Yes, they have been talking about us.

I always sort of assumed that people were talking about me and my daughter (“Did you know that little M. is really a boy?”), but I’d never had any proof of this until yesterday.  And now that I do, I wish I didn’t.

SCENE:  Little Isabella’s fifth birthday party, held at one of those massive indoor gyms that cater to exhausted, well-off urban parents. The scene is dominated by a well-padded and brightly colored warren of trampolines, kid-sized hamster-tubes, slides, and inflatable sea animals.  A handful of parents sit off to the side in uncomfortable metal chairs.  Gendermom, looking tired, sits next to another mom. They appear to be making awkward conversation.

OTHER MOM: We miss you guys in preschool. So how’s it going for M. in kindergarten?

GENDERMOM:  Great! We love her teacher.  And the school is really friendly – and diverse.

OTHER MOM: [Hesitates]  Ummm, so, you know, we found out about M. from our daughter.  So did a bunch of other parents.  All the kids, you know, they use that bathroom right off the classroom, and there’s no door, so they SEE everything…

GENDERMOM: [Smiling and nodding.] Right, right.  And the kids aren’t self-conscious at all about their bodies at that age, are they?

OTHER MOM: Exactly!  So that’s how Madeline knew and then she came home and told me and my husband.    She kept saying, “M. has a penis!” But we didn’t believe her!

GENDERMOM: Oh. Because it’s a new experience…

OTHER MOM:  Right!  I mean, we were all talking about it when we went out for drinks – me and Cynthia and Lisa – because all the kids were saying this.  None of us believed them.  We didn’t know what to think until we talked to Carla.

GENDERMOM:  So… you asked the teacher about it…?

OTHER MOM:  Right! And she told us, yes, M. was… you know…

GENDERMOM: Transgender?

OTHER MOM: Right!  And you know, we all talked – me and Cynthia and Lisa – and we ALL agreed that our only PROBLEM with it was that we hadn’t been TOLD and so we were calling our kids liars!  When they were actually telling the truth!  It felt really bad because we’d been accusing our kids of lying!  If we had just KNOWN.

GENDERMOM:  So…. it would have been helpful if they’d announced to all the parents at the beginning of the school year which kids had penises and which ones had vaginas?  Would that have helped you and Cynthia and Lisa handle this?

[That is what gendermom wishes she had said. What she actually said was something closer to this:]

GENDERMOM:  [Nodding supportively.] Right, right, because the transgender thing is new for you and it’s the first time you’ve encountered it.

OTHER MOM: Yes!  It IS new!  Wow. Totally!  And so, like I said, if the school had just TOLD us or done a presentation or something, we wouldn’t have had to accuse our kids of lying.  We’d have been PREPARED.  We all felt that way, you know.

GENDERMOM:  I see, yeah.  OK.  Oh, I think I hear M. calling for me – I’d better go check on her.

[gendermom walks into the play-area labyrinth, ducks behind a wall, sits on an inflatable dolphin, and begins to sob.]

My child doesn’t go to school with the children of OTHER MOM, Cynthia, and Lisa anymore. She just moved on to kindergarten.  But she did go to school with them for the past year.  And during that entire year, apparently, these mothers had been consulting, fretting, and conferring, about us: “So did YOUR son see M.’s penis too?” “Why weren’t we TOLD?” “We really should have been told!”

Every morning at drop-off, every evening at pick-up, every birthday party, every parents’ night, they had smiled and chatted with me, all year long, and never, ever – not even once – did any of them mention any of their concerns to me.  The thought of this makes my skin crawl.

What were they so afraid of? Was my child’s situation really so unspeakably threatening that it warranted such attention and such secrecy?  What in the world were they discussing anyway, over drinks? What do they see when they look at my daughter – and at me? Why do they feel they have a need (and a RIGHT) to know what my child has in her pants? And why is it MY job to explain to them (and make it OK for them, presumably) that people like my child exist?

Yes, it could have been worse.  They could have completely rejected me and my daughter.  But I still sobbed so hard at that birthday party that I scared a lot of little children.  And I still feel sick to my stomach.

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19 thoughts on “Yes, they have been talking about us.

  1. You know it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, although I can imagine how you must be feeling, and I can’t think of what would be the right thing to say to you to make you feel better. Thing is, you’re amazing and you need to remember that at times like this. Other parents of transgender children might not be as understanding or supportive as you, and yes it has to be tough at times, and will be tough, but your love for M shines through in every post you write and she’s a very smart kid and will probably be more grounded and settled than any of her other class mates and is probably already more comfortable with herself that any of them are. I personally think you’re amazing and if M is half the person you are, she’s going to be just fine.

  2. It seems so wrong to click “Like,” but I think you’ll know what I mean by doing so. It never ceases to amaze why we trans* persons are supposed to discuss our genitals with anyone and everyone. HUGS. You and M don’t deserve this.

