Friday, September 30, 2011

Quoting the Beatles

So I was pondering on acceptance earlier today.  And you know what I realized?  Once again, I caught myself throwing stones at people in glass houses.  The person that has been subject to my non-acceptance is Bulldog.

Now, what the heck is that all about?  And I actually posed that question to myself in my head.  Because one would think that acceptance of a transgendered child would be infinitely more difficult than accepting one's spouse whose body and mind agree on gender, and whose only mind/body issues are comprised of high cholesterol, dyslexia and bossiness. Yet, I find life with DJ much easier than life with Bulldog on many days.  Why is that?  After all,  he's a good man so why can't I readily accept him as well as I readily accept DJ?  When I say I don't accept, I don't mean I reject him outright, rather I get readily frustrated and put out when he fails to understand me.  Or when he fails to be perfect.  Or when he fails to read my mind.  Man, Bulldog really has a lot of issues, doesn't he?  Because it can't be that I have the issues, right?

Oh for cripes sake (quoting my mother....does anyone know what "cripe" means, anyway? And is it singular or plural?  cripes or cripe's or cripes'?) we all know the answer here. The issue(s) is (are) mine.  Now, in fairness to me, Bulldog doesn't "get" me on many, many days.  He judges me occasionally, and some days it seems like he doesn't accept me, but if we use that as a defense, we can do the "I know you are, but what am I?" routine indefinitely. Besides, wasn't I the one who publicly decried, "Let peace begin with me?"  So what is my conundrum (quoting a dear friend who loves that word) anyway?

I have expectations of Bulldog, lots of 'em.  In contrast, I have a very finite number of expectations for DJ.  And the expectations I have of DJ are easy:  wake up in time for school, do your homework, clean your room occasionally.  The list of Bulldog's expectations is significantly longer, more ambiguous and more complicated.  That isn't good because:  Expectations kill.  They can kill spontaneity, love, passion, excitement, surprise and unexpectedness, practically the exact opposite of expectations.  When I catch myself having expectations, and subsequently make myself stop having expectations, even momentarily, everything about Bulldog, and my life for that matter, tickles me pink.  It's amazing actually.

And what are expectations anyway?  An example or translation of expectation could include the following thoughts:  "But I want you to be like I want you to be" or   "I want you to act like I want." or  "I want you to present in the manner that makes me comfortable."  Wow.....I, I, I.   There is an "I" in expectation, but there isn't one in acceptance.

The first time I ever went to a party with both boy and girl invitees, I was super excited. I had great expectations of having a fabulous time.  Dad encouraged me to lower the bar a bit.  My father, for the first of many times over the decades quoted his old friend Cornelius Crowley ( I swear that's his real name):  Don't have expectations, you'll only be disappointed.  Or, put another way, let it be.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Pronoun shift

I was ruminating on the first few weeks when my husband and I, as well as DJ's aunts, brothers and grandma were all trying to make the pronoun shift, not to mention calling our new female relative by her new name.  As I lay awake in my bed before dawn today, (why the hell was I up so early after getting my butt kicked at work the day before?  Oops, that's another separate issue and violates my "one issue at a time" rule. Sorry.) I was trying to remember what led to that transition become easier.  All I can come up with is sheer repetition.

I can only liken it to muscle memory.  You know how when you do something often enough, your brain doesn't have to think about it anymore?  Your body just goes on auto pilot and does what it needs to do, responds as it needs to respond, says what it needs to say? For instance, most of us have had enough lousy days that we can no longer keep track on any of our phalanges (that would be fingers and toes for those of you who don't know and don't feel like surfing through Webster's).  And the majority of us have enough social experience to know that most people don't necessarily want to hear about our lousy day, so we can answer, by rote, "I'm doing great.  How are you?", when someone says, "Hey, how's it going?" ( I live in a small town in the south.  "Hey" is an accepted greeting, even among the educated.  And no, we don't have a piece of straw hanging out of our mouths that we must try to speak around when we say, "Hey".)

The first few months, as we were trying to use the appropriate pronoun of "she" instead of "he" it seemed like making the switch would never come readily.  Using DJ's new name wasn't too terribly difficult since it was a derivative of her given name, thank goodness.  If she'd gone from say, "Eric" to "Penelope" that would have been quite an uphill climb for my limited faculties.  But the pronouns were especially difficult because they are so blessed similar sounding and only slightly different to say; and yet, the addition, or subtraction, of the "s" to the "he" means all the difference in the world to the person to whom you are referring.

So this just popped into my head.  Almost all of us under the age of 40 have taken a keyboarding class.  Remember the first time you set eyes on a keyboard and wondered how the heck you would ever make your left index finger remember that it was responsible for typing "f", "g", "t", "r" and "b"?  Now, my body has it so memorized that I had to look at the keyboard just now to remember which letters my left index finger was able to recall, all by itself, without my thinking about it. That's muscle memory.  I'll bet within one or two months of your keyboarding class, your left index finger was able to find all of the abovementioned letters, without thinking, which even now I can't think of without having to look at the keyboard, in spite of having written about it not 30 words, or seconds ago.

