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Respecting Your Transgender Child’s Identity - Dr LuLu’s story
Episode 129th April 2024 • Gloriously Unready • Josephine Hughes
00:00:00 00:36:39

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Dr Lulu is a paediatrician and mum of a transgender young person. She specialises in helping other parents of LGBTQ children because she says she got it so badly wrong herself in her family.

In this episode Josephine and Dr Lulu explore the need for self-forgiveness and acceptance as parents. 

As well as understanding how your transformation to a new parental identity is the key to helping your child. 

Please be aware that Dr Lulu uses some strong language in this episode which we have chosen to leave in so that you can hear her share her story in her own authentic way.

Please Note:

Everybody mentioned in this podcast series has agreed for their story to be told.

We are keeping the names of Josephine's children private.

The information contained in Gloriously Unready is provided for information purposes only.

The contents of this podcast are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this podcast. 

Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this podcast. 

Josephine Hughes disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this podcast.



Hi, I'm Josephine Hughes. I'm the mother of two transgender daughters who came out in their teens and early twenties. The personal is political. When I first came across feminist arguments during my sociology degree, I knew my life had changed forever and I would always view society through a different lens. Since then, I've experienced a very personal change when my children came out as transgender. But increasingly, what was personal has become politicised. During my recording of the third series of Gloriously Unready transgender issues have never been far away from the news. Sadly, identity politics are being used as a political football with no real consideration of the impact on transgender people and their families. So, in Gloriously Unready series three, I want to give people a voice to express their love for their transgender children and their transgender partners.

Yet the podcast cannot exist in isolation from the political situation and all my guests describe how they are affected. What I hope from this podcast series is to share that transgender people and their families are just human, just like the rest of us, and worthy of love and support. In this episode, I'm chatting with Doctor Lulu, who is a paediatrician, educator and coach. She's Nigerian, but based in the USA. Doctor Lulu is the mother of two sons and a transgender young adult, and she works to educate families and organisations on accepting, affirming and supporting their LGBTQ children, patients and employees. Before you hear from Doctor Lulu, I want you to be aware that she does use some strong language in the interview. I've kept it in with no bleeping or similar because I want her to tell her story in her words, all of them. But I understand you might not like hearing those words, and if that's the case, it's up to you if you want to keep on listening.

I began my conversation with Doctor Lulu by asking her to share a bit about herself.

Dr Lulu:

First of all, thank you for having me on the show. I think anytime someone else is willing to share their platform with you is always a good thing. So I am Nigerian born, bread buttered and slightly burned in Nigeria, which is one of the maybe most populated as well as the most popular country in West Africa, and also one of the most religious because there are so many people there's a huge variety of religions, but the predominant ones are Islam and Christianity. I come with that as the background that's on my shoulders, and that's where I speak from. I was raised Catholic. I was raised to believe that anything LGBT was bad and hellbound. And as I grew up, I told my dad that I noticed that I'm attracted to women and I'm attracted to men. It's not something that you make yourself do.

Someone else who is straight, who's not attracted to the same sex, you don't make yourself not be attracted. You just are what you are. And I only know that now as I get older. And so I was 16. My dad, in all honesty, meant well when he told me he thought it was a phase, and I believed him because it's kind of what kids do. We believe our parents. Our parents are our guardians, our first loves.

They are our first influencers, which is what I use. I use that term that parents are not only the most important, they are also the most influential persons in their kids' lives. So I believe that. And I went about my business. I was like, okay, this is a phase. It's gonna go away. And, you know, as human beings, you turn down the volume in certain things depending on where you are. So I just turned that all the way down, went on to medical school, and, you know, as I went through medical school, became a young adult, you know, I still had a few people that I was like, yeah, she's kind of cute, but I just said

No, this is not right. Don't do this. And I got much older, got married, which is what I was supposed to do, got married to a man, which is okay, because I'm proudly bisexual. I didn't know that that's what it was called then. I really actually went to an all girls high school, which was a boarding school. And the only thing I knew, the only word I knew was lesbian. So I was like, well, if lesbians only like women, and I don't really only like women, what am I? Well, I'm doomed for hell. That's what I knew for sure. And so I just kind of grew up believing that.

