It is from a woman I met earlier this year through our support group for parents of gender-nonconforming and transgender kids. My five-year-old transgender daughter, M., was the same age as her son, Lucas. We were both looking ahead to kindergarten with trepidation. My kiddo had made it clear that she was a girl. Lucas was telling his parents that he was a boy, but like M., everything he loved was “girl” – pretty dresses, long hair, pink, princesses.
We got the kids together for a play date. I explained to M. beforehand that Lucas was a boy, but he really liked girl things. Lucas didn’t look like a boy in his pink sundress. M. kept getting the pronouns wrong. I struggled with it, too, and had to keep reminding myself that Lucas wasn’t a girl.
Lucas’s mom told me that her parents were not handling it well. She had tried to get them to talk about it, but they cut her off when the subject came up. There was a family wedding in a few weeks, and she was dreading it. Lucas was supposed to be in the wedding. “He will want to wear a pretty dress, and I’m going to have to tell him he has to wear a suit.”
I watched Lucas play with M. on their backyard swing set. Like her, he was petite and elfin. Unlike her, he looked delicate, demure, gentle. Ultra-feminine. M. is more of a tom boy.
“Have you told him that he can be a girl if he wants to?” I said. “Does he know that’s an option?”
Lucas’s mom shook her head. “I’m just waiting for him to tell us what he needs to tell us,” she said.
OK, gendermom, I thought. Don’t preach. You don’t know what’s right for this kid or for his (her?) family.
But I had to say something. So I told her what my therapist told me a couple of years ago, when I was in the final throes of resisting M.’s efforts to become the girl she knew herself to be. My fear at the time was that if I let her live as a girl, I would ruin any chance she might have of living as a boy – albeit an unconventional one. If I let her live as a girl, I feared, I could ruin her life.
My therapist listened to me tell her how badly M. wanted to be a girl and how scared I was to validate this wish. “You can’t make someone become transgender,” she said.
That single sentence released me. This thing was out of my hands. I went home and asked my child what gender she was and what her name was. She told me and we haven’t looked back since.
I open the email from Lucas’s mom. She needs to talk. Can I meet her for a drink right away? Lucas has told her this: “I hate myself. I want to be someone else. I want to be a girl.”
We met for a drink that night. She was petrified. She talked nonstop for an hour. “How will this work in junior high?” “My parents aren’t going to get this at all!” “I think his teacher will be supportive – at least I hope so…” Listening to her, I was thrown back two years in time, to that awful purgatory inhabited by the parents of trans kids when we are trying to acquaint ourselves with the children we didn’t realize we had – and they are begging us to see them. I noticed she was still using male pronouns. I didn’t point it out. I remembered too well what that felt like, when even the language you had always associated with your beloved child didn’t fit anymore, but the new words felt like foreign objects in your mouth.
I sent an email to Lucas’s mom the following week and asked how they were doing. She wrote back:
Lucas is doing well. She was a bit brittle until her teacher spoke to her class as a whole and then she felt much better. I ended up sending an email to my family and got support back. I will need to send out another email to them making it clear as to where we are – that Lucas is a girl, that we are referring to her as such…and that we would like everyone to refer to her as such.
I told M. about this. “Remember that boy Lucas? Well, he’s decided he’s a girl, like you. So… yeah, she’s a girl now.”
M. shrugs. I have no idea how this sounds to her. It’s her story too, after all. Perhaps it’s validating; perhaps it’s not that interesting. I hope it’s both. I ask if she’d like to have another playdate with Lucas.
“OK,” she says.