That is the process that will occur when you're trying to make the pronoun shift.  And it will occur because of simple repetition. If you're worried that your transgendered loved one will be offended when you slip up, because you will slip up, don't.  If you have let the person know that you want to make the change, he or she will know that you're making your best effort;  that, in itself, is more important than anything else because it signifies your acceptance.  And there is almost nothing that a quick, but sincere apology with a rueful smile can't remedy.  If, for some reason your transgendered relative does become sensitive when you slip up, gently remind him or her that this is new for you too and that half the time you call everyone you know by the wrong name because it's part of the aging, parenting, and human process.  We've talked about having a sense of humor before.  It's integral, in this extremely fallible person's opinion.  The transgendered person must attempt to have a sense of humor, as well.  It's ok to gently and lovingly remind the person to lighten up, that you're doing your best and that you're all in this together.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Playing the hand that's dealt you

So, I've learned a couple of things this afternoon about myself, my daughter and the world. Wow-what a productive day, and it's just nearing dinnertime.

DJ and I started the day with college discussions.  She's set her sights pretty darn high and is thinking of shooting for Juilliard, of all places.  I told her we support her if she can get a scholarship, because otherwise, it may be out of our budget.  That led, in due course, to analyzing what would make her competitive with other applicants.  Her grades, standardized test scores and talent all seem pretty phenomenal to us, but we're her parents.  DJ and I talked about the advisability of mentioning her status as a transgender person, how it's affected, and even enhanced her talents, and how it makes her a unique person.  We figured, right or wrong, that it might serve as a clincher in an application process.

Fast forward a number of hours, and I'm preparing to make a phone call to the driver's ed folks (see post earlier this day) to discuss the birth certificate, legal name change paperwork that we would have to provide to enroll her in class.  The conversation went well enough:  I adopted the "breezy" tone cited in the earlier blog and told some tiny white lies meant to make him think that DJ's birth certificate was incorrect because of a medical condition that I painted to look physical (which technically it is) and mentioned that the surgery required to correct the condition would be the only way to change the birth certificate by Virginia law (which is also true).  If he wants to draw the conclusion that she was born with a congenital genital defect, strictly speaking, like some of those folks who are born with incongruous genitals, so be it.  Some people can understand that more than gender dysphoria.  I mean, after all, if a person is born with genitals that cannot be readily identified, and then is accidentally raised as the wrong gender, folks get that because the genitals gave a mixed message.  What they don't get is when the genitals give a clear, but incorrect, message.  So, I played on what I (likely correctly) assumed would be his ignorance about my kid's condition.

But, just to be sure, I decided (shamefully, mostly, but not completely) to play the MILF card.  If you don't know what a MILF is, Google it.  Now, I do not think of myself as a MILF, but a few people have convinced me that if I put plenty of time, effort and cosmetics into it, I might could be a MILF candidate, if the planets are aligned and the moon is in the seventh hour.  So, I figured if the card is in the deck, and it may help the situation, why not play it.  How would it help? Because (most straight) men are hormonally affected goobers.  If they see a woman who made a point of blow drying her hair, actually putting on make-up and high heels to make her legs look longer (and hopefully thinner) in her jeans, they are likely to do whatever the woman asks because that surge of testosterone temporarily renders them unable to think, which, at times, can be a very good thing for those people who can parlay it to their advantage.

OK-that whole, superficial, rigamorol turned out to be totally unnecessary.  Why?  Because, in the end, sometimes the almighty dollar dictates the course of action a person takes.  I don't want to steal Mr. Driver's Ed guy's thunder-maybe he just didn't care what the birth certificate said regarding gender, as long as he could prove that DJ was legally DJ.  Truthfully, he was very nonchalant about the whole affair in person, after my preparatory phone call.  Almost too nonchalant, but so what?  Maybe he's more accepting than I thought, or maybe he's a savvy enough businessman to know that $275 is $275 even if it's paid by a "one eyed episcopalion kangaroo, if that happens to be (its) kinky inclination" (stole that from the movie "Goodbye Girl").  So, kudos to the almighty dollar, in this instance.  Anyone who knows me well knows that that statement would normally never emit from my verbose mouth.  But sometimes you just gotta accept another person's motivation to do the right thing, even if it might be, technically, for the wrong reasons.  It's still the right thing.  After all, this guy is running a business in a tight economy.  He can't be choosy about his customers and whether or not they meet his idea of "normal" or "acceptable." He, too, must play the hand he's given.

And, as long as nobody gets hurt, and no laws are broken, what the hell is wrong with that?  We are not born equal.  Let me explain-we are all born equally deserving of our civil rights, but no way in hell are we born equal.  Otherwise,  why would there be people who are born smart and beautiful, while the rest of us are kind of mediocre, or worse, in one or both areas.  For instance, I was born with a decent enough figure until my 3 children ruined me, but I have godawful huge feet.  One of my sisters is  slender, with no chest whatsoever, but has cute little feet, and my other sister has a cute figure and cute feet.  Now, try to convince me we were born equal, because it ain't gonna happen.  No one told my sisters their feet were "gunboats."  So, if someone were looking for a foot model, my sisters would have the advantage, and would be smart to play their "feet" card, because, let's face it, none of us is gonna get any other modeling contract until we grow at least 6 inches in height, and even that might not convince Vogue that we would look stunning on the cover of their magazine.  I, however, would be out of luck.  But, let's say some company was looking for a person who could express every single opinion about the world, and it didn't matter how she looked or how big her feet were?  Well, naturally, I would shamelessly optimize that quality and play that card.

So, if my daughter decides to play up the fact that she was born in the wrong body, overcame that terribly unfair inequity through her own strength and perseverance and managed to still do exceedingly well in spite of, and in some ways, because of that inequity, I support her.  She's taking a risk-and when the stakes are this high, that's what card playing is all about.

Don't make it complicated

So, we are at an exceedingly awkward spot today.  This evening DJ begins her driver's education, the classroom portion.  When I spoke with the instructor he asked about her having a photo ID, or in lieu of that, a birth certificate.  Great....another conversation where I get to "educate" someone.