And as I got older, got married to my ex husband, I finally realised that, okay, there's a term called bisexual, and it means, you know, you are attracted. It's an attraction. That's all it is. Most people hear bisexual, and they just assume you're everything poly, right? You're just out there to do all the things. But I'm fiercely monogamous. I have no interest in dating Julia, Susie, and Brandon. I have no interest. If I like Julia, it's Julia.

Until it's no longer Julia as an example. And so I just told my dad again, and this was 26 years later, I said, dad you know, remember that conversation we had? You know, my dad said he never remember. He doesn't remember the conversation. And that is a very high possibility. When we're children, the things we remember are usually the things that are significant, the conversations that maybe traumatised us, things that happened, that made us go, hmm, it may not be what the adults in our lives remember. And I still don't know how to manipulate that, if I may use that term, so that parents will realise that every single thing you say, every single thing you do, no matter your intention, what you must focus on is the impact. And I feel like. And when that hit me, I was like.

And so I want parents to begin by thinking about, what is the impact of everything you say and do concerning your child, on your child.


Yeah. Yeah.

Dr Lulu:

It's a very delicate dance. I certainly did not do it right. Not with the first child, not with the second child. Not with the third child. I was writing in my journal this morning. I was like, I took all the mess I learned from my parents, and I brought it forward to my own children. And so madness is knowing that something isn't working and continuing to do it, expecting it to work. So now I know this is not the way to parent.

Not if your child is gender diverse. Not if your child is not gender diverse. Nothing. If your child is a child, is a child, the way to not parent is to assume that everything you do, no matter your intentions, are okay with the child. And we make the mistake to think that children are irrelevant. They're just small human beings, that they just go with the flow, just feed them and shut them up. But now we are knowing that children actually are their own beings. They are their own individual humans, and they have feelings, they have thoughts, they have emotions.

They know who they are. I knew who I was. Certainly I may not have had the verbiage or the ability to say it, because, you know, we have adult supremacy when we have when we're children. And so I don't even know if that answered your question, but that's where my brain was going, and so that's who I am, in a nutshell.


You've done a lot in terms of youth advocacy and working as well now supporting parents with LGBTQ kids, in particular, trans children. So could you tell us something about what it was like for you, when your child came out as transgender. I read something the other day that you'd written. You said initially when they came out, you had that sort of almost heart sink moment. Is that right? Tell people about it.

Dr Lulu:

Abso-freakin-lutely correct. I must begin the journey towards my parent allyship from before my child was born. Because all parents begin their parenting before their child is born. We have these thoughts, these expectations.


Absolutely. Yeah.

Dr Lulu:

I'm going to have a daughter. She's going to look just like me. She's going to be pretty. We're going to go shopping together. We're going to do all the things right. And then you have the first and you assign the child a male. I want to say that again for those at the back. When your baby is born, you assign the baby's gender based, usually solely on their external genitalia.

And so I and my ex husband, who has passed on, rest his soul, both were over the moon. Because we have a boy and I'm Nigerian and Nigerians. Igbos, my tribe, we absolutely want to have a firstborn male. We don't want to hear anything else. When you have a firstborn male, you are the shiznit. You have arrived as a parent. So we're so happy. And then the child started growing up, and I was like, this child is not acting too masculine now.

What's going on? My ex husband forbade me from even thinking about. Don't say that. Don't think that. And my mother was like, get the holy water. Don't even go there. And I just like, yeah, but the child is acting very feminine. And my poor little heart went out to the kid because I already knew. I said, if this one is gay, I am in trouble because my ex husband is going to blame me for somehow gayfying the child, if that's even a word.

