This is harder than I thought it would be

This was the first full week of kindergarten for M., and it’s getting hard sooner than I had expected.

At the beginning of the week, I got an email from M.’s teacher, with a request to all the parents:

One tradition in K-1 is to launch the year with a celebration of each community member. We do this through Name Celebrations. Each child is given a day when the whole class learns about them and their name. This is where you (the families) come in. Please send in a short story of how and why your child was given their name…

You see the problem.  M. named herself after my sister when she was three years old and told us she was actually a girl.  The name her dad and I gave her was a boy name, and she hates it.  She generally pretends that it – and the boy it once referred to – never existed.

It’s a very sweet and innocent request from M.’s teacher, but how am I supposed to respond?

The email brings on a wave of that sadness – the kind that washes over the bow every now and then when I’m not looking, when I think I’m in calm waters:  The grief for the boy that was lost, and that name – ohhh, that beloved name – that we picked with such excitement and care in that heady, clueless time before we knew what it really meant to bring a child into the world.

Worse than the grief is the dread. Will M. inadvertently “out” herself during her “name celebration” by explaining to the class that she changed her name at age three?

I can imagine the confused five-year-old faces, the hands shooting up, and the responses:

“Why did you change your name?”

“You can’t name yourself!”

“What’s your REAL name, M.?”

I wrote back to the teacher and simply stated what was true, if incomplete: “M. was named after a beloved aunt.”

M.’s naming ceremony is today.  I am holding my breath.

10 thoughts on “This is harder than I thought it would be

  1. I just need to say one more time, for the fears and angst and confusion you are and will continue to go through, thank you for loving your child the way she is.

  2. just skimming through your blog, i was taken aback by how much you refer to your daughter as a “girl with a penis.” isn’t this trope a little worn down? is that really a necessary way to describe trans folks? now, i’m not five years old, i’m twenty, but if my mom wanted to write a blog about my transition, i sure as hell wouldn’t be okay with her discussing my genitals on the internet. there’s lots of great mom blogs out there, about a whole lot of things, not limited to gender, that do fine without announcing their kids genitals on the internet.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Finding the right words and terms is an ongoing challenge for me. I look for language that I think will empower my child, and there are few road maps for parents of trans kids.

      A few thoughts that might help explain why I use the words “girl with a penis:”

      1) It’s what my child calls herself. Just like she picked her new name and pronouns, she gets to pick the words to describe her.

      2) Five year olds talk about their bodies all the time. My child’s preschool pals love potty talk and giggling over the words “penis” and “vagina” and “butt.” This is developmentally age-appropriate: they are trying to sort out their worlds into categories, to understand themselves and their bodies. Unless they’ve been censured for this kind of talk, they don’t have shame about their bodies, and are just starting to absorb the idea that certain parts our bodies are “private.” I have made a point of talking with my child about body parts in the same neutral way that we talk about something like hair color or height: Some of us have brown eyes; some have blue. Some of us are tall; some are short. There is no value judgment or shame associated with these distinctions: they simply are. describing my daughter as a “girl with a penis” is similarly neutral, straightforward, and shame-free, and it is concrete, descriptive language that makes sense to a five-year old-mind. If she were older, i would not use this language. i’d say “transgender,” but this jargon is meaningless to a five year old. I would also argue that it is far more alienating as a label. My child doesn’t want to be a “transgender” girl. she just wants to be a girl. By being open and matter-of-fact with her about the fact that there are “girls with penises” and “girls with vaginas” (just as there are girls with blue eyes abd girls with brown eyes), I seek to normalize and validate both of these physical realities.

      3) You critiqued me for focusing on her anatomy. My response to this is that I have no choice. The reality, like it or not, is that our society is obsessed with classifying us – from birth – on the basis of our genitals. Every child in her preschool was taught that girls have vaginas and boys have penises. And because young kids have no inclination to hide their bodies (coupled with the fact that she transitioned from a male identity in the middle of the school year), every child at school knew that my daughter has a penis. And believe me, these kids are asking about this, and openly challenging my child’s girl status. My child desperately needs clear, strong language to respond to this. “I am transgender” just ain’t gonna fly. “Some girls have penises,” on the other hand, makes sense to the preschool mind. It is clear, concrete, and has worked great to explain things to the other kids. It empowers my child and keeps her safe and happy. When she’s older, I am sure she will choose new terms. And I will respect her decisions and follow her lead.

      4) Everything I write is absolutely anonymous and always will be. I am never identified in my blog, nor is my child. If and when she chooses to live as an openly trans person, I will support her. But I will never compromise her privacy. That is not my decision to make.

      Thanks for commenting. I love hearing what you think and I love being challenged to take my thinking further – I am learning as I go and can use all the advice I can get!


      • I’ve read through your blog and I have subscribed to it. I think you’re doing just fine. It is hard to be a mom, period. To be a mom to a gender-gifted child, new to being who they truly are, requires the mental and emotional and spiritual flexibility of a contortionist! I know from my own experience. I am only 4 years into my life as my true self after failing at 56 years of true-life test as a man. At the time I came out, a young woman also came out and was disowned by her family. We connected and I became her mom. She became my daughter. We have traveled with our transitions together. A girl needs her mom, and M. has you, and no one could do a better job!

  3. I don’t have transgender children and I lie to the teachers all the time. I don’t have time to do all they little things and stories they want. Short and concise is the way to go! Don’t beat yourself up about it… we all do it! Besides half of the class was named after a name baby book… your story still beats most!

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