She sees the box of tampons in the bathroom and pulls one out to take a look.
“What are these for, Mama?”
I choose my words carefully. “They’re for people with vaginas,” I say. In my house we don’t assume that all people with vaginas are girls, nor that all those with penises are boys.
She’s only five years old, so we haven’t really covered much of the bird-and-bees stuff yet. I hear myself give an incomprehensible explanation about how this little cloth tube in her hand relates to making babies, and am grateful when my daughter loses interest and drops the tampon to go back to playing with her Barbies.
For now, I’m granted a reprieve from difficult questions. But this won’t always be the case. Standing alone in the bathroom, I start to think about how this conversation will go in a few years, perhaps when she’s a teenager and her friends are going through puberty. I start to think about the ways that her anatomy will exclude her from fully participating in all of the female rites of passage: The first period, pregnancy, breast-feeding. Thanks to hormone blockers and cross hormones, she is a member of a generation of transgender people who will more easily “pass” in the gender that makes sense for them. Her voice won’t drop. She won’t develop an Adam’s apple. She’ll grow breasts. We will be able to shop for her first bra together. But medical technology can only go so far.
For now, she has no idea of the physical limitations and of the resulting losses she may one day grieve. She knows that she is a “girl with a penis.” She knows that when she’s older, a doctor can turn her penis into a vagina if that’s what she chooses. But she does not yet know that cross hormones will render her sterile as a male, and that even if modern science could build her a womb, it could not help her grow eggs.
I have my own related losses to process. I will probably never be a grandmother – at least not in the old-fashioned, pass-on-your-genes, “she has your eyes” kind of way I used to believe (and hope) I would. Of course, there’s no guarantee that any child, transgender or not, will choose to bear children or be able to do so. But these are things I had not thought I would be thinking about when my child is still so very young. I suspect we are both growing up a little faster than most.