And lo and behold, in today's America, the government is accusing us of grooming our kids. Like, does that even make sense? Hey, son, let me teach you how to be a daughter. Let me teach you how to be a girl. No. Okay. So that said, at twelve, I really had a strong feeling that, okay, the kid is gay. Let's just make that a declaration. And the child was like, I don't know yet.

And that is the danger of also asking directly, are you gay or are you not gay? You know, which is what I did again, something wrong the wrong way. And the kid was like, I don't know. And now I'm thinking it was fear, it was shock. It was like, in your face. So that was like a knee jerk. I don't know. Because you're catholic and I know you're homophobic, and what are you going to think about me? And. Oh, my goodness, right? The child is thinking all that so that I don't know.

And I was like, okay. So I saw, I don't know, as a soft, gentle way of saying, I don't know if you're safe. I don't know if I should tell you. I don't know if you deserve to be invited into my world. Matter of fact, I don't think so. And then at 16, when we're, you know, already way into high school, about to graduate from high school, she didn't really tell me, but I knew from her actions because she joined the gender sexuality alliance, actually helped create it in their high school. So I was like, okay, so I know we're definitely gay, is what I said to myself. But then the kid went off to college, and the first act of defiance and autonomy was blocking me on Twitter.

And then one day, I was able to find her twitter through my own means, and I found they them pronouns.


Oh, wow. Yeah.

Dr Lulu:

I didn't understand it. I didn't even think about it until later on at graduation from Stanford, the announcer was using they, they, this them, they, this them. So I was like, we were. My kid was getting the award of excellence from the College of Arts, and so she also did a solo performance of a flute. It was a big deal. It was virtual. So we were all at home, 2020, and I was like, son, who are all these people? You know, I thought you were the only one getting the award. Who are all these people that this guy is talking about? Who are these they? And then my middle child said, mom, I think it's because they're non-binary.

I'm like, what the fuck is that? What is non binary? And I asked my ex wife, and she was like, I don't know. That's your child. I'm like, I don't know. And truthfully. Truthfully, as God is my witness, I did not. I never heard the term non-binary till that day. And I went into beast mode. Oh, my God.

I thought you were just gay. What the fuck is this? What does that mean? Are you no longer gay? So are you still gay? I mean, I just harassed the poor child. The fact that my kid is alive today is a miracle because I was the worst parent you can imagine. But now I know, looking back, it was all from a place of fear. Oh, my God. What's the world gonna say? They're gonna really think I'm an ogre. They're really gonna think I'm. So I centred myself and my feelings and my emotions and me, me, me, me, which is what we all do as parents.

So I am trying to tell people that if you can learn anything, when they say smart people learn from their mistakes, but smarter people learn from other people's mistakes, learn from my mistakes. Don't put your child through that. Today, she's 25. She's living her best life, and I'm barely in it because of all my sins. Now, adults, young adults, must be allowed to find and fulfil their destiny. I wish I was side by side with her, because I really would have wanted that. Be that as it may, I have learned. And so now I want to make sure that no one else, if I can help it, will make the mistakes.

And as you can see, it begins from my thoughts before the child was born. And the funny thing about it is, one day I was talking about it, and she said, mom, you've always had a daughter.



Dr Lulu:

I was talking about how I really wanted a girl and I got three boys. She was like, you've always had a daughter. And so I just want parents to learn from me. It's not one of those things that it's never going to happen to me because I found out at the age of 20, the child was 20 years old. That's old. That's old for me to find out.


Yeah. I just sort of identify with so much of what you're saying because, you know, for our generation of parents, we didn't talk about this. Like you said, even you didn't even know the word bisexual. To be able to sort of identify yourself and, you know, transgender was just such a. It's certainly for me, as well. It was so out of my experience, I would never, ever have imagined it. And what you're saying about, you know, right before they were born, and you have these expectations, and this is the way it's going to be, and you have what you think is a male child, and then you have all these expectations about what being a male is.

