Well, I suppose it’s time I started blogging about all of this.
Where to begin?
Just over five years ago, I had my first (and only) child. A boy! Cool! Boys love their moms, right? He’d be a hip, feminist guy like his dad, who loved Legos and martial arts and sci-fi but could cook, too. And I’d also be able to avoid all those icky Disney Princesses.
My son was barely three years old when he informed me that I’d got it wrong. Silly me: I’d been fooled, as so many of us are, by the whole penis/vagina thing. My child set me straight:
“Mom, I think something went wrong when I was in your tummy, because I was supposed to be born a girl, but I was born a boy instead.” He wanted me to put him back in the womb to right the wrong. He was sobbing.
You know that sinking feeling you get when something isn’t right with your kid, like your insides are caving in and squeezing all the air out of your lungs?
That feeling brought me to my knees that day, down on the floor at eye-level with my child, pulling him/her into my arms. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” I said, hoping this was true. “Nothing! You can be a girl! You can be a girl!” Could he?
And what I was saying to myself was, Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God, what am I going to do and how am I going to make this OK?
Two very eventful years have passed since then. My child’s father and I split up (that’s unrelated, but relevant). I got help from a psychologist who specializes in gender-nonconforming kids. I joined a local support group for parents with kids like mine. We’ve made friends with other young children and adults who are gender-nonconforming and transgender. I’ve read the books, watched the movies, and I’ve worried and second-guessed myself. A lot.
For the first year, I hesitated, letting my child grow her hair long and wear dresses everyday, but pushing back when she wanted to switch pronouns and change her name. I tried hard to present alternative scenarios: I bought her a cool T-shirt that said “Boys Can Wear Pink.” I showed her paintings on the Internet of Medieval nobles dressed in tights and lace. I told her that pink had actually been seen as a BOY color until really really recently, while blue was for girls (true!). I bought her the cool new children’s book, My Princess Boy, about a little boy who loves “girl stuff” and his parents love him anyway. Man, I tried. But the kid was unmoved.
I finally gave in when I realized I was the only one still clinging to the idea that I had a boy. Everyone else – grandparents, neighbors, preschool teachers, our friends, her father – had begun to welcome her with open arms into the girl world, and I was almost the last hold-out. I realized what a betrayal that was, for her Mom – the person who was supposed to be her biggest supporter and protector – to not get on board. So… I let my little boy go. It was really hard at the time, and I grieved. I missed my baby boy. I’m not quite sure why. She had barely left her toddler years, so it’s not like we’d had years of boyhood behind us. In what way had this androgynous baby ever really been a boy except as a creation of my own mind? And yet, I grieved the loss of that creation. Apparently that’s a standard part of the process for us parents with kids like this: grieving the boy or the girl who is gone but still there, differently.
I don’t grieve anymore. My child, M., now lives full-time as a girl (she calls herself “a girl with a penis”), and she is happy and confident. Unless she’s naked, you’d never guess she’s got what my dad calls “boy plumbing.”
These days, I read every trans-related newspaper article, blog, and memoir I can get my hands on. Anything to help me understand what it might be like inside my young child’s head, anything that might help me keep her safe, and anticipate what lies ahead – emotionally, socially, medically. I’ve learned a lot about gender identity but I know I have a ton more to learn. When I’m frustrated with how clueless people are about this (“No, my 5-year-old has not had a ‘sex change operation.’ She’s five!”), I try to remember that I was just as clueless two years ago.
I now know that transgender people can live wonderful (if perhaps not simple) lives if they have the loving support of their families. And you have mine, M., always.
But I am still terrified for you.