The Next Chapter

Why Michelle Alfano says loving, accepting and supporting trans kids is so important

Michelle Alfano's memoir, The Unfinished Dollhouse, attempts to unpack some of the conflicted emotions she experienced as the mother of a trans child.
Michelle Alfano is the author of The Unfinished Dollhouse, a memoir about her experience as the mother of a transgender child. (Rob Alfano/Cormorant Books)

A few years ago Michelle Alfano's teenager came out as transgender. Michelle has had to go through her own transition as a parent of her beloved child. The story of that transition is told in her memoir The Unfinished Dollhouse: A Memoir of Gender and Identity. This interview originally aired on Jan. 8, 2018.

Conflicted feelings

"Initially, The Unfinished Dollhouse started as an anonymous blog because I was coping with conflicted feelings about what was happening. Then I began to share it with family and friends that I thought were sympathetic — to test the waters — because I was very nervous about how they would react. Eventually I saw it as possibly a 'how-not-to' manual for the parents of trans kids because I had stumbled so often and made mistakes and did things that alienated my son." 

Light bulbs and acceptance

"When I was thinking about writing the book, I thought about the genesis of trying to force Frankie into a pattern of behaviour that he was not comfortable with. I remembered that on his fourth birthday, my husband and I had purchased this beautiful dollhouse kit and I was so excited at the idea of Frankie and I building the kit together.

"I had this whole fantasy about what this dollhouse was going to be and consequently what Frankie was supposed to be. He had absolutely no interest in the dollhouse. But when he finally came out at 16 all the lights went on like, 'Oh that's why he said this and that's why this happened.'"

The importance of support

"All of this information came flooding in. It's like he had been trying to tell me for so long, even though he maybe didn't even understand, himself, what his true situation was and I wasn't hearing him. I don't want to play 'happy families' with the situation because I don't think that helps other parents of trans kids. I've met a number of parents of trans kids; they are desperate to help their children, but have conflicted feelings.

"Those feelings are valid, they should be recognized and acknowledged and then we need to move on. We're the frontline of defence for these kids — if you're not there for him, bad things start to happen. I've seen it in Frankie's network of friends — kids that fall by the wayside because they do not have the support."

Michelle Alfano's comments have been edited and condensed.