And, you know, I think for a lot of us, we haven't had that understanding of transgender stuff, you know, because, I mean, it's almost sort of like, why didn't I know? Because it just didn't enter our consciousness.

Dr Lulu:

It just didn't enter my consciousness. Exactly. And truly. And I know she accused me. She said, mom, you knew I was trans. I said, I wish you were right. I said, of all the things you say, this one is not true. It's actually not factual.

, just about to become:

And I don't know that we had the verbiage then, but I do appreciate the fact that as we've grown and the world has diversified and just changed, we now do not believe that the earth is flat. I mean, I want us to start with basic concepts that all of us agree on now, but there was a time when that was the way. There was a time when being gay was actually, like, a mental illness. There was a time when being a woman was reduced to just making cookies and being a housewife. So we have to not be cherry pickers when it comes to growth and development. I do get that. When it comes to your child, we have this crazy. I don't even know if crazy is the word I want to use.

We have this insane with six A’'s feeling of ownership. It's my child. I give birth to you, and I get that, but that is actually not healthy. It's toxic, as a matter of fact. And because you know how that felt for you when your parents had that helicopter behaviours, what we call helicopter moms here, we call it helicopter parents. Oh, my God. It's my child, actually. You have issues with something, and you're projecting it on the ownership of your child.

And I'm not. I'm not making a diagnosis because I don't know what the diagnosis is, but we know the truth. And when it's a fact is a fact. You don't have to like it, but it doesn't change it from being the fact. And so I will say, don't seek to understand. Seek to know. Seek the knowledge. And if you know your child is transgender, the person to accept then is yourself and your new identity as a parent of a transgender child, because that's what's in the way.

It's always us in the way. As you know, we can only control ourselves. If you don't believe that, try getting a toddler to eat their broccoli or their spinach. You can't. So, what you do with the toddler is you negotiate. Okay? If you take one bite of your spinach, you can have one sip of your juice, right? And then guess who's happy? Both of you. And so, while this is not a toddler eating spinach, this is life. This is a child that may very well take their own life because you're too busy saying, this is against my morals, this is against my religion, this is against everything I know.

So, we learn a lot of things. One of the things we're learning now is that gender identity is an internalised sense of self. I am the only one that can tell anybody in this world, Josephine, that I'm a girl because I know who I am. You cannot tell me that I'm a girl. You cannot tell me that I'm not a girl. You can tell you that you're a girl or whatever it is that you identify as. As an identity. Now, gender expression is how I now manifest my girlness.

I might want to wear hats one day. I might want to wear a dress. I might want to get a haircut. So there are two. And then the gender as an umbrella term is a societal construct. We know that there was a time in the old aristocratic days when only men wore heels as an expression of their gender. Look it up. Don't say doctor Lulu said it.

Men traditionally wore pink as a colour, as a manifestation of their gender identity. Again, society knows how to morph. It was never a problem for women when men wore pink. Today. Why is it a problem for people if my daughter wants to wear pink? You know what I mean? Like, it's like, come on. Because she's trans. She wants to wear blue. Okay? That's what she wants to wear.

And what I'm saying is we need to shift from the mindset of society believing that they can police everybody. The only person you can truly, effectively police is you.



Dr Lulu:

Let's get you policing yourself.


Yeah. And that really sort of brings me on to. I mean, something that absolutely drives me demented, which is, and particularly, I imagine this does affect you in the US, is politicians trying to police gender and politicians deciding that being transgender is wrong, and the whole discussion around gender identity is wrong, which is what we've got in this country. And I just wonder how that impacts on you, where you are.

Dr Lulu:

Well, I moved from Texas, which is a very. I think it's red. I think that's the colour red state, to Georgia, which is another red state. But I want to mention something that we are forgetting. California is a blue state. It's always been a blue state. It's a traditionally blue state, which means they're mostly democratic. You might say they are more liberal.

