A Scandinavian Speaks Out

olaf

Uncle Olaf would not approve.

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.”

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7 thoughts on “A Scandinavian Speaks Out

  1. I absolutely love your blog. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but I was immediately hooked. I remember thinking, “This woman’s voice resonates with me.” I wasn’t sure why, but after reading your latest post, I have more of a clue.

    Like you, I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. My mother’s heritage was Scandinavian and my father’s was German. Talk about ethnic groups that don’t talk about anything personal! Feelings, money, sexuality, religion…all things that must never be spoken of or questioned. In fact after years of therapy it became clear one day that I didn’t even recognize the NAMES for different feelings, never mind what they should feel like.

    I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to have to explain your daughter’s situation to a family of Scandinavians. But of course we are a stoic and resilient people. At least on the outside. Who knows what is really going on inside.

    I applaud you for taking this journey with your daughter and my hope is that you will both be blessed with understanding, joy and many good feelings.

    -Carla

  2. This made me tear up a bit. Five minutes ago I was reading about Syria and now I’m sitting here thinking about how nice it is to know that there will always be these little moments when people startle you with their capacity for love and understanding. Thanks. 🙂

  3. Yes, Gendermon, I know from my own person experience that the loved ones from whom you fear the worst negative reactions, come some of the most amazing, wonderful and loving responses. My aging grandparents never batted an eye when I arrived in their presence for the first time as a 25-year old female and, though I am absolutely sure they did not personally understand what had happened to me, they embraced me and accepted me and loved me as their grandchild. I think it is the truest demonstration of pure love. Your blog on this topic is indeed beautiful.

  4. This made me tear up. I truly love your blog, I’m so glad that I stumbled upon it. I’ve read nearly every entry, and fallen in love with your precious little human.

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