Last weekend M. and I went to the zoo with some new friends, Kathryn and Rose. Kathryn had been reading my blog and sent me a nice email and, lo and behold, we realized that we live in the same town. We’ve become buddies and she introduced me to her sweet wife, Rose. I invited them over for brunch on Sunday to meet M. and hang out.
Kathryn is a trans woman in her early thirties. She and Rose fell in love five years ago and married last year – around the same time that Kathryn began her transition to living full-time as a woman. Like my friend Kate, Kathryn seems blissed out to finally be living in the right gender. And she and Rose seem to be completely dopey about each other. It’s a lovely sight to see.
I think M. is the first young transgender kid Kathryn has met (of course, she herself was once a trans kid, too, but nobody else knew it). She was really excited to meet M., and brought her a stuffed animal as a gift. Kathryn watched M. closely during brunch, and teared up now and then when M. did something cute.
“You OK?” I said.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” she nodded. “It’s just so wonderful to see. She’s so happy.” Rose squeezed her hand.
Our brunch date turned into a trip to the zoo. M. continues to be obsessed with birds, so she spent the whole car ride informing us of the plan once we got there: “FIRST, we will see the BIRDS. That’s all I want to see. I want to feed them. Did you know you can FEED them?”
We all agreed that we’d head straight to the bird house before checking out any other animals.
Then, on the walk from the car to the zoo, Rose expressed an interest in seeing the gorillas. M. was not having such talk: “We are NOT seeing the gorillas until AFTER we feed the birds.”
Kathryn and Rose chuckled, but I was getting a little tired of my bossy child. “Dude,” I said, “I already told you that we’d feed the birds first. We all agreed on that, buddy. Just chill out, OK?”
Kathryn, who has a really cute smirk, smirked at me. “Did you just call her ‘dude?’” She thought it was funny, I think, and it kind of is, me addressing my girly little pixie-child, with her pigtails and frilly pink dress, as if we’re frat brothers.
Kathryn wasn’t criticizing me, but I felt sheepish. “Yeah, I call her ‘dude’ and ‘buddy,’” I said, quietly, so M. wouldn’t hear. “But should I? Aren’t those ‘boy’ words?”
I’ve wondered about this before: Would I use these masculine-coded nicknames if she hadn’t been born apparently male? I don’t think I would. And how else is my parenting colored by the fact that my child lived the first three years of her life as my son? Because surely it is.
The truth is that although I have, in all the obvious, outward ways, embraced M.’s identity as a girl (I never slip up on pronouns; I can’t even imagine using her old ‘boy name’ anymore), the boy that once was still lingers, tucked slyly into the remoter recesses of my consciousness. It betrays itself when I find reasons to put off signing her up for another ballet class, when I forget to teach her to be a feminist. When I call her ‘dude.’
Of course, for M., there never was a boy, was there? The boy was simply a figment of her parents’ imaginations. We saw a boy because the child had what my dad calls “boy plumbing.” But I don’t think M. ever felt like that boy.
Recently, M. and I were looking at some of her baby pictures. In each one, my kiddo is chubby and drooling and adorable, and dressed in blue or gray or green, with hair that’s chopped nice and short. I looked at the photos and smiled and swooned, launched back in time: I could feel the delicious heft of him in my arms, smell his sweet baby skin…
“That’s you,” I said, hugging M. in close to me.
“She is so cute!” M. said, delighted.
We were looking at the same photo, but we were not seeing quite the same person.
I met Kathryn and Rose for lunch a few days ago. Kathryn was telling me how hard it is that her mom hasn’t accepted her transition. “She says she won’t accept me as a woman. She uses my old male name constantly – even when it’s not necessary to say any name at all.”
My heart aches for Kathryn. My heart aches for her mom.
“I wish you could talk with her,” Kathryn says.
What would I say?
I would tell her that I think her daughter is beautiful, and so is mine, but that I am adrift, too. We’ve both lost our sons, sons that never quite were.
Meanwhile our daughters are right here, dancing around us, delighted to just be.
Our sons turned out to be dreams. And yet, against all reason, we still pine for them.