I really do.
That’s why my young trans daughter is going to start therapy tomorrow morning. The therapist specializes in working with LGBT youth and has been recommended highly by other parents in my support group. For the most part, my kiddo is doing remarkably well: M. is as happy, confident, energetic, and demanding as the average five-year-old. But she’s starting kindergarten in six weeks. She’ll be leaving behind the cozy and coddled world of preschool and I suspect we’re going to encounter some rougher waters when she joins the “big kids” in elementary school.
M. doesn’t know the word “therapy” (and doesn’t have a clue what “LGBT” might mean). When I told her about meeting the counselor, I didn’t mention anything about gender (M. hates talking about her gender, which is another topic altogether); I just told her that Tasha was a nice person who talks with kids before they start kindergarten, “to help them get them ready, and in case they are nervous about anything.”
“I’m not nervous,” she said. “I’m just excited!”
That’s my girl.
But her mother is nervous. Up until now, I’ve been able to shield her from most of the cruelties wrought by our transphobic, binary-obsessed society. I’ve worked hard to build a world that welcomes her: I’ve recruited playmates who, like her, are “girls with penises.” I’ve coached family, friends, neighbors, and preschool teachers on how to talk to her and support her. She even has a trans tween girl as a babysitter.
Over the past year, I scoured the city for the best possible elementary school for her to spend the next six years. I toured a dozen schools, met with school counselors, and grilled the other parents in my support group on which schools were the most likely to be “trans-friendly.” I finally settled on a small private school on the other side of town that gave me some hefty financial aid and stakes its reputation on being one of the most progressive and diverse schools in the city.
Later this week M.’s dad and I will be meeting with the teachers and staff at the school to talk about how we can all work together to support M. when kindergarten starts in the fall. I want us to strategize about potential problems before they arise, and about what the teachers can do and say when things do come up. Tasha will join us to weigh in with her expertise.
My hope is that this team will help soften the blows that are surely in store for my child: The questions and unkindnesses from other kids at school, the confusion about her own gender identity, the dawning grief about the realities imposed by her anatomy and the transphobic planet we inhabit. Thus far, she’s been shielded from most of this by a remarkably supportive community and a mind too young to fathom what’s actually in store.
But that’s not the case for her mother, who notices every raised eyebrow, every “innocent” joke at my kid’s expense, every instance when a friend or family member “forgets” to use the right pronoun (it’s been TWO YEARS!). I am never sure which of these subtle slights M. notices, but my own heart wilts every single time.
I believe the pain is sharper when we’re feeling it on behalf of our children.
A while back, one of the other mothers in my support group described perfectly how I experience this. She said, “When our kids are young, our job is to absorb all of the hurt from the world so that they won’t have to.”
But try as I might, I can’t keep the big, bad bigoted world at bay forever.
Thus, the help. M. doesn’t yet know it, but she’s going need Tasha. Rougher seas lie ahead. Or at least uncharted waters, for both of us.
The other night, out to dinner with a friend, I was telling him about all the things I’ve been doing over the past year that relate to the “transgender thing.” Aside from the stuff that directly affects my kid (choosing the right school, finding her a therapist, etc.), I’ve also been volunteering for a local nonprofit devoted to advancing trans rights, publishing trans-related articles as “gendermom” (like this and this), and now, writing this blog. In my professional life, I’m a journalist, and I’ve been turning my attention to reporting (under my real name) on trans issues. (There are so many stories that need to be told!).
After hearing about all this, my friend said, “Wow, you’re really making this your thing.”
I responded with my usual explanation for this manic flurry of “trans-activity:” Something about how I want to make the world a better place for my kid by educating others about people like her. And this is completely true. I really do want to make the world better.
But then I heard a new explanation come out of my mouth. I spoke the words before I had a chance to think them. But their ring of truth left us both silent for a while: “I think it’s how I cope with it.”
Note: In case you’re concerned about me, let me reassure that I am getting help, too. I have an excellent therapist who, like Tasha, does a lot of work with the LGBT community – so she understands what it’s like for me and my kid. Wow, do I feel lucky to be living in this century.