Confession: I still see my boy.

babyband2Last 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.

10 thoughts on “Confession: I still see my boy.

  1. I call my (girl plumbing) daughter “dude”, but I wonder how much that’s because my son came first. All of which is irrelevant and beside the point. I get that. It is a process. A process that we take one step at a time and allow our children to show us the way. Hugs, mama.

  2. My genderqueer daughter/son calls her best friend, a cisgender woman, “dude” all the time. I think it’s become a generic nickname-filler word that a lot of people use without any gender strings attached.

    And when you were looking at the photo, you and M *did* see the same person. The two of you just saw that person differently.

    When we transition, we don’t become different people. I use the name Constance (Connie) now, but I used to be known as David (Dave). I’m not two different people: I’m the same person who’s used two different names and who interacts with the world differently now than I did for the first 40 years of my life.

    I was 41 when I came out to my parents, who have accepted me. But my mom had said something that broke my heart: “I feel like I’m losing one of my sons.” But just as my heart was sinking she followed it up by saying, “But at the same time I’m gaining a daughter.”

    I’m sure that gender transition isn’t easy for parents, and I’ve been following the blogs of other mothers in similar situations to yours. There’s a mom in my local PFLAG chapter who describe her daughter at age 13 becoming her son.

    Mourn. It’s your right. M is still your child, the same child. She just has shown her true self to you. That you honor and respect that is a beautiful thing. On behalf of other trans persons, I thank you for being the wonderful mother you are.

    Your love for M is lovely. Even as you gain a daughter you’re losing a son. Mourn, and know we’re here for you.


    • That response is really helpful for me, as well as the blog post. My best friend is a Tgirl, and while I never truly saw her as a boy, I always worry when I have a thought or a response that isn’t naturally female. Perspective is truly a wonderful thing.

  3. Gendermom: No, it is not surprising that you may still see the little boy you birthed when you look at M, just as an old man may look at his old wrinkled wife of 50 years and still see the pretty sweet young girl he married oh-so-long ago, it is more about what is in our hearts. The most important thing is that you are conscious of that fact that as your baby boy, M was suffering. You now have the joy of a very happy little girl. I absolutely agree with what Connie said, the gender recognition may have changed, but M is still the same person. As you yourself have said, nothing else matters. Love, love, and more love.

  4. Every now and then I can still glimpse boy through all the pink, lace, ribbons and curls of my ultra girly girl. I think in my case it is because she has my ex’s eyes and nose and I am just seeing that.

    As for using dude or bud or other male saying I play softball and we all say those things to each other. Lat week I was doing the princesses hair up and she would not sit still and I said hey bud calm down. I don’t read anything into it.

  5. Hi! I only have two girls (with girl pumbing) and I have always called them dude… but I have always had many male friends… still I think ‘dude’ is unisex. 🙂

  6. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for your candid post. I agree with bikingchandlervero, though, about ‘dude’ being unisex. I call my female middle school students dude all the time. It’s a hippie surfer thing, I think, for me. I don’t assign any particular gender to dude or buddy.

  7. “…delighted just to be,” there you’ve hit the nail right on the head. We are just happy to have our kids, happy that they are here on this planet with us. We should all be that fortunate to just feel that way.
    Oh, about the “dude,” thing? My California friend is very “California.” She calls me dude all the time, “Dude! Did you just say that?” It’s just a word. Now I find myself responding, “Dude…” for I too, have adapted the jargon. If your little girl objects to the word being directed at her, then you will just have to train yourself not to use it. In the meanwhile, just do what I’m sure you tell her, “Just be yourself.”

  8. I refer to my friends as ‘guys’ male or female, I wouldn’t worry about the term ‘dude’ etc, it’s rather gender neutral. It’s very interesting to read about your daughter; it’s great that you’re informing the world about transgenders, it can really help ignorance! I was born in the 90’s and so I have been brought up around diversity, but not everyone understands difference. Look forward to reading future posts!

  9. I don’t normally comment on blogs I read, but I just had to let you know how much it touched me, reading yours. Society as a whole can be so cold and cruel towards those with non-conforming gender identities: having known from a very early age that I was a lesbian, I’m overjoyed to know that your daughter has such a wonderful mother, who will support her and love her no matter who she is or what choices she makes. My parents were… not terribly happy when I came out to them at fourteen, but they promised to try to understand and that they would still always love me, and it helped me so much when I was going through that awful teenage phase where everything is about sex and it just highlighted how different I was from most of my friends. I’m friends with a few trans people myself, but I met them all after they had made the change, so I don’t have the same problem you’re experiencing: I really think, though, that in the long run your daughter won’t care. She’ll look back, and be so grateful to you that you were there for her, and you supported her where so many people in the world would have ridiculed or criticized her that nothing else will matter – it’s only natural to have some difficulties around these sorts of things, because society trains us to only be comfortable with one option, when there are so many facets to human gender and sexuality. Seriously, kudos to you. You’re an amazing mother, and I wish more people could be as accepting and supportive as you are!

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