As a member and advocate of the LGBTIQA community, I really thought I had my shit together. I write blogs for crissakes! I advocate for Equality constantly. I march, and speak out, and soap box, and do all of those things a good liberal lesbian does. This past month, through AMPA, I was introduced to “Lady Valor” or Kristin Beck and have been a proud supporter of my transgender friends to fight for our country and live their lives openly and with dignity. So, this might come as a shock to many who know me, as it was a bitch slap of awakening to my own bias and learning curve, when I thought I knew better.
I am writing as a parent who is still stumbling and fumbling over language for my firstborn, as well as how to share about her to others who don’t know her. School House Rock has no anthem for this grammatical quagmire of gender anomaly, but I am willing to bet my first-born will be the one to write it!
My firstborn is 22. She was identified as male on our Home Birth certificate, because we went the traditional route of genital identification and saw sex organs that registered as “boy”. We weren’t trying to make a gender or sexual identity statement. This was 1992, and we were still going by the method that was commonplace. It was a thing we did.
During her growing up years, she had open access to dolls, Lego’s, Star Wars, pink clothes, blue clothes, and whatever she decided. She very much loved Batman, super hero stuff, and trucks, and also grew up most of her life with long hair. Her father had long hair, as did I, most of the time. She has always been fiercely independent, and although I thought I encouraged much of her non-conformist ways of thinking, more often than not, this was her natural state of being.
At age 17, she came out to me as gay (and coincidentally I came out to her as Lesbian ) She introduced me to her boyfriend, which was her best friend since 8th grade. I remember being thrilled she found a really awesome guy who would be good to her.
At 21 my firstborn came out as transgender, although that wasn’t really the term I received. If it were simply a binary switch from male to female, I would have been Mrs. Politically Correct Liberal Mom:
“Oh, you are coming out as Trans M-F? Great! I love you just the same as my daughter as my son! Just let me know when to switch pronouns and go shopping for dresses!”
But it wasn’t going to be that easy. Gender identity is not a neat little package of pronouns you can unpack like a 1950’s baby shower by pulling off the blue sticker and slapping on a pink one.
A lot of what she used to describe herself was less about what she was and more of what she wasn’t. She wasn’t a girl or a boy. She wasn’t androgynous, but she felt she could identify with both genders, or Bi-Gender. And then the march of the pro-nouns came… hir, their, Xe, hym, zir, I felt I was lost in Dr. Seuss lexicon.
Gender identity is crossing the border of “small-mindvilleness” on the Noah’s Ark of “two-by-twos” and stepping into the flood of boundless possibilities. As many degrees of seperation as there can be to Kevin Bacon, there are probably more degrees of how a person can identify their own gender and expression .
This brought me back to all those talks I had with my Mom and Dad, demanding they accept me for who I am as a Lesbian. While they were supportive, I remember my hair trigger sensitivity to any wince, question, or nuance of a perceived hint of disapproval, as if I were waiting for a chance to be righteously indignant.
Any sense of bewilderment was a reminder that I had 38 years to come to a point of acceptance of who I was and I was giving them 6 months to get their act together to catch up on a part of my life I had kept from them. This irony come full circle, was not lost on me, as I raced to regain my sense of where I was as a parent in missing such important clues about my first born.
These are the Politically Incorrect feelings I was having as a liberal lesbian mom:
1. Betrayal- Yep. Not proud of this. And what a loaded word that is! I felt betrayed that my first-born didn’t tell me she was feeling bi-gender. I realize I’m not even sure if that term was tossed around heavily in the 1990’s. As I looked back over her life for “clues”, I saw red flags in areas I previously had been color blind to. When she was teased and taunted in Jr. High for having long hair and looking like a girl, she approached and handled them with her razor sharp disarming wit: “Am I a pretty girl?” hitting them with her shoe. She didn’t tell me she was bi-gender because she had no map or guide as to what she might be feeling and no role models of people that fit outside the gender binary point A or B.
2. Insecurity- I was out of my depth, and had no oars to cling to. Immediately, my mind raced with thoughts of “what do I tell the neighbors?” meaning I went from zero to panic in 60 seconds to find the proper etiquette for “How do I introduce my first-born when she isn’t available to be seen?” and “How does her younger sister talk about her?” Are we allowed to say “Once I had a son, but now I have a hermaphrodite”? (hermaphrodite is the term she gave me) I didn’t want my first born to be teased or hurt or misunderstood by others, but as her Mom, I had no clue about how to accomplish this when I was the one who clearly misunderstood.
3. Guilt- I felt guilty for missing my boy. I felt guilty for not wanting her to change her name from the name I clearly chose especially for her before really knowing her! I lamented that I might never get to talk about her past in the way I remembered it, but might lose the way I talked about her as my child or her sister’s way of remembering her older brother.
My own struggle to grasp her transition felt as though I were walking through a mine field of gender identity crisis of my own, where every step is a misstep. I questioned my 22 years as a parent. How could I have been so wrong about recognizing this? I found myself with more questions, and not sure how to even approach my own child, as if she had suddenly become alien to me.
I realize now that this was MY issue all along and not hers. It took many awkward meetings and questions to ask her about how she thought of herself, and how she wanted me to honor her gender identity. I’m TOTALLY A BEGINNER.
Through much talk and debate, I’m thankful she gave me the use of the familiar pronoun “she”, because “hir” and “their” hurts grammatically. In writing this, I am reflecting now on how many times she had to fight back against stereotypes in her life, fight a system perpetually trying to pound her into a pegboard in which she was never meant to fit. Many of these fights I thought I was involved in, but perhaps she was fighting them alone and I was clueless on the sidelines.
The feelings I have had were not brought on by her telling me who she was, but my inability to have a Transition of the Heart to see what was in front of me all along, my first born child: the one who has pushed me to think past two-dimensional perceptions, who makes me laugh with her incredible biting wit, and off the wall sense of humor, and the one who defies convention in an evolutionary revolution of her generation. She is the same baby I brought into this world, who I have loved and adored since the beginning, and I who I continue to be inspired by now. I am thankful to both my kids for putting up with me.
** For a great reference point as a parent of transgender children, I highly recommend the facebook group GNP “Gender Neutral Parenting”. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gender-Neutral-Parenting/302740229762397
“Sex is biology, gender is social construct.”