One day my child told me she wasn’t a boy, and the girl inside of me called out in recognition.
I am not a childcare professional, doctor, or psychiatrist. I am just a parent to a child who was fearless and joyful in expressing that she was different than what the world told her she was. It reminded me that I also wasn’t what people thought I was. My childhood trauma made me keep pretending out of fear that the enemies that bullied me at school would return if I let my inner girl express herself.
As far back as I can remember, I always knew something about me was different than the other boys. I wasn’t interested in what they were interested in. I only made friends with other girls, played with girls’ toys and thought of myself as a girl. Yet I was a boy. Observing my child repeat the same behaviours and thought patterns woke up the girl inside me. I was suppressing her to ensure my daughter would not be subject to a lifetime of emotional trauma and confusion like I have been.
It took me 40 years to unravel all the lies I kept telling myself to quiet the voices shouting inside of me, the same voices I once listened to as a child that attracted enemies into my life. But after a panic attack at an airport in 2016, I decided to let those voices speak to me again and to listen and no longer mute my truth.
I am a non-binary person and my sexuality is straight. I am a woman on the inside and a man on the outside. I can be fluid with my gender and identity. There may have been a moment in my childhood when, with the right support, I might have wanted to transition completely to a woman. But without examples in my life or the media I consumed, that was never an idea I could have imagined. So, I kept those thoughts to myself and created my own imaginative world: I called it Domdie, and it was a world filled with invisible friends that helped me to process and manage my own mental health and identity struggles.
I grew up in the 80s in Ireland – a country that was controlled by the Catholic church. Every element of society was prescribed by leaders with zero tolerance for anyone who deviated from what was dictated by a book three thousand years ago. This made my childhood experience very difficult. I didn’t have the kind of parents like my child does so I was alone to wonder why I was a mistake and why my thoughts were wrong. I wondered: if I was created by the same God who said my thoughts and feelings were wrong, then maybe I need to be recalled and reset.
It’s always easier to look back and see the obvious. But in the moment, things don’t always present themselves so clearly. My daughter was at a girl at home. But when we went outside the house or when she attended school she would switch back into a boy. Slowly, she started to become two people. There was this carefree and happy girl but also this sad and anxious boy. The boy was shy and hid behind their sister, floated through school with few social experiences. The friends they wanted were being pulled away from them and they were expected to create relationships with other boys, something they had no interest in. She started to say to me she didn’t want to go to school anymore, she just wanted to stay home. I didn’t see – then – the connection to her gender dysmorphia that I do now. Her young mind connected her identity with her location, a girl at home, a boy outside the house.
And then, in 2020 the world stood still. Schools closed and we were told to stay at home. My daughter said to me “does this mean I get to be a girl all the time now?” So, for the next year she became a single identity, a girl. And I decided to write a book about my experiences as a child in the hopes my story could help someone who was lost like I was, like she was.
When the schools finally reopened and it was time to leave the house, my daughter told me she didn’t want to go back to being a boy outside. She wanted to remain a girl all the time. That morning I handed her one of her sisters’ uniforms and said put this on. I would love to tell you it was smooth sailing, and everyone was accepting, but that was not the case. The next year was a struggle, but a battle that I was willing to endure for the prize was my child’s happiness. On a deeper level I also felt that I was fighting for my younger self. I had no champion willing to stand up for me like that when I was a child.
It’s now 2022 and things are much better. She is accepted as a girl in her school, she has many friends and other parents have learned to see her as one of the girls. She uses the pronouns of She / Her and has since changed her name, too. You can see some videos on the subject on my TikTok and Instagram. (@jonathanjoly) It started off as something I did with her because she would come home from school upset because of what certain people were saying to her. I wanted to show her a positive representation of those outside conventional gender norms. I knew she and I were not alone in how we felt. What I didn’t expect was the level of response we received – not hundreds or thousands, but tens of millions of people viewed and applauded us. She felt seen and validated, so thank you if you were one of those who left a nice comment and made my daughter happy.
I get asked a lot what I will do if I am wrong, if this is just a discovery phase and she might regret this later on. I have asked her this, and she currently tells me it will never happen. But we have put something in place for her, she knows where the boy is, and if she ever wants to go and get him and become him again she can. She knows her parents will love her regardless of her identity or gender. A boy, a girl, or neither, she will always be my child and the same goes for my other three children. I love them all equally and each of them will be an individual and have their own obstacles to overcome. But they will know, having seen how we supported their sister, that there are no restrictions in our house. This is also why I believe in educating young children about all the different ways they can live their lives.
Life doesn’t need to be rigid. Not only does this lesson help communities feel validated, but also stops certain groups from discriminating and using them to hurt our children. This is something I will never stop fighting.
In 2009, Jonathan Joly and his wife Anna Saccone created YouTube videos about their lives from their small flat in Cork, Ireland. Over the next twelve years, as the couple married, had children and moved to the UK, they became one of YouTube’s most beloved families. Across their social channels they now have over 7 million devoted followers and friends. All My Friends Are Invisible is Jonathan’s first book.
Connect with Jonathan Joly by visiting Instagram.com/jonathanjoly, Twitter.com/jonathanjoly, Facebook.com/