Don't get me wrong, I will do anything at all for DJ, but, man, do I hate these conversations.  So far, every time I've had one, it's gone well, but I still don't like it.  Part of it is my make-up as a person-I intensely dislike awkward conversations of any kind because it puts me in the driver's seat (no pun intended) for managing the conversation.  Why is that?  Well, because I tend to have the lower threshold for awkwardness, I suppose, and so I work incredibly hard to have all my feelers at the ready so that I can manipulate or guide the conversation so that it remains civil, upbeat, positive, etc.  Maybe I'm just neurotic, over-reactionary and plain old trying too hard.  But there you have it, another idiosyncratic obstacle of mine that I have to heave myself over.  But since it's for DJ, I'll do it.  Thank goodness she provides me with inspiration because otherwise I might remain in any number of my innumerable ruts forever.

When I've had these conversations, I've found what works is for me to adopt a certain tone, if you will.  I have to come across as absolutely confidant and convey to the person with whom I'm speaking that I naturally assume he or she will completely understand the situation and do his or her best to accommodate us.  It's kind of a breezy quality that I don't have in my regular, everyday life.  Maybe if I did, I'd be the president of something by now.  But, in the spirit of remaining positive, at least I can say I'm able to fake it when necessary.

I've had this talk with her primary care physician, the office manager at the dental office, her guitar instructor, the principal of her school, other health care specialists who, believe it or not, are not necessarily well versed in the transgender condition in spite of it being a disorder that is recognized by the American Medical Association.  I have a family member who is very, very educated, and even she had a thing or two to learn, by her own reckoning, not mine.  Anyway, this "breezy" quality actually works.

I didn't come up with it.  I'm neither that brilliant, nor that confidant.  However, I do like to read a lot and that was a tip I picked up from somewhere (wish I could remember where).  Oftentimes, the people with whom we share this information will subconsciously and inadvertently look to us, the speaker, the de facto educator, if you will, for cues on how to respond to our news, pronouncement, call it what you want.  If we act like it's a big hairy deal, or something to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about, they will respond accordingly.  We all tend to sort of mirror each other like that, which is one of humanity's finer qualities, in my opinion, since it is a form of empathy.  So, if I were to say, "Look, I'm really sorry, but my son is now a daughter," with a tone of exasperation, the listener may be likely to respond with a supportive-of-my-exasperation comment of, "I'm so sorry Mrs. ----.  Of course we will try to make this easier for both of you."  Which might mean that they'll be nice to me, but continue to treat her like a him.

But, when I say something like, "I know our child has been coming to guitar lessons as "JD" but he is actually a she.  She has a gender identity disorder called Gender Dysphoria-the classic girl stuck in a boy's body scenario.  So, we are supporting her and just wanted to let you know that she goes by "DJ" now and will be presenting as DJ. We don't expect people to understand her condition, only to treat her respectfully by calling her by her name and using the correct pronoun. But please don't worry if you slip up, because what DJ, or we, care about is that you try."  And the trick is to sound as if you assume they will have no problem with accommodating your request.  Either they will be happy to do so because they think of themselves as cooperative, caring and educated people and want to convey that to you, or they will react completely inappropriately, at which point you sever the relationship.

Man, I made that sound so simple.  Well, it's not easy to do, but it is truly that simple.  Now, I just need to remember that because I've got a phone call to make to the driver's ed people.  Wish me luck :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saving grace

I was thinking about parents who might be new to this journey this morning.  In spite of our having come so far, I don't want to lead parents into thinking this was a breeze.  Just because I tend to take a somewhat lighthearted view in this blog does not mean the trek was lighthearted in any way.  I try to be humorous to take the edge off but perhaps that is being insensitive.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing because you're coming from the perspective of "everything worked out in the end", but when you're in the middle, you really don't want to hear that.  You just want someone to say, "Yup, it's damn hard."

We want to gloss over how hard it is for us because we don't want our kids to think we have regrets.  And we don't have regrets any more than the parents whose toddler is throwing the mother of all tantrums in the middle of the grocery story.  It completely sucks being in that position, but it's not like most of us throw our hands in the air and say, "I give up.  You're going back."  Some sad parents do that, but most of us stick it out because we love our children and when our children act like little individuals with minds and wills all their own, we don't give up on them just because they're driving us nuts.  And that is certainly true with trans kids too.  We want to particularly protect them from knowing about our stresses as parents to them because they have already experienced more stress than the average kid; for one, they've had to be so closeted for a significant portion of their lives, and, after all, they are inhabiting foreign bodies.

So let's get down to the brass tacks: the first hours, days, week and months of DJ's transition were simultaneously hellish with some occasional wonderful thrown in.  Why hellish?  Well, the worry is overwhelming, for one.  It colors everything you do, everything you think about.  You become a bit furtive and paranoid because you feel more prepared to protect your kid if you assume everyone is looking cross eyed at her.  I read that sentence and realize how schizo it sounds, but there you have it, nonetheless.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

The worry is all-encompassing; it made me feel physically ill.  Everything hurt-my back was killing me.  My knees hurt.  I started getting headaches.  And I felt exhausted.  It took a couple of months before I realized that I felt like I was reliving my experiences of mothering small children.  It had been so many years since my kids needed me that much, that I had become spoiled.  I had become soft once all my kids had hit puberty.  While that stage of development certainly has its own challenges, let's face it, at least we don't have to worry about helping with body functions and feeding and we can be reasonably certain that the kids won't run into the streets without looking both ways first.   Until puberty, or thereabouts, you are "on" all the time, even in your sleep.  Your mommy and daddy ears are fine tuned 24/7 for anything that sounds unusual so you can spring to the ready at a moment's notice.