You might say they are more liberal. But California is part of America. America is not a blue state as a country. America was created on the backs of blacks and people of colour. America is traditionally not known for its kindness towards the minority, towards those who are disenfranchised. America is not known for that. And I'm speaking about America because that's where I live. Nigeria is the same thing.

The UK is the same thing. I mean, the 16 year old trans girl was killed in the UK. In California, a woman was shot to death in her store because she had an LGBT flag flying. So I'm just giving you all reasons to know that we're not safe anywhere. So I just want to. I love to bring that up because people say, oh, you're Nigerian. That must be really difficult for you to, for your child to be trans and for you to support or for you to be queer.

And I said, I don't need to be in Nigeria to find a difficult life. I'm in America, which I spell with three k's. Life is difficult for me in America, but people are very quick to not see themselves as the, you know, they want to see someone else. No, America is not known for its safety. Otherwise, we will not have the immigrant issue at the border right now. We will not have America supporting wars everywhere. We're not known for being a nice, kind country. So I want us to just be cognizant of that, so that we're not very quick to forget.

That said, we're also, as human beings. The change, the transformation begins from within. And so I want to say to the parent out there who's listening to me, your transformation begins from within. I don't care who the governor is. I don't care who they are. They're not you. They're not the most important and most influential person in your child's life. You are.

a community on Facebook with:

And when somebody comes with a left sided thinking. We're quick to gently but firmly correct them. Because if you want change, you have to be the change.



Dr Lulu:

You can't say you want to change something but insist on it first. It's like it doesn't add up that math is not mathing. So. But the good news is we cannot, and I think that's the best part of my story, is that we must not beat ourselves up too much and we must move forward. That's why I love life coaching. Coaching is about moving forward. And so if I keep beating up myself, I will not be able to wake up in the morning and do the work. So beat yourself if you want to, but I say be done with it already because there's work to be done, so much work to be done.

Because if you also start beating up yourself, you again are making it about you. You again are frozen in the mindset of. But I had to get it right. Listen, what's done is done.


Yeah, yeah. I find that's something I find quite hard, actually, is the, you know, the looking back and sort of thinking, oh, I did do that wrong, or, you know, and doing that sort of beating myself up, I think that's quite, I suppose it's quite a common thing that a lot of us tend to do.

Dr Lulu:

And what I want to do as a life coach, as a parents coach, is to give you permission for self forgiveness because that's toxic also. And remember that when it comes to forgiveness, it's always about the person forgiving. It's never about the person being forgiven. And so you are forgiving your younger self, you are forgiving your younger parent, you are in fact forgiving yourself of all the. This is not the only wrong you've committed. This is not the only wrong thing you've done. And that's why I want us to focus on that. If you've done many wrong things in your life, you have, just because you are human.

So do not hyper focus on this one wrong. If you can forgive yourself of all the other wrongs and if you haven't, begin today so you can move forward so you can have no more physical pain and emotional pain. And actually what that does is drive a bigger wedge between you and yourself and between both of you and your child. Just keep, just beg for forgiveness. Give them time to decide to forgive you or not. That's their prerogative. But begin by self forgiveness so you can start making reparations. And maybe in my case, my reparation is helping other parents.

I may never get it right again, because it's already done. It's passed. That's it. I get teary eyed when I talk about that, but I must move forward. And my way of moving forward is helping other parents. That is self compassion, that is emotional intelligence. That is saying, okay, this house that I built was of straw is destroyed, but I get to decide today to build another house, and this time of bricks. It's an intentional thing.

