“Does anything ever happen at school that makes you sad?” Tasha asked. Tasha is M.’s therapist. She specializes in working with trans kids like mine. Yesterday was our first appointment.
M. shook her head. She was making us breakfast out of play dough. Tasha’s office has an impressive toy collection. “I’m making pancakes,” M. said.
I leaned over and whispered in M.’s ear. “Do you want to tell her about that thing that Jack said?”
The “thing that Jack said” happened months ago at preschool, but M. knew exactly what I was talking about.
She tucked her chin into her chest and mashed her little fist into a play dough pancake. “Jack said I wasn’t a girl because I have a penis.”
“How did that make you feel?” Tasha said.
“Bad,” M. whispered. My proud, loud, outgoing kid was so quiet we had to lean in close to hear her. “He saw me pee standing up.”
“What did you do when Jack said that?” Tasha asked.
“I told him I didn’t like it and I went and got the teacher.”
Tasha praised M. for her excellent handling of the situation.
M. brightened slightly and lifted her head to explain how things went down after that.
“And so, like, my teacher said to Jack, ‘M. is a girl, and M. has a penis.’” She was talking with her hands now, waving them around like a tiny blonde Sicilian, which is how my confident kiddo explains important things that might be hard for others to understand. “’So, that means…’” She extended her left hand in front of her, palm up. “’…that girls…’” Right hand, palm up. “’…can have penises.’” Tasha and I looked down at her hands, extended before us, dotted with play dough and presenting the evidence.
Tasha was impressed. I was proud. I was also thinking, not for the first time, that M.’s teacher will definitely be reincarnated as either a princess or a dolphin, depending on which is higher on the karmic ladder. Her point made, M. shrugged and went back to her pancakes.
But little Jack’s comment has left its mark.
A few weeks after the “thing that Jack said,” my parents were at our house for dinner. The dining room table conversation went something like this:
Me: “Could you please pass the potatoes, Dad?”
M.: “I wish I could drink something that would make my penis melt off!”
Grandma and Grandpa got very quiet.
In the car on the way home from our first appointment with Tasha, M. says, “Mama, why do I have to wait until I’m grown up to get a bagina?” (Yes, I do find it wildly ironic that “vagina” is one of the few words that my eloquent, verbally precocious child consistently mispronounces.)
I’ve told M. that she’ll have the choice, when she’s older, about whether she wants a doctor to “turn her penis into a vagina.” But I don’t yet know a lot about the specifics of the procedure, or precisely why you have to wait. I say something about it being “not safe for kids.”
“Why do you want a vagina instead?” I say. “You do know that some girls have vaginas, and some have penises, right?”
“Yes, I know!” She rolls her eyes, exasperated. “But most girls have baginas, Mom. Most girls do.”
She has me there.
When I don’t respond, M.’s face crumples. A flash-flood of tears begins. She howls as I pull onto the freeway, “I WANT A BAGINA NOWWWWW!!!!!”
What can I say? I can’t change the fact that she has a penis, and that most girls do not, and that she’s stuck with hers for many years to come.
Moms of five year olds are supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-fixing. But I can’t fix this – at least not yet. And she knows it. No wonder she’s sobbing.
All I can do is comfort. “I’m sorry it’s so hard, honey,” I say into the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry you have to wait. Sometimes we have to wait for things we want, and it’s just… hard.”
There’s not much else to say. It sucks. She’s sad. I’m sad for her. We’re doing the best we can, and it’s still so goddamn hard. It occurs to me that I should probably schedule another appointment with Tasha very soon.
M. sobs for a few more miles, then recovers and asks if we can stop for ice cream.
My shoulders relax in gratitude for a request within my power to grant.
“Of course, sweetie.”
And so it goes…