Entrepreneur Cindy Barshop on What It Is Like to Raise a Transgender Twin

Cindy Barshop with her two kids, Zoe Barshop Jesse Barshop

Cindy Barshop

Cindy Barshop is a former "Real Housewife of New York," founder of VSPOT Medi-Spa, founder of Completely Bare, and mother to Jesse and Zoe. Here, as told to Elizabeth Narins, she shares in her own words what her experience has been like raising a transgender child.

“Mom, I want a do-over,” one of my twins told me on a walk months after their fifth birthday. “God made a mistake [on me]. I want to come back as a boy.” (My twins are now 11 years old.)

Although it wasn’t until later that I learned of the remarkably high suicide rates among trans children, I thought on my toes in the moment.

I am not sure where I got this, but I went on to mumble something about taking special vitamins to do the trick, which brought about some comfort. By the time we got home, I knew one thing for certain: My child was 100% transgender. And I would give my support, 100%. 

My child was 100% transgender. And I would give my support, 100%.

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Back to the Beginning

I was 46 years old when I found out I was pregnant with twins. After an egg donation and eight rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), I didn’t care about my babies' sexes. All I wanted was to have healthy children of my own by any means. I wanted it even more than I wanted to marry their biological father, to whom I was engaged at the time.

I was scheduled for a planned C-section, the only option due to my age. In the time leading up to it, I decorated the twins’ nursery with bright colors, peace signs, and flowers. I warned my friends not to send gifts that were pink, a hue I was not into at the time, ahead of my due date. (They didn't listen.)

After delivery, I spent several days in the intensive care unit due to complications from preeclampsia but left the hospital overjoyed with two new souls in matching pink-and-blue-striped hats.

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I had picked out the name Zoe for one twin, but because my ex-fiance would not let me choose both names, I surrendered my second pick (Charlie) and settled for a unisex alternative: Jesse. Little did we know how much this choice would matter as our baby grew up to identify as a boy. 

Identity from Infancy 

Jesse, who now uses the pronouns he/him, was bald for so long that I never had the chance to play hairstylist—a good thing since he’d snatch away the bows I would try to pin in his hair instantaneously. Dresses were not well-received, either.

At my brother’s destination wedding, when the twins were 2-and-a-half, Jesse fought me hard on the white dress he was supposed to wear down the aisle. I promised it would be the last time he would ever have to wear a dress. I kept my word.  

I often think of this video of Jesse and Zoe when they were toddlers. Zoe comes out on our terrace wearing every piece of jewelry I own, while Jesse scurries toward her with a football that she does not even try to catch.

As their parent, it was clear to me that they were different from one another.

Zoe was a very girly girl. By comparison, Jesse's body language always seemed drastically different, whether they were running or playing. While Zoe would lean in to talk to her friends, Jesse would stand sideways at a distance throughout his conversations. It was hard to avoid reverting to gender stereotypes and cliches when observing the twins, but as their parent, it was clear to me that they were different from one another.

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In those days, I did not know what to call Jesse besides a tomboy. “Like Mommy was,” I would tell him as he made requests, such as asking for boys’ underwear at age 2-and-a-half.

I use the term "transition" loosely. For Jesse, there was no coming out party—just a constant dialogue and understanding that he gravitated towards boys' clothes and refused his shirt in the summertime. That said, his "transition" was slow. By the time he began kindergarten, Jesse was asking to be called “him” and “he.” 

Parenting a Transgender child

To be clear, there is a difference between knowing your kid and being a pushover. When Jesse told me he wanted to change his name to John, I said no—like almost any parent would. But understanding Jesse's gender identity is not being a pushover. Nevertheless, people have told me they can’t believe how well I have navigated Jesse’s insistence that he was meant to be a boy. To be honest, I can’t imagine responding without support. This is my baby. 

I loved my child so much I didn’t want him to be different. I wanted him to be himself.

There was just one time I remember crying to a friend that I was scared—scared that Jesse would be bullied or end up dead like Hillary Swank in "Boys Don’t Cry," a film about a trans boy who was killed.

