How to Be Different

differentAs we pulled into the school parking lot this morning, I spotted my son-in-law hopping out of the back of a minivan. He swung his Angry Birds back pack over his shoulder and waved wildly when he spotted his young wife in the back seat of my car. M. waved back. “Hurry up and park, Mama! I want to walk to class with Jake!”

M.’s first-grade teacher informed me a couple weeks ago about the change in my daughter’s marital status. Apparently it was a whirlwind courtship, conducted without much fuss during snack time:

M: “Jake, you’re going to marry me, right?”

Jake: “Of course!”

I’m not too clear on the details of the wedding ceremony. Apparently they completed their elopement over carrot sticks and crackers and then headed happily to recess, hand in hand.

But the heart of a woman is notoriously fickle. As we pulled into our parking space, M. explained that she needed to have a talk with Jake. “I want to divorce him and marry Mason.”

I thought about Jake, the sweetest and most sensitive boy in M.’s class, and found myself advocating polygamy.

“Maybe you could marry Mason without divorcing Jake. You know, so you don’t hurt Jake’s feelings.”

M. nodded. “And then I could marry ALL the boys in my class!” (Not for the first time, I shuddered at the thought of this girl in high school.)

“Sure,” I said. “And you could marry the girls, too, if you like.”

M. shook her head and was quiet for a moment. “I’m not against gay,” she said finally, taking care to reassure her social-justice-minded mom that I hadn’t raised a homophobe.

I turned off the car engine and watched M. consider what to say next.

“But being gay is less usual than girls liking boys. And… I’m already transgender.”

“So… you don’t want to be gay because… it would make you more different?”


We sat and listened to the rain on the roof of the car. The kid was right, of course. Being gay would make her doubly different. M. and I talk a lot about how being different isn’t bad, how everyone is different in their own (often hidden) ways, how differences are often really special and wonderful things. But while that’s all lovely and true and politically correct, it’s equally true that we are social creatures. We all need to connect, to fit in, to have a secure place in the tribe. M. is well aware of this.

“OK,” I said. “That makes sense to me. But you also don’t have to decide yet if you’re gay or not. You won’t get married for real for quite a while. For now, you can just marry every boy at school!”

We giggled and unbuckled and headed for her classroom.

About a month ago, on a rainy Friday evening drive home from school, the car was dark and quiet, both of us worn out after a long week.

Half-way home, a question came from the darkness behind me:

“Mama, is there a school I could go to where everyone is transgender?”

I’m pretty sure she has never said anything that made me feel sadder. If I were a crier, I’d have started sobbing. I was just glad that M. couldn’t see my face. She doesn’t need to bear her mother’s sorrow; she needs my help in bearing her own. I pulled myself together and became the parent I thought she needed: A plucky problem-solver. “You know, honey, I don’t think there are schools like that. But what if we started a play group for kids like you? How about that?”

“Yessss!!!!” Her little feet pummeled the back of my seat in excitement. “ALL the other kids would be transgender too! Can we do it tomorrow?”

We drove home through the rain making plans: Who should come, where we’d meet, what games they would play. We agreed to invite the kids we’d met through our support group.

“What should we call the group?” I asked. “You’re starting the group, so I think you should name it.”

“How about… The True Self Play Group. With pizza. LOTS of pizza.”

The True Self Play Group will have its first meeting in a few weeks. M. is literally counting the days. (“Is it 20 or 21 days away, Mama?”)

I am awash in love, hope, and fear, my friends. (But perhaps that’s just what it is to be a parent?)

13 thoughts on “How to Be Different

  1. Not to worry. My sister “married” the cutest little boy in the neighborhood. She did worry that she would have to become a nun because he was Catholic. I believe gifts (Miller beer salt and pepper shakers) were exchanged. Looking forward to hearing stories of the True Self Play Group.

  2. Each will discover his/her true self, walk the most suitable path and in the end will hopefully find his/her happiness. Philosophers, however, have rightfully said that it is not the destination that is the most important, but rather the journey itself. M is well on her journey. Though it is not an easy journey, it can indeed be a happy one. I hope the TSPG brings happiness to all involved. M is a wise girl with a brilliant mother.

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