    -Connie

  3. Fear of the unknown makes people do strange and hurtful things. I don’t know exactly how I would’ve handled the situation but I can’t imagine accusing my kid of lying (even if I didn’t believe them) or of gossiping about it with other parents. When our kids are faced with something that’s new to them, it’s an opportunity for us to expand their understanding of the world. The only way we can do that is if we’re willing to expand OUR understanding of the world. Some people are better at that than others. It’s not a reflection of you or your daughter. I’m sending you a big hug from my little corner of the universe!

  4. I just want to tell you that I love you and I am sending all the love and prayers I have over the internet to you and M. I’ve been reading your posts for awhile and I’m so thankful that God put such an insightful, loving, and courageous person in the world, and especially in the world of M. You are changing the world with each conversation, post, and hug you give your daughter. Keep your head up, you are unbelievably strong and I know that you will change things for the better. Each and every one of us has a rough day, but know that so many of us are out here loving you without even meeting you face to face. I wish I could give you a big hug right now. Hang in there beautiful.

  5. Thanks so much for the supportive words – they help a lot on dark days like this one. It really has been a rotten experience, and I’m still trying to figure out just why it was so upsetting. I think it’s the secrecy part that gets to me – these mothers talking at length behind my back, and about my kid’s private business – and never thinking to talk to me. In the end, they decided to support us, I guess. But I don’t feel supported at all.

    • I LOVE your blog. Your insight, your acceptance and the depth of your love for M. is beyond beautiful. Children are wonderful, and to raise them is a privilege, they deserve that kind of grace, always. I look forward to your next post.

  6. Hey this is so not cool. and it is not supportive. its none of their right to know what is in between some child’s leg. i am so angry and sad and all sorts of emotions right now. I just want to shout at these moms for their crazy unchecked cisgender privilege.

  7. Argh. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that kind of yuck from the other parents. I can’t imagine sitting there and hearing that kind of stuff and not punching the other person in the face for their insensitivity. I am sending you big internet-sized hugs: (((((gendermom))))). Also, I hope those other parents step on Legos. Barefoot.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. How great it will be one day when parents can just respond calmly, “yep, some girls have penises and some boys have vaginas”. You should not have to TELL anyone anything!! I really appreciate your openness and honesty.

  9. They should’ve done a presentation about their confusion, or about accusing their own kids. I mean, the problem isn’t that they were gossiping about you behind your back – making assumptions and asking everybody except you about your child’s business – it’s that they didn’t tell you about it! Or bought you a drink to go with it!

    Well, even though it’s not over drinks, we did end up gossiping about THEM – the other moms. And they don’t even know it yet 😉

  10. First-time commenter here, as this story broke my heart. There’s no point in beating yourself up over what you should’ve said (i know-easier said than done). I think you handled yourself well, all things considered. At least none of this became confrontational towards M over the past year, and now you are a little more knowledgeable and can help prepare her for when it happens again. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to hear that they were talking so openly behind your back without respectfully talking to you first, and my heart goes out to you.

    • So well put Thomas. I agree. It is a shame that your community could not relate to how this conversation would feel to you. I wish they had understood all you have done to consider the long-term well-being of your child. I wish they had a class DECADES ago about gender, so they would have already moved beyond the hetero-normative assumptions hurt so much.

  11. I’m so sorry that you went through this. It’s really depressing that in this day and age it’s still really inevitable that people will be so ignorant and ill-informed on the subject of gender. People in their fear of the unknown find it so easy to forget that M is just a little innocent child who deserves to feel secure and accepted just like any other child. Why should her sex and gender preferences be broadcast just to make the adults feel better? Because as much as they claim that it’s for their kids’ sake, it is the adults who have the issue not the children. I hope that if you can take anything positive away from this it’s that by telling your story you’re helping to reduce the prejudice faced by future generations of Ms. There’s much love for you both here 🙂 xxxxxx

  12. Friends talk… and more loosely when drinks are involved. Yes it IS creepy that they were talking about a child’s genitals, but I guess they were discussing something that none of them had ever been confronted with that is going on in their children’s school. I can kind of get that. In all honesty, the other two girls (L+C) don’t bother me… they talked about it (kind of hurts) but then moved on. What’s up with the OTHER chic who thought it was her f-ing business to approach you in this time, place and manner and then bring up the other girls names!!! If I were the other girls (C+L) I would be furious! I’m sorry but she was just being a bitch… they don’t even go to school together anymore! Sorry you had to go through this. Women can be so cruel to each other at times!

  13. My heart goes out to you… You handled the situation perfectly though! You were open and supportive to what that tit (sorry) was saying. Getting defensive and agitated towards her wouldn’t of helped her learn. And I think she did learn from you. So GOOD ON YAH!! She wasn’t being mean, just ignorant.
    Lots of love for you and yours x

  14. I am sorry you went through this. I can’t believe they think they have the RIGHT to know AND based on calling their kids liars! A parent NEVER has to call a child a liar in the first place. The teacher should have used more discretion and handled it far better. It became an ‘issue’ when it didn’t need to be. How about teaching children acceptance and equality – that we are all human beings, and that having a penis, vagina, or even both doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else.

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