Then your kid doesn't need your help in the bathroom anymore and they sleep through the night or can manage their own bad dreams without you, and, well, yeah, you definitely get "soft."  Until they come out and then you are thrust back into the stage of more active parenting again.  I didn't resent it at all, I was just not conditioned for it anymore.  I had to recondition myself but this time I was much older and it was harder getting back in the saddle.  All those physical pains were a result of my emotional stress. I felt like we had major catching up to do.

In addition to being a paramedic/firefighter, I'm an educator.  I think it's in the genes, or I just like to hear myself talk, especially when the people I'm talking to aren't allowed to shut me up.  I felt an overwhelming urge to "teach" my new daughter all that she had missed out on while being raised as a boy.  Let's face it, being a woman in this man's world isn't for the feint of heart and I had to help DJ be ready to face the world as a second class citizen.  There's a trick to it, but geez, it took me decades to figure it out and now I had to offer DJ a crash course.

And DJ needed her parents in a way that most 15 year olds don't.  We were honored and glad and wanted to be there for her, but I'd gotten "soft" in that area too.  I would have welcomed cuddling from any of my kids, it's just that once they got to about age 10, none of them were that interested.  Now, suddenly, DJ was very interested.  I think she needed it.  I'd forgotten what it was like to have your physical presence and touch be needed so much.  I'd forgotten how the act of giving can really be physically hard.

I regret or begrudge none of it.  I'm just stating a fact that it was just plain hard.  And the "hardness" of it manifested in how I felt physically, which is to say I felt like $---.  I was exhausted.  And to be honest, I'm not even sure how Bulldog felt because I was so consumed with how DJ was feeling, and how I was feeling related to how she was feeling, that checking in with how Bulldog was feeling was more than I could manage on many days.  I just didn't have enough inner resources to check his emotional pulse many days.  That's the truth of the matter-we all were stretched pretty thin.

So, if you're feeling stretched pretty thin yourself, hang in there.  It's part of the process and you will come out whole on the other side, believe it or not.  We're irreverent as hell in this house, which helped me tremendously.  If you can laugh at yourself and each other, it will help dispel some of those dark, tiring days where the worry just grinds you down.  I mean, when you and your daughter are getting caught up in the angst about how to fill out a bathing suit top properly without giving away your secrets, you have to laugh at imagining one of your "tools" popping out if you get knocked over by a wave at the beach.  What else can you do?    The situation that your child was born into and has now been thrust upon you is not going to go away.  And really, the absurdity and unfairness are so grotesque, it's almost comical because it's the stuff of ridiculous books of fiction that you can pick up at the used book store for a quarter because no one finds the story even remotely believable; except it is believable because it's your life.  And more importantly, it's her life.  So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and poke fun at yourself and the situation.  It's serious enough as it is without you making it more so.  Try to see the funny.  Some days it may be your only saving grace.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Par for the course

I am a cranky wench when I come off of my 24 hour shift.  Well, not every single time I come off of my shift, but every time we have a busy night, which is quite often.  But it was a Saturday morning and I was looking forward to crawling immediately into my bed and sleeping until Bulldog and DJ got back from her piano lesson close to lunchtime.

Until Bulldog informed me he'd made other plans.  Since I've promised myself that I will only go on one neurotic rampage at a time in this blog, we will not address Bulldog's wrongdoing here.  The poor man has heard enough from me on that subject, and since he occasionally reads this blog, I will not subject him to further shrewish kvetching.  I managed to grab a quick cat nap before DJ and I headed out for her piano lesson.

I was rueing the fact that I had acted in the aforementioned shrewish way, so in an effort to not repeat that mistake with another family member, I attempted to make small talk with DJ.  I asked a benign question about I don't even remember what, and she answered me in a snippy fashion.  I continued to attempt small talk thinking perhaps I had misinterpreted her tone, when she answered in the same manner.  I asked her what was wrong and she replied, after a whopping 2 minutes in my presence, "I don't know, you're just getting on my nerves."

OK-were I to have lost my temper here, I could only have pled temporary insanity due to lack of sleep, but to my credit, I didn't lose my temper.  I did, however, remind her that I was giving up sleep to get her where she needed to go and the last thing in the entire world I needed was to hear that I was getting on her nerves when:  a)  I'm cranky as all hell and b) I'm trying to be nice as I fight my crankiness and get her to her lesson when really I'd rather be SLEEPING, AND SHE'S BEING RUDE!

We regrouped pretty quickly, no harm, no major foul, but on thinking back on this incident, I realize this altercation was a good thing.  And yes, I've since gotten caught up on my sleep, so I'm not hallucinating when I say her snippiness (or mine, for that matter) is a good thing.  This mother/daughter tension or occasional conflict is as it's supposed to be.  When our sons were this age, they were butting heads with Bulldog, but they butt heads with me far less frequently.  Bulldog and DJ rarely butt heads either.

So why is this good?  Well, on retrospect, having nearly a year and a half of DJ gracing us with her presence (I say that with a smirk because sometimes I think she would have us call her "highness" if she seriously thought she could get away with it) I've come to realize the kid is relaxing into herself.  She's been so busy adjusting and transitioning, and was initially so excited about the process, that she was either super cuddly, because now she was free to be that way, or just so slap happy to be able to be her true self that she was HAPPY. ALL. THE. TIME for the first few months.  Not a bad thing at all, but seriously, who can be that way every waking second.  And if she were, that would be a red flag anyway.