My friend said, "OK, let’s imagine a world where I have a magic wand that can change Jesse into a girly girl. You would have a whole new Jesse." But that didn’t feel right. I loved my child so much I didn’t want him to be different. I wanted him to be himself.

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Stopping Puberty

As a parent, I have realized I am the one with the power to make things easier on my child. It is why we started seeing Caroline Salas-Humara, MD, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health who works with LGBTQ+ youth, when Jesse was just 7 or 8. When he turned 10, she put Jesse on hormone blockers to help us get ahead of puberty, which can be traumatic for trans children, as they grow into a body they do not identify with. Without hormone blockers, Jesse could develop breasts that he would later want to remove. 

The biggest side effect of these drugs is on fertility. With this course of treatment, Jesse may not be able to carry a baby—a concern we have definitely discussed. "Who cares?" I tell him, reflecting on my fertility journey. "If you want a baby, there are so many different ways."

It is important to speak to your child's healthcare provider before starting any hormone treatment plans.

While I know Jesse wants to be a boy, legally, he is not old enough to start taking testosterone until his early teens. (The legal age depends on which state you live in.) I wish it could be sooner since the hormone blockers will stunt his maturity, which could isolate him from peers who start feeling sexual attraction.

So far, though, Jesse’s transgender journey and hormone therapy has nothing to do with sexual maturity or sexuality. It is about his identity and helping him embrace who he is. And for what it is worth, Jesse has always told me he likes girls, but recently says he is bisexual—to which his sister teased, “Is there any letter in LGBTQ that you’re not?”

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Coming Out About My Trans Kid

When I first used my platform as a former "Real Housewife of New York" to speak out about Jesse’s gender to People.com in 2019, it was at his request. He wanted me to respond to a comment made by Mario Lopez, who said parents should wait until their kids’ formative years before making declarations about their gender. (Lopez later issued an apology.) 

I never worried that being vocal would make it difficult for Jesse to pass as a man later in life since he takes pride in being trans—and it is not something he particularly wants to hide. The challenge is determining when to share his truth. Otherwise, he feels like he is lying. While I don’t exactly have a roadmap as a parent of a transgender child, I tell him he should not feel like he has to tell anyone but should share when he is comfortable.

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Speaking of, I still worry he will be bullied when he goes to new places. I actually decided not to send him to a large, week-long skateboarding camp because I worried he would not have the emotional support he needed if kids gave him a hard time for being trans. When I enroll him in new activities, I typically let administrators know—I never want it to be a surprise. That said, I usually follow Jesse’s lead on who to tell since it is his life. He’s living it.

Being a Twin

At times, I have asked Jesse’s twin Zoe whether having a trans brother has been hard for her. “Nope,” she says, probably because she does not remember a time when she looked at her twin as another little girl. 

It also probably helps that their mother is the CEO of VSPOT, a vaginal medi-spa with the informal motto, “Anyone with a vulva is welcome.” After all, I have always been very open with my kids about penises and vaginas. We have definitely looked up how to say "penis" in every language! They know nothing is off-limits to discuss, and that every person should be allowed to be who they are.

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Believe it or not, Jesse does not talk about his gender that often. Although he is in therapy, he spends the time talking about normal kid things like general anxiety, particularly around COVID-19. I used to take the twins to a family transgender support group, but Jesse could not stand it, and it was hard for me to sit among parents who felt so sorry for themselves for having transgender kids. He just does not want to go to places where he feels different or be set up on playdates with other transgender kids.

The Best I Can Do

If there is one thing I have done right—and I know this for sure—is that I have never made them feel like they have to hold anything in or be anything besides themselves.

I will admit I am not the best mom when it comes to certain things. My kids do not go out much because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t control them half the time, and they won't walk the dog!

If there is one thing I have done right—and I know this for sure—is that I have never made them feel like they have to hold anything in or be anything besides themselves. I have done everything I can to give Jesse confidence while he is young, and right now, he is thriving.

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  1. Wiepjes CM, den Heijer M, Bremmer MA, et al. Trends in suicide death risk in transgender people: results from the Amsterdam Cohort of Gender Dysphoria study (1972-2017)Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2020;141(6):486-491. doi:10.1111/acps.13164