Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) made headlines in February for the seemingly simple act of tweeting a message of love for his grandchild, an 8-year-old girl who happens to be transgender. Now Honda's daughter and son-in-law, Travis Phillips and Michelle Honda-Phillips, are telling others about the experience of raising a transgender child.
"Her name wasn't always Malisa," Honda-Phillips told NBC Nightly News. "She chose her name when she was very young. It just felt right to her."
Honda-Phillips said she and her husband noticed something unique about their child at just 18 months old. "She always wanted to role-play as the girl," Honda-Phillips recalled to NBC. "All her toys and all her presents were always from the girls' section, you know, everything was pink. Her self-portraits have always been with long hair and as a princess. She's always wearing a dress in her self-portraits."
The parents always accepted their child for who she is, even though doing so wasn't always easy. "It's a hard thing to go through, because... you want to be supportive of your child, let them do what they want, explore, express themselves," Phillips admitted. "But at the same time, you think, 'Okay, what are other people going to think, right? How are they going to react?'"
"It was a challenge to get there, to not care about what people thought," Honda-Phillips affirmed.
Rather than act defensively or combat their daughter's wishes, the parents chose to educate themselves instead. Eventually, Honda-Phillips said, "it all clicked."
The couple likely learned that being transgender was not a "phase" for their daughter, but rather — as studies confirm — a consistent gender identity. And allowing their daughter to express her gender identity made a world of difference for the whole family.
"They didn't understand at first, then they started to understand and let me be who I was," 8-year-old Malisa told NBC.
"It was almost like night and day," Phillips recalled of his daughter's transition. "She became who she is on the outside and everybody is now recognizing that. She felt so much better because now that weight is lifted, that stress, that frustration."
Their only regret, Honda-Phillips admitted, was the thought that their daughter "lived so long as someone she didn't feel she was inside. We never wanted our children to be anything other than who they believe they are."
Today, they are living proof that when every member can be the most authentic version of themselves, the entire family benefits. As Phillips put it to NBC, "She's a happy kid and that's the biggest thing I know I want, is for her to be happy."
Malisa's situation is unfortunately not the norm: As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, for example, largely due to the rejection of their family. Malisa and her family are showing what it looks like to accept transgender children for who they are, and setting an incredible example for what will hopefully one day be the norm.