So, I've decided that this typical teenage girl snippiness that I, primarily, am subject to is so blessed typical and, dare I say, "normal" (I don't usually dig that word) for a teenage girl, that I'm going to embrace it!!!  OK, that's crap.  I'm not going to embrace it, but I am going to look on it benignly.  Because when a teenage girl acts like a teenage girl, because she finally can, it's a good thing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Will you think less of me, or my kid?

I've written quite a bit about our daughter's life and some about my own struggles.  Today, I was thinking of a friend of mine who is in my line of work.  It's his 30th birthday and he crossed my mind because I really like him as a person; as a dad, and as a firefighter, I respect his ideals. This led in due course to my wondering how he would accept my news that I am gladly supporting my transgender daughter's coming out.

I wonder about this for a number of reasons:  I live in a small, conservative town and work in an equally small conservative town.  These towns neighbor each other, and the line of work I'm in-fire and rescue-is a goldfish bowl world.  We all know of, or have heard about, each other's business to one degree or another.    We have an inside joke that if you want people to either hear your story in far off lands, or to hear a screwed-up version of your story, to tell a firefighter. 

We're a conservative bunch ourselves.  Well, not me, perhaps, but generally, we are.  We have old-fashioned ideas about family and commitment to family and to each other.  Sometimes, this can lead to unacceptance of those who aren't our blood family or our firefighting family.  We're tribal that way and in the literal or figurative heat of the moment, it serves us well.  I for one am thankful for it.

But I was wondering if my friend would turn his back on me since my kid, and my acceptance of my kid, are both so unusual in my professional world, and even in the world in general.  Would this great guy think less of me?  I hope not.  I hope he would hear my story and realize how similar he and I are.  I hope he would know our similar experiences can bridge the fact that we might have different ideas about what is "normal."  Maybe I'm underestimating him.  I hope so.

He's a dedicated father.  He would die for his kids THIS SECOND, if necessary.  All he wants is their happiness and he would move heaven and earth to ensure their happiness.  So would I.  We have that in common.  So many of us have that in common.  Please consider that when you look at me and when you think of my kid.

Fifty years ago, white people who married black people were shunned.  Black people were inferior, by birth or by character, it was supposed.  Some will never accept mixed couples, but most of us now are completely unfazed.  What was the big deal anyway?  Folks with depression used to be disparaged as "weak" or "fruity" and completely written off as ever being normal.  But now we know that the brain is an organ that relies on chemicals just like our pancreas and kidneys do.  Sometimes those organs malfunction and need some chemicals thrown in to make them function well.  Homosexuals were completely reviled for decades, centuries even.  They too were thought to be abnormal, sick, mentally ill even.  Again, some of us will never accept gay people, but most of us don't care because we know at least one or two gay people and they are pretty much like the rest of us:  they work, they love, they raise families and have good friends.

Some of us have kids who truly have always felt like they are in the wrong bodies.  It's a brain thing too but there is no medicine to "switch" that part of the brain. The only recognized "cure" is to allow the person to live as the gender he or she feels and believes he/she truly is.  For some, this includes surgery. For whatever reason-a chemical imbalance during the child's gestation, a chromosomal "mutation" (in the scientific sense), maternal stress during pregnancy-no one really knows, the part of the brain that knows what gender one is doesn't agree with the biology of the body. 

If we look in nature, we see results of chromosomal "mutation" all around us.  Some of those "mutations" yield horrific birth defects, but most of us wouldn't trash our children.  Some of those alterations in genes may cause Downs' Syndrome, which we wouldn't wish on anyone but will readily recognize that folks with that condition tend to be some of the most loving and caring people any of us will ever have the honor to know.  Some genetic changes will wither the body and spare the mind.  Some will do the opposite.  We accept these people in spite of being glad that we don't have to walk in their shoes.  The challenges some folks face are more than most of us are equal to.

This is true of transgender people too.  They aren't sick, they've just got a part of their brains that is at odds with their bodies.  And when your kid comes to you and tells you her story and then tells you what it will take to be sure she's happy, you yield.  It's not easy.  You must fight what you've been taught, or have seen in movies, or what other people think, and look deeply into your kid's eyes to find the truth.  And it's so easy to see-this is no different than stepping in front of a truck to save your kid's life.  It's what any good parent would do. 

So if you're my friend and you accept me as a person, you will recognize the good parent I am trying to be.  And if you can accept that, maybe, just maybe, you can accept that my kid ain't so different from yours.  She isn't strange or freaky. She goes to school, has friends, texts too much on her cell phone, kicks @$$ in Calculus and music, can simultaneously be a pain in the @$$ some days-just like your kid.  Are you really gonna care about the 1% of her body that is supposed to dictate her gender?  Or can you accept that sometimes Mother Nature comes up with combinations that we never thought possible?  I hope so because I would be saddened to find that my friend, whom I respect as a person and a parent, and whose kids I would respect because you're my friend and you've got great kids, wouldn't respect me, or my kid.  In fact, it would break my heart.  If we're truly friends, you will accept me; and if you can accept me, accepting my kid might not be as hard you thought.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Let it begin with me

Ten years ago today, nearly to the minute, the second tower fell.  As a nation, our sorrow is deep and abiding.  With a decade under our belt, we have the opportunity to gain the perspective that only time and distance can afford.  And when one distills down what led us to this point, it is clear that exclusivity is the culprit.

