When Ryland Whttington came into the world seven years ago, the beautiful baby daughter of San Diego couple Jeff and Hillary Whittington, the parents believed — as all good parents do — that their child was special. They didn’t know how special — and they didn’t know that their own story would prove the amazing affect that parental love and unconditional support can have on a child.
Ryland was born with severe hearing problems. At the age of one, she needed hearing implants. The hearing issues and subsequent surgery delayed Ryland’s ability to speak. But some of the very first words she said, when she finally learned to talk, came as a surprise, to put it mildly, to the Whittington parents.
“I am a boy,” said the little girl.
The couple had done everything that most couples do for little girls. They outfitted her in cute little dresses, painted her bedroom pink — but little Ryland simply knew, she was a he. After a few years, the Whittington’s could no longer dismiss Ryland’s stated identity as just a juvenile phase.
Not after the girl started saying things like, “When the family dies, I will cut my hair so I could be a boy,” and “Why did God make me like this?”
Jeff and Hillary Whittington began to take their daughter seriously. They read everything about transgender issues they could, and spoke with medical professionals. They came to accept that their little girl was actually their little boy, and all they wanted was what any parent should want — for their child to be happy.
When they read that 41 percent of transgender kids attempt suicide at some point, they decided to allow Ryland to live as a boy. The cut the child’s long blonde hair into a more traditionally masculine style, bought boys’ clothes, and began referring to Ryland as “he.”
Not all of their friends were on board. Some flat-out refused to change the gender of the pronouns they used around Ryland, who was then five years old, or to treat him as a boy. But the Whittingtons were undeterred.
“Relative to the horrific things people have to endure with their children all over the world, this is nothing,” they said.
To them, Ryland was now what Ryland always said he was. A boy.
“Ryland’s gender identity was not caused by our parenting style, family structure or environmental factors,” they say in the seven minute video below.
They created the touching and inspirational film for last week’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast in San Diego, where they were honored for the love and support they gave Ryland through the gender transition.
Their seven-minute video has been viewed more than 7.6 million times since it went online. View the short film on this page, above.
UPDATE: Ryland’s touching story, and the story of how his family ultimately supported him, became the subject of “Raising Ryland,” a 15-minute documentary in June of 2015 — a documentary so moving that it was showcased by CNN. That film and the CNN story that accompanied it can be seen at this link.
“We are overwhelmed with the kind, loving messages from many people,” the Whittington parents said. “While this journey has been difficult at times, we have come to a place where our family is ready to come out and try to help other families facing similar situations. Our hope is that by sharing our story, we can begin to make the world a more loving place where people can be their authentic selves.”
Take a few minutes to watch the moving story of Ryland Whittington, who is now seven, and his incredible parents.