Parents Open Up About Helping People Embrace Their 12-Year-Old Son's Identity as Transgender

"I had always thought of myself as a progressive person," mom Lizette Trujillo tells PEOPLE in this week's Pride Issue. "But there were parts of this that were really confusing."

coming out stories 2020 - trujilo family
Photo: Caitlin O'hara

Four years ago, Lizette and Jose Trujillo's child told them, "I’m not who you thought I was. I’m a boy."

“He was 8. Immediately, all of those expectations I built around someone had to fall away," Lizette tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Pride. "I had to open myself to actually getting to know who my child is.”

It was Daniels' friend who “kind of outed him,” Lizette, 40, says.

The friend referred to Daniel — who at the time went by a different name corresponding to his birth gender — as "him," and his friend's mother corrected him.

"His friend looked at us and said, 'No, he's a he,'" Lizette recalls. "When we got back into the car, I asked Daniel, 'Is this how you see yourself?'"

Daniel was clear, remembers Lizette: "I know my body's wrong. In my insides and in my brain, I'm a boy."

Daniel was out as a transgender. Next, the entire family started the process of coming out. A different school was needed in their Tucson suburb. Family needed to be told. (Some would not be accepting; they are kept away from Daniel for the time being.)

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All the while, Lizette and her husband were wondering how they couldn’t have known. Then they realized they really did.

"We had seen gender nonconforming behavior from the time Daniel was 2," Lizette says. "The way that he would draw himself. How he saw himself. He wanted to be Aladdin and Astro Boy."

They initially saw Daniel as perhaps a tomboy.

"He would dress up in his dad's clothing and puff out his chest and say, 'I’m a knight in shining armor,'" Lizette says.

It was the first time Daniel left home for school that he experienced pushback.

"Kindergarten was tough because it was the first time he was told, 'No, you can’t be Buzz from Toy Story because you’re a girl,'" Lizette remembers.

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"I had always thought of myself as a progressive person," adds Lizette. "But there were parts of this that were really confusing. I felt like, um, how did this happen? This feels surreal. I'm now shopping in the boys' section. What if people notice?"

Her husband comes from a more conservative, Catholic background.

"But more than anything, this impacted our idea of the American dream," says Lizette. "We’re immigrants who are going to excel in the world. That is our mindset. And when my child told me, 'I know my body's wrong,' it knocked the wind out of me. I was very aware of the fact that his rights were very unknown. That the world isn't safe for trans-people."

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Says 38-year-old Jose, “My son deserves to live in a world that is safe and free of discrimination.”

Lizette is committed to letting Daniel decide next steps. He has to do chores, his homework and eat his vegetables. But as for his identity, that is up to him.

"We loved him when I thought the world would be challenging for him and we will love him if the world isn't," she says.

As for Daniel, he’s a very normal 12-year-old boy, with lots of stuff going on.

"Being transgender is just a small part of me," he says.

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