The idea, "the world should be according to me" caused those two towers to fall, the pentagon to fold and a plane full of people refusing to cower to crash in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania.  It starts with each of us-do we reject our brothers and sisters because they are different?  Do we terrorize by refusing to accept and by casting out?  The world over, we see it on the large and small scale.

Refusing to let the gay young man sit at our lunch table, openly mocking the woman with the crew cut, disparaging those whose religious practices are different than ours, assuming that those whose skin is not like ours are less than us, instilling fear in others simply because they don't think like us, casting out those we don't understand....this is how it starts.  The hate in one person's heart is what leads to the inferno that causes the tower to fall.

Inclusiveness, acceptance, and love are our only true and lasting weapons.

 "Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.  With every breath I take let this be my solemn vow:  to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Act like you own the joint

Those first few weeks after DJ came out to us, she and I took a number of roadtrips to go visit one of her brothers while he worked at the beach.  We were both eager:  she to start her new life and absorb anything and everything that would assist her in that endeavor; I to show her we supported her and to help her catch up on some of what she missed living as a boy those 15 years.

The first time she ever was going to use the women's restroom set her heart pounding.  I admittedly had some butterflies in my stomach, but I didn't feel frightened because I knew I would be with her and would verbally lay into anyone who so much as looked twice at her.  Somehow, I knew that I had to impart to her the imperativeness of believing in yourself.  If, for one second, she doubted that she would "pass", people would pick up on that like sharks pick up on blood in the water.

I told her she had to truly believe that as long as she was presenting as a young woman, she had every right to use the women's bathroom.  After all, it's not like the genitalia police would be looking up her skirt-and if they did, there would be hell to pay.  Now, keep in mind, I'm talking BIG for a reason-she HAS to believe it AND she has to know that if something were to go wrong that her parents would "save" her from whatever it was.  If she didn't know, right down to her cute little purple polished toes, that we would have her back, she might not have had the confidence to step right out as DJ, and then the sharks would circle.

She knew she was a girl, she just needed to know from someone on the "genetically correct" team that she had the right to present as a girl.  Whenever a disenfranchised people decide to stand up to the masses who might seek to keep them down, they often need assistance from insiders that are part of the masses.  That's where beloved family and friends can do important work.  We must impart to them that not only do we accept them, but that we will kick @$$ and take names from those who mistreat them.  OK, not literally, of course, although if someone ever tried to harm DJ in my presence, I would have no compunction whatsoever about putting this 47 year old body through hell to keep her safe.  Nonetheless, we all feel better knowing someone has our back.  More importantly, we feel more confidant and confidance is a transgender person's greatest accessory when it comes to "passing" as the gender with which they identify.  Hell, confidance is everyone's best accessory when we want to look and feel our best.

And sometimes, to make your transgendered family member feel confidant, you may have to show them it's ok to get a little angry about the oppression they've experienced.  A little anger can be like a propellent, at times, particularly if one feels stalled or paralyzed by fear or apprehension.  I reminded DJ that she had a right to privacy and that no one (well, the law maybe, but only with a warrant, and besides, that ain't gonna happen) has the right to invade her privacy to satisfy their curiosity about whether or not she really is a she, genetically speaking.  And furthermore, that she had a right to be selective regarding  with whom she shared her history.

That first night on our road trip, I took her out to dinner.  We did her hair and make-up;she had on a girly    t-shirt and capri pants.  She looked cute, but I could sense her apprehension as this was literally, the first time she would go out in public as her true self.  She wasn't sure she would pass.  We were seated at our table and the waiter walked up and said, "Good evening ladies,  Can I get you something to drink?"  She was still a little nervous, but beaming.  That's right baby-never let 'em see you sweat.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Labels and why they suck

Thank goodness I tend to blather on, out loud.  I'm very opinionated (as poor, poor Bulldog knows) AND I assume that everyone in hearing distance wants to hear about all my opinions-ALL THE TIME.  And have  I mentioned that I am sarcastic?  I think that I'm witty when I'm sarcastic.  Perhaps I am merely annoying as hell.

Anyway,  I've been ruminating on how our "binary-ness" (DJ's word) regarding gender caused a delay in DJ's coming out.  When I watched a special on "Nightline" about transgender children, I wondered why DJ didn't come out sooner.  And so I asked her, with a sinking feeling in my gut because I knew her answer would have something to do with fear of non-acceptance from us.

Sure enough, random comments I've made (she didn't quote Bulldog, so maybe I'm the only one who had the hangups) served to stall her for at least a couple of years.  OUCH.  And that is a major understatement. I hurt my kid.  I HURT MY KID.

For someone who is so opinionated AND is sure her opinions are always right, I can be pretty full of     $ - - -.  And for someone who is pretty damn certain that she is accepting of everyone, I am full up to my eyebrows of that same matter.

Case in point:  when JD started growing his hair out, I stated that he looked like a girl.  This might have been exactly what DJ, still in hiding, wanted to hear except that I had a sneering tone to my voice.  And I apparently made a similar comment with similar tone when JD started shaving his legs.  Clearly, boys appearing to look like girls was a no-no to mama.  And why did I care?  Why do any of us care?

Because we need to label people for our own comfort.  I think we do it because it helps bring order to a vast, complex, non-orderly world and our equally confusing lives.  It's why we label our files in our file cabinets and why some of us anal-retentive people label the insides of our kitchen cabinets. (Hey-in my defense, the other people in this house never put things away in the right places!!)  In one way, our need to label people makes sense, but really, we're doing it for our comfort level at someone else's expense, so it really doesn't make sense.

