P is for Penis, B is for Bagina

 “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.”

M. frowns.

“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…  

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17 thoughts on “P is for Penis, B is for Bagina

  1. M I know it is very hard to wait!! Even though I was 50 years old when I transitioned I had to wait 8 years before I got my “BAGINA”!! It wasn’t because I didn’t want it, it was because I could not afford it!! But believe me it was well worth the wait!!!

  2. I feel for M. There are many things about being trans that are hard to come to terms with, and I can empathize with her desire to have physical female characteristics that are similar to most other females. Sending virtual hugs to you both.

  3. You sound like an absolutely amazing mom! I can’t imagine what you are going through, but the fact that you haven’t just completely given up and decided to lay in bed and cry for the rest of your life is inspiring. You are amazing!

  4. I started reading because you were “Freshly Pressed” and continued until I’d read every post. I’m an unlikely fan: a middle-aged conservative Christian woman. But I teach public school, and I meet kids of every stripe and pattern. I can promise you that they all thrive when they know they are loved. And a little moxie never hurts.

  5. I love this realization: some girls are born with penises (some boys are born with vaginas). Period. That’s it. It’s that simple. And yes, that complicated, for whatever time it is to be, but I am suddenly awake about this issue instead of somewhat muddled or at best, trying to work out when a person knows their gender. My heart aches for your girl to have her wishes come true. It reminds me a little of my little sister who, as a child, desperately wanted another colour of skin.

    I really appreciate your willingness to share your life and, in my case, educate, Hugs to you all.

  6. This post just makes me want to cry. We take so much for granted. How we respond to our children with issues big or small has such a major impact on them. It’s so hard on the parent to just KNOW everything and what to say and how to act. I commend you for how you are handling this. Bravo to you.

  7. Aw. My little girl used to call it a bagina too. 🙂
    You’re doing really well. It’s good to hold the tension between challenging social norms (yes, most girls have vaginas, but some do have penises) and accepting her desires. This is a tough one to manage.

  8. There are many things that I still don’t know what I want (gender is not one of them), that I am amazed, in awe, and inspired by M.’s absolute knowing of what she is and what she wants to be. What an amazing little person you are raising.

    I also have no kids, so I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to raise a child, and to do so post divorce. But to add a complicated, oft misunderstood issue such as transgender? Your strength, courage and support are also awe inspiring. It is apparent where M. gets her moxie from.

  9. Everyone that comments here seems to be of, um, unusual (?) gender, and it’s lovely that they are showing their support and sharing their experiences. 🙂 I’m basically normal, gender wise. I’m married to a man, I find women attractive too and I’m maybe on the blokey side of female. No biggie. I just wanted to say a few things:
    1. What a brave, wonderful parent/person you are. Helping your child find out who they are and be ok with it should be part of every parents role, whatever form that journey of discovery may take. Starting this early and facing it the way you are is giving M a big head start.
    2. I enjoy your blog. My overriding feeling that comes through from it is that you are just a normal family unit (which you are. Stereotypical normality must be pretty biege) and these are your set of obstacles. I think this is probably what you were aiming for and you’ve got it spot on.
    3. I come from somewhere fairly backwards and unusual people are accepted here. I’m not saying everything is plain sailing, but I’m sure that whatever happens, your confident little lady will always have friends around her. And that can make ANYTHING bearable.
    Thanks for taking the extra time to share all this with us.
    Ro (Scotland)

  10. I found you through Freshly Pressed, and I hope you don’t mind that I follow you! I’ve got a 14 month old girl, and while I have no reason to believe she’ll desire anything more than her current physical anatomy, I really appreciate reading your blog, and discovering the ways you’re approaching your child being ‘different’ than expected. I can only wish that all parents would be as willing as you are to help their children and accept them as they are. Thank you for writing about your experiences.

  11. Ironically, I was the same way, except it was the spelling that got me. I was good at spelling, I just couldn’t spell “penis,” what I wanted most.

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