: 'Being Trans is Beautiful'