When one of DJ's brothers was a toddler, his grandpa brought him a Barbie from the lost and found at work.  (WHY? We had enough toys...but I will only deal with one of my issues at a time here.)  This Barbie was wearing a particularly frilly gown of fuschia.  My son loved playing with this Barbie and it drove me nuts.  So much so, that I hid the Barbie until he forgot about it, at which point my conscience allowed me to throw it away.  The question is-why did it drive me nuts?  If I saw a little girl playing with a firetruck, I would applaud her.

OMG-I am seriously screwed up!!! For someone who is so AGAINST gender bias, I have a gender bias issue myself.  I think I'm getting over it because of DJ, thank goodness.  But why was I ever under it?  Partly because I thought any of my kids' potential gender queer traits (the term "gender queer" is not disparaging-it's an accepted term.  It means that a person does not subscribe to one or the other, or either genders.  This is a term that such folks use to describe themselves.) reflected poorly on me as a parent, somehow.  Because, really, it's ALL about me, right?

Knowing this, it's a wonder DJ was ever able to come out at all.  Well, thank goodness for the Discovery channel and one of my nicer qualities: empathy. That, and my propensity to share all my opinions, the exclusive ones and the inclusive, because I made an understanding comment about a transgendered person in India.  I commented how difficult it must be to feel like you're in the wrong body.  And THAT helped to open the door.  Certainly, for DJ, there were other, more important, events that led to her feeling safe that she could come out, but for me, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Luckily, I grabbed at that brass ring of redemption because at least I can rest a little more easily knowing that, at least in that instance, I was finally part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Does it always work out in the end?

DJ and I had the fun of co-hosting our niece's birthday tea party this past weekend.  Our niece is a lovely girl-genuinely sweet, spunky, loving and strong too.  She comes from a wonderful family-both parents, (and her brother) are loving and doting, and accepting, as they have accepted our daughter from the moment they found out she was their niece rather than their nephew.

Having raised 3 kids, all 3 of whom I initially thought were boys, we only have experience with boy birthday parties.  DJ has had a number of co-ed parties the last 3 or 4 years, but prior to that, we obviously never had a typical all girl birthday party.  On Saturday, she and I both had a great time helping the girls dress up in a way that felt comfortable to them, having tea, opening presents, making a keychain, all the while, the 9 little girls were giggly and happy, affectionate and energetic.

Whenever DJ is in the company of little girls, I always wonder if entertaining them is not only fun for her, as it does seem to be, but also semi-painful knowing how she missed out on those years.  How many years was she lackluster in choosing halloween costumes or clothes for a new school year because she couldn't pick what she really wanted?  I remember her reticence clearly and at the time chalked it up to our efforts just not measuring up to what she had in mind, or assuming perhaps she was unusually picky about clothes.

One year, after making multiple suggestions for a halloween costume, DJ's "male" self, JD, agreed that being a knight might be fun.  We shopped and got creative and came up with a fantastic and realistic knight costume that we made ourselves.  It look so authentic and JD was completely underwhelmed.  No tantrums, mind you, because that was not JD's style, and isn't DJ's style for that matter, but just a quiet lack of enthusiasm.  I assumed JD was just being picky and ignored the lack of enthusiasm.  Now, it pains me to think of it because I know now why the unenthused response-DJ likely had something completely different in mind.

Same with shopping for clothes: sometime around the age of 7, JD started to refuse to wear jeans stating that the metal fastener at the waist made his tummy itch.  He did, in fact, get a small, localized reaction when he wore them, so when he began to wear what we all called his "slippery pants" ALL. THE. TIME., we thought nothing of it.  Plus, JD would only wear black, grey or dark blue pants probably because that's what most boys seemed to wear.  In the summer, the slippery pants were replaced by slippery shorts-same silky, shiny polyester workout clothes, just different lengths, obviously.

When JD started middle school, or junior high, I told him that he needed to be more cool and start wearing jeans again or he would be teased in junior high.  He acquiesed, but again, not with any real excitement.  Well of course not, because it still wasn't what the real girl inside, DJ, wanted to wear. And of course, DJ/JD continued then with jeans and t-shirts for the next couple of years, during which time JD started growing out his hair and shaving his legs ("to shave seconds off his cross-country times"-we're dumb, we bought it).

I wonder if I'll ever stop feeling sorrow over the years DJ has lost.  Her perspective is one I wish I could have and hope it's truly her perspective and not one she "adopts" and pretends to believe for our sakes:  that, sure, she wishes it could have been different then, but at least it's different now.  She has said as much to me, but I wonder.  Maybe it's just my nervous nelly mother-self rearing her ugly head again, ten years after I thought I banished her, but what if she's just trying to convince herself she feels this way while trying to convince us?  What if the loss of time, or the sadness over the loss just feels too heavy and she somehow gives in to the dark feelings and loses more time?  Yeah, yeah, I probably have been watching too much "Lifetime" TV or something, but these things do happen.

