Mom Opens Up About Raising 5-Year-Old Son Who Is Transgender: 'I Want People to Understand'
EJ Torrisi may be young, but if you ask his mom Emily, she says her son "is exactly who he is meant to be."
The 5-year-old child, of Howell, New Jersey, was assigned female at birth, his mom tells PEOPLE. But EJ identifies as male — something Emily, 25, finds to be completely natural after watching him develop over the last few years.
"Kindergarten is, for sure, a young age for any child to make their own choices, but this isn't like picking a sport, not liking it and moving on. This is my kid's personality," says Emily, who first shared her family's story with the Asbury Park Press newspaper. "You can tell once EJ had a voice to make his own opinion on clothing and how he wanted to look and express himself, his whole attitude changed."
"He is happier," she adds. "As a parent, you watch your kids learn and grow every single day and when doing so, you are watching them become their own person. This is the person EJ is becoming. It just fits."
In sharing her son's story, Emily hopes that others will become more accepting of transgender children, regardless of their age.
"I want people to see how young a person can be when they start to feel this way, and it's okay," she says. "I want more people to open their eyes to be accepting or understanding of how a person feels inside. I want people to understand that whether it's a kid or an adult, everyone has feelings and emotions and everyone is entitled to make their own choices."
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Emily says she and her husband, Alfio Torrisi, noticed that EJ was gravitating towards "boys toys, like trucks, cars, dinosaurs and PAW Patrol" at a very young age.
"Then, around 2 ½, if you took EJ shopping, he always asked for the boy shirts," she recalls. "At 3, in Target one day, EJ asked me if he was allowed to buy boys' boxers."
"Once 3½-4 hit, EJ refused anything that was girly," continues Emily, who also has three daughters and a fifth child on the way.
Emily admits it was "kind of confusing during the beginning stages" for both her and Alfio, but they trusted their parental instincts and followed their child's lead.
"I went with the flow because, at the end of the day, a shirt is just a shirt and toys are toys," she explains. "But as time went on, you could see what your kid is happy and comfortable in."
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Emily says it was very clear that her child identified as male by the time EJ reached pre-school, recalling how "you would start to notice EJ correcting you if you used his birth name."
"He would correct you and say, 'It's EJ,' " she adds.
Though she was "extremely nervous about schools and peers," Emily says EJ's teacher was incredibly supportive and "let nothing be uncomfortable for him."
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That positive experience extended to kindergarten, where Emily says she and the principal developed "an entire plan" for her son to feel comfortable at school.
"As a parent, I still worry about playdates with friends and parties, but so far I can't complain," Emily says. "He's gotten so much love from everybody."
Though she knows not everyone will show that love, Emily says she wouldn't change a thing about letting EJ be himself.
"Honestly, I wouldn't fully understand it either until I saw it with my own eyes," she says. "But if you're going to hate on what makes a person feel comfortable in their lifetime, then just keep moving. Don't say nasty things, don't make a person question themselves. It's not your skin to live under, it's theirs, and they were born to make their own journey... You will teach them strength in being proud of the person they are."
"EJ was born for this and so many people have given him so much love and acceptance. That is a beautiful thing to see and witness," she continues. "The world can get so ugly sometimes... everybody has their own thoughts and beliefs, but you need to just worry about you and your own family, not anybody else."
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As she looks ahead, Emily is excited to see what the future holds for her son and hopes that he'll stay true to himself along the way.
"I hope he follows his dreams and never stops. I hope he continues to stand up for himself," she says. "I hope when something does knock him down, and things will 'cause that's life, that he just reflects on it and keeps moving."
"There will always be negativity, there will always be haters," she adds. "But he also will always have a support system and people who love him, and that's what matters."
To learn how you can be an ally for people who identify as transgender, visit GLAAD's website here.