I know that people are talking about me and my trans daughter. I grew up in a small town, and my parents still live there, and… word gets around. (“Did you know that their grandson is now a girl?”)
But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Mom called first thing Monday morning. “Honey, I need to talk with you. Joan told me that Nancy’s grandson just announced that he’s a woman. You know, a transgendered person, like M. The parents are really upset. We need you to help them.”
Apparently I’ve become the local expert on All Things Transgender.
“Umm, sure,” I said. “I guess I could help them find some resources.”
“Great! I’ll tell Joan to contact you.”
I got an email from Joan the next day. “Nancy’s grandson Jason now wants to be called Laura,” she wrote. Laura’s dad didn’t want to talk about it; her mom was “very sad and confused.”
“No one had seen any indications of this change coming,” Joan’s email said.
I don’t know Laura’s parents, but I remember her grandmother, Nancy. She lived up the street when I was growing up. She was tall and a little intimidating, with a loud, husky smoker’s voice. She was always nice to us kids.
I replied to Joan’s email with a promise that I’d dig up some resources for Nancy.
Then I started thinking about Laura. I have never met this young woman. But when I think of my own daughter, I want to wrap my arms around Laura and tell her she’s perfect. I think about M.’s agony at being labeled as a boy, and about how the same must have been true for Laura when she was five years old (and during all the long years up until now, at age twenty-five).
I was raised by Scandinavians. If you listen to Garrison Keillor on public radio or have a great-uncle named Olaf or Anders, you’ll know that these are people disinclined to share personal details about their own lives (yes, this is one of the reasons I blog anonymously), let alone meddle in the emotional lives of strangers.
But hadn’t I sort of been asked to meddle?
I sat down and wrote another email to Joan. “If you think it’s appropriate,” I said, “Please forward this message to Nancy.”
I wrote about my panic when my son first started saying that he…wasn’t. I wrote about the grief that I’d felt when my child hastily shed the beloved name I’d cooed and whispered and sung, over and over and over again, since she first took shape in my belly. And I told her how my daughter’s joy in her blossoming girlhood had proven contagious, thawing the frozen fearful ground around my heart. “I think it really is going to be OK,” I told her.
I finished by begging Nancy to support her granddaughter, to love her and embrace her in her new identity as a woman.
I hesitated before sending this message. It definitely strained the limits of Scandinavian propriety; Uncle Olaf would not have approved. I’d only been asked for resources – a support group and some recommended reading, perhaps. Was I overstepping?
I thought of M. and of Laura, and I clicked send.
I got a reply from Nancy the next morning.
She thanked me. But this woman hadn’t needed any lessons from me in the art of love:
“Laura wrote a beautiful letter on Facebook telling everyone of his becoming a woman,” she wrote. “She is changing her name, but she said in her Facebook letter that she wouldn’t be able to change it legally until she had an extra $150. So last week I sent her a check and told her how much I loved her. It was my way of letting her know that she was still my grandchild and that I loved her.”