I feel like enough discouraging things have happened for this kid.  Hell, for any of my kids, but for DJ in particular.  But this thought just occurred to me: all 3 of the kids experienced the loss of their birth father through tragic circumstances when they were but 9, 7 and 3 years of age.  DJ remembers none of it, but her brothers sure do.  And both boys are in their 20's and doing well.  For years, following their loss, I thought that tragedy would color their lives and render them unhappy, in some meaningful way, for the rest of their lives. I truly did.  But it didn't.  As they become closer and closer to complete and total independence, that part of their lives seems smaller and smaller and less and less impact-ful. (Oh crap-is "impact-ful" even a word?  I sound like Oprah Winfrey!)  Perhaps the tragedy of her lost little girl years will be the same for DJ.  Maybe, just maybe, she'll look back on those years as the time that forged her in fire and made her the steel magnolia she is.  I hope so.  And  you know what?  I don't care what it costs, she can have WHATEVER WEDDING DRESS SHE WANTS SOMEDAY!!! That should make up for it-right?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Letting go

Interestingly, after I was lamenting my own lack of courage in being more open about DJ, I watched a special on "Nightline"centered around two transgender families, and a formerly transgender man.  I say formerly because he was born a genetic male, transitioned in an attempt to recreate the family he lost in his divorce (having no desire to be, feel or act like a woman prior to his divorce), including gender confirmation surgery, and then had surgery again so that he would resemble the man he was born as, and feels he truly is.  And THAT is why true trans folks have to jump through so many hoops before they can have the hormones or surgery, because there's always one person who has some other issue.

But Moms and Dads, if any parents of transgender kids are reading this, do NOT let that man scare you.  If you play the odds with your kid's happiness betting that your kid might be experiencing what that misguided man experienced, you're taking a great risk with your kid's happiness.  Shame on that man's doctor because, like it or not, doctors are supposed to be the gatekeepers to the legal hormones and eventual surgery.  

Bulldog and I have been going through this process for nearly a year and a half; albeit secondhand, because we are not transgender, we just desperately love our daughter, who is.  The internet can be your friend and your foe if you do not DILIGENTLY do your research.    The Harry S. Benjamin, now called WPATH, standards of care is what most reputable and experienced doctors follow in this country.  Overseas, they tend to be more lenient, which has pros and cons.

For instance, very few US surgeons will touch a kid under 18.  Not nearly as true in Canada, Europe and parts of Asia. That can be great news for the family who has had their kid under excellent care for years and still has years to go before they will be 18.  Until the surgery, in this country, in nearly all states your birth certificate decides your gender, not your brain.  You get a new birth certificate after the surgery denoting your surgically corrected gender.  But until a person can have the gender confirmation surgery (lingo our daughter's doctor uses-way better than "sex change operation" and more accurate than "gender reassignment surgery"), they may only be allowed to experience certain aspects of life that will be guided by the information on their birth certificate.  You may or not be able to imagine what difficulty having the "wrong" genitalia can cause:  what does your kid do for PE?  How about which restroom to use at school?  How many summer, overnight, camps will allow your daughter to sleep with other people's daughters in a tent if the 1% of her body that comprises her genitalia doesn't match the rest of her presentation?

So, once you start "letting" your kid transition, aside from a new wardrobe, what next?  Hormone therapy is the usual next step.  Regarding hormone therapy:  almost all changes are reversible, but here are some notable exceptions.  If your trans son is considering testosterone therapy, know that once his voice changes, it is permanent because you can't shrink vocal chords once testosterone makes them lengthen.    However, if you're a trans girls who experienced a voice change prior to going on estrogen therapy, you can train your voice to be in the "normal" female range.  Conversely, if you're a trans girl who has started estrogen therapy and you, for some pretty unusual reason, statistically, change your mind, nipples that may have grown somewhat larger can not be shrunken down; they can likely be reduced surgically, however.

Other than that, almost any other changes elicited by hormone therapy are reversible, so hormone therapy is a great place to start to let your kid start his or her transition.

The question usually is not whether your kid is ready but whether you are.   "Nightline" wasn't exaggerating about the suicide rate among trans kids whose families can't or won't support them in their transition.  Think of it like this:  if you woke up with the parts, or body hair, or lack thereof, of a person of the opposite gender, how would you feel?  I know how I'd feel because at my age, I'm dealing with those (so far) sporadic little chin hairs for which I can thank my Italian grandmother.  I find them horrifying.  I will experience pain, willingly, to have them, or any other facial hairs that may appear, yanked out and PRONTO!!!  Judging by the sheer number of waxing salons that can even be found in my (red)neck of the woods, I'm not the only woman who feels this way.  And gentlemen:  I'm sure a bit of a beer belly isn't too terribly bothersome, but once your pecs start to resemble breasts, I'll bet you don't feel so great about yourself all of a sudden, do you?

Most of us have the bodies that reflect our true gender.  We're glad we were born with the parts that identify us to ourselves and the rest of the world as who we feel we are.  If you had to be forced to be a person of the opposite gender, take a few moments to really, truly envision what horrific emotional torture that would be.  On those days when either Bulldog, or I, were still wanting to see familiar JD in DJ's emerging self, we had to remind ourselves IT WASN'T ABOUT US!!  I put that in caps not to judge those of you who may be struggling, but to point out the importance of remembering this.

You may feel like you're losing a child and in a way, you are.  Grieve all you want-it's ok.  It's understandable.  You're not the only parent who has felt this way, believe me.  But you're also setting your child's true self free in a way you cannot even fathom.  And your child will be an even happier version of him/her self because your child is happier.  And THAT is how you can be assured that you are doing the right thing and not merely letting your child meander down the wrong, mistaken path.

As soon as your kid really knows that he/she can be herself, it won't be so hard to see that your genetic son is in fact a girl.  It will become so freaking obvious, eventually, you'll wonder how your child could have been such a great actor in fooling you.  On "Nightline" it was apparent that the kid born as Jack was completely transformed when she could be her true self, Jackie.  Wasn't she adorable?  Most of who we are is how we feel and act; our looks will usually follow suit.

Trust your kid.  Trust your gut.  If they are in agreement, you can rest more easily-you're doing the right thing letting your kid be who he/she was meant to be and more importantly, who he/she knows he/she is.