The Vagina Dialogues

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.

7 thoughts on “The Vagina Dialogues

  1. Thanks so much for this — I’v been thinking a lot about that lately too, with my mtf trans child. She is five like yours! Even though it’s so far away, the whole puberty/baby/growing up thing weighs on me. I hope your daughter and mine will find happiness — even if grandbabies aren’t involved. Stay strong. ❤

  2. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and compassion you display here when considering the difficult realities of the female experiences a “girl with a penis” won’t ever be able to have. Once I was old enough to understand what it meant to be transgender, I realized what I would miss out on by not being born with a female body, and felt sad and disappointed. Although, I was a sensitive and emotional child, at some point in my childhood, because of the pressure I felt from others to be less emotional as a boy, and my fear of them finding out my secret desire to be a girl, I managed to disconnect from my deeper emotions to protect myself. But, the difficult emotions were still down there, affecting me in ways I wasn’t conscious of. They were wanting to be felt, and dealt with in a healthy way. As I’ve been in transition now and reconnecting with my deeper emotions, I’ve felt a lot of sadness and grief come up. First, it was about how hard it was to be a child with this secret, and having to deal with being transgender and closeted all by myself. Later, it was because of aspects you mention here: never getting to experience menstruation, or child birth, or breast feeding. These are powerful experiences in a woman’s life that we trans women will never really know, and it is painful. The fact that you recognize this and will be as prepared as you can be to help your daughter cope with this pain is huge, and I’m happy she has you to support her.

  3. It is this aspect of trans-reality that made me sigh in huge relief when each of my children, around the age of three, showed obvious signs of having their gender match their genitalia. Then I felt guilty over that relief. I went into motherhood knowing that gender is not a given. I eventually decided the guilt was misplaced. Anytime your child does not need medical intervention, it is a good thing. And anytime your child does need medical intervention, it is a good thing that medicine has advanced far enough to provide it. On a side note, my children taught me that for a pink inspired girl, pink is a force that is impossible to fight. Although I am VERY clear in my house that every color is for every one.

    from a Mom to a girl-with-vagina (GWV?) and a boy-with-penis (BWP?)

  4. Some cis women never get periods for medical reasons. So not all vaginas have periods either! And of course you know not all women with vaginas have babies. I hear what you are saying though, that she won’t have the choice, and that is what will be most difficult.
    While periods, pregnancy, and breastfeeding is an important experience for many many women, as I am sure you realize, that does not define being a woman. I have a MtF friend that has found creative ways to experience important moments/rituals that GWV’s experience. You are such a caring and thoughtful mom, I am sure you will continue to find creative ways to support and encourage your daughter.

  5. I would simply caution over-thinking the “what if’s” because that gets you nowhere. Just think how M would have felt if you and the rest of society forced her to live life as a male!! Rejoice in the reality that M can AND WILL live her life in the gender she knows she is. All the other stuff simply does not matter. I would add, cherish the time with your precious daughter and don’t let one second go by without the rejoicing in her being who she is. Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

  6. Pingback: Transgender 101 – Fierce Vulnerability

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