It's a very delicate thing. It's a thing that I must do for me, myself, and I. So that another child, again, my focus as a paediatrician and as a parent coach is always going to be on the child. Yes, I help parents, but my focus as a paediatrician, for goodness sakes, is the child. When you come with your child, who has a headache and a sore throat, my job is to tell you that this headache, fever and sore throat is strep throat. But my focus is the child getting better. And so my job is to build a bridge between the child getting better and you. So you give the medicine, you let them gargle with warm salt water, you take them out of school. While my work is fundamentally with parents, my impact is on the child ultimately.

So no other child will go through what my child went through because of me and their ex father, who has now passed on.


So for you, from what I'm hearing you saying, is, you know, really, you know, focus on what you can do.

Dr Lulu:



In yourself to change. And, you know, sort of going back to what you're saying about understanding as well. I think sometimes as parents, it's not even, we don't actually have to understand. We just have to accept. We just have to accept.

Dr Lulu:

Exactly. But I want to reiterate, for those at the back, a lot of times we now use the fact that we don't understand as a weapon.



Dr Lulu:

So I want us to remove that word and replace it with knowing the knowledge. My second TED talk I mentioned that I said is, do not seek to understand, but seek to know that this is your child. This is who your child is. You will eventually understand why you struggled with that. And that's not you, it's society. So I'm very quick to deflect that. I want parents to know that you did not create this knowledge. You did not create religion, you did not create Christianity, you did not create the rules of Islam, you did not create any rules out there.

But you can perpetuate the rules. You can be a guardian of the rules, you can be a deliverer of the rules. But when it comes to your child and their gender diversity, you have to bring it in. And now ask yourself, why would your child choose something like this? Because parents always say, well, it's a choice. And my dad thought it was a phase. It's not a phase. It's not an act. It's not a choice.

There's no agenda. Your child is not out to get you. It just is the way the world is round. The first thing to do is ask yourself, what thoughts do I have about the LGBTQ community? And where did that thought come from? When your thought is, I think they're going to hell, then where did that thought come from? It didn't come from your child who is queer. And one of the things I want to say, before I forget, is, if you are not transgender, you have no right, no standing to tell someone that they are not. If you're not black, you can't have a thought about black people or blackness. If you're not a woman, you can't have a thought about womanhood or their body or their vagina or what they do with their uterus because you're not a woman. I want us to just look at where the toxicity is coming from and address it.

When they say knowledge is power, they didn't say understanding is power. The phrase said, knowledge is power. And that's why, knowing that transgender people have always existed, we're now beginning to know more about them. And that's kind of all I have for you, Josephine.


Yeah, it's brilliant.

Dr Lulu:

Thank you so much.


There's so much in there that what you've shared today really, really is. I think there's something around what you said about, you know, people say to me, it must be difficult being Nigerian. And you say, yeah, but it's difficult being in America. You know, it might be difficult being in the UK. And I just think that's a really interesting sort of way of looking at it. A way of handling what can be a very difficult situation for people is just acknowledging that it is difficult wherever you are, really. But we can be the change. And I think that's what you're saying.

Dr Lulu:

I think we can be the change. I think we are the change. I think we need to go from a state of change is out there in the horizon. There's someone over there who needs to change. I don't need to change, too. Change is me. I am change. I am change.

Present, continuous. I will be future, but I am change. Don't worry about the government. They're going to find someone to agitate. But your child is not worried about the government. Your child is worried about you. And that, to me, is the critical point.


Yes. Yeah. Thank you. That's brilliant. Thank you so much. So it's just been wonderful to speak to you. You've got so much to offer people, you know, and so much help for all of us families who are out there. So thank you so much for being here. Thank you. Thanks so much.

What really spoke to me about Doctor Lulu's interview is the responsibility of us as parents to look within, to ask what is motivating our own behaviour. Sometimes parents say they don't understand or that they struggle to use their child's new names or pronouns. While that may be true, do parents have the right to deny their adult child's identity on the basis of their own pain or ignorance? Is it internalised transphobia? As Doctor Lulu said, we can be the change if we're willing, we can change ourselves. Because let's face it, it's pretty difficult to change someone else.



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