Thursday, August 4, 2011

The sun ain't always shinin'

Lest I give the impression that my husband and I have it all figured out and it's always smooth sailing-we don't, and it isn't.  Lately, my husband has been re-experiencing a sense of loss of our "son" JD, in spite of truly loving our daughter, DJ.  It's gut-wrenching stuff.  You truly miss that other child in spite of seeing remnants of that other child in the child before you. 

My husband is a bulldog of a man.  Not in stature but in make-up as a person.  He is protective and often comes across as stern and bossy-but that is how he loves us.  Vulnerability is NOT something you think of when dealing with him,  yet this challenge has rendered him as vulnerable as a newborn baby.  He is literally stripped raw of his defenses.  He shares this with me, but certainly not with DJ.  In fact, he continues to adore her and interacts with her in his playful way, much to his credit.  Nonetheless, he has lost the son, JD and he misses him terribly.  He keeps looking for signs of the lost son, and he's having a hard time remembering the lost son.  Doesn't this sound like a death in the family has occurred?  In a way, it has. 

My approach is different.  Quite by accident, I must state.  I think of JD as DJ's twin brother who is away at school.  The fact that there are so many similarities naturally makes sense in light of the fact that, in my mind, they are fraternal twins.  Granted, I don't see JD at holidays, or any other time of the year anymore, and looking at pictures of JD as a little boy is hard, at times, but to me, JD isn't "dead" so much as just not living here anymore.  It doesn't make much sense, but who says coping mechanisms have to make sense?  Neither my husband's way nor mine is right or wrong, just a different path to the same destination:  processing the change.

If you have more than one child, and one of them died, desperately missing the one that died does not mean that you love your living children less, or less than the child that is gone.  So, in my mind, you are not doing a disservice to your trans-child in missing their other-gendered "self"-but that doesn't mean you have to share that with them, because they may misconstrue.

I made that mistake once in stating to my daughter how much I had loved her "twin" brother.  I thought I was stating the obvious, that certainly I loved her, but I somehow managed to make her feel that JD was more special and more loved than DJ.  Luckily, I was paying attention to her reaction. She explained her feelings and I reassured her we love DJ the same as JD, but that DJ certainly had more courage than we knew anyone was capable of.

It's worth thinking about-the courage your child had in being true to his/her self.  I frankly can't imagine it.  My own courage paled in comparison at first.  I actually thought about and worried what other people would think of us as parents:  what did we do "wrong" in raising this kid.  I worried, selfishly, about the friends we would lose.  Yup- my daughter had more of a backbone than both of her parents combined, at first.  We just were good at giving the impression of being strong-at least at first.  It's the real thing now, but it wasn't always.  We grew into our backbones.  You will too.  As always, hang in there :)

Books to read and words of encouragement

Whether you are new to this reality, or an old timer who still feels like they just don't get it, try reading the following.  They were initially recommended by a therapist who is very experienced in treating trans kids:

The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper

True Selves, Understanding Transsexualism  by Mildred L. Brown and Chloe Ann Rounsley

Transgender Explained for those who are not by Joanne Herman

This a great place to start as the explanations are gentle, not in-your-face, and particularly in the case of True Selves, explain from the perspective of a transgender person.  It's hard to not feel empathy after reading it.

By the way, if you're struggling with feeling sympathy or empathy-meaning you're just reeling from trying to absorb and accept and cannot possibly feel another emotion-FAKE IT!!  Seriously-it will eventually come naturally.  And if you can manage it, try to start using the pronoun of the gender your child feels he/she is, rather than the gender he/she was born-at least to the trans person and to immediate family members residing in the home.  AGAIN-it will feel STRANGE as all H - E - double- toothpicks!!!  It's a starting place and your kid will be more appreciative than you can imagine.  We all want to be accepted for who we are-right?  And it feels great when someone "gets us".  So even if you don't really "get it" but you ACT like you do, it's still a step in the right direction.  It's loving your kid.  If you can only manage it once or twice, at least you're trying.  Hang in there and hope to see you back :)

In the trenches

So, maybe you've known for a long time, or maybe you've just found out:  but the son you've always known as a boy has just said he's a girl, or perhaps your daughter has informed you that she is actually a he.  Depending on your belief system, your educational background, hell, on any  number of variables, your reaction is:  Disbelief (as in "Seriously, if this is a joke, it is NOT funny!"),  or perhaps, Fear (as in, "holy crap, my kid is gonna get his/her head shoved into a toilet if anyone at school finds out."), possibly, Embarassment ("HOW will I explain to my friends?  How many friends will I lose?"),to, perhaps, Revulsion ("That is unnatural!").  If your kid is coming out as a teen and didn't give any "obvious" signs, you probably never saw it coming.  We didn't.

Aside from wanting to play with a kitchen set at age 3, our genetic son (you'll catch onto the lingo eventually, hang in there) didn't really do anything that screamed that he was actually a she.  JD emulated his older brothers in the way siblings often do, didn't request feminine toys or articles of clothing, and was not "effeminate" that we knew of.  When JD started to grow out "his" hair at age 10, we thought nothing of it as his brothers went through the same stage.  When he shaved his legs the year he started running cross country, we accepted his goofball explanation that it cut down on his running time.  Granted we didn't believe it, but hell, they were his legs! 

If you're thinking we were too permissive, my initial inclination is to say, "This is not the blog for you, then" but I resist that base urge and say instead, "Consider being slightly permissive."  What we're doing is working:  our kid is showing all the signs of being a happy, healthy teenage girl, in spite of being born a genetic male.  And isn't that REALLY what we want for our kids?

If you're of the mind that your child is violating the rules of the Creator, consider this:  we're learning that gender identity is in the brain.  To put it in my kid's words:  God made me a female; mother nature screwed up.  If you're struggling with that aspect, I encourage you to let it go and trust that God is merciful.  Start there, let God judge, and for now, treat your child as the "least of my brothers" and do unto your child as you would do unto Jesus himself.  That will, hopefully, calm your religious fears and allow you to support your kid so that he/she won't end up homeless or dead by his/her own hand.  Sorry to be blunt, but that is the TRUE REALITY of transgender folks who are rejected by their families.

Start there.  Just love your kid for today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  And come back for more words of encouragement.  We've been in the trenches for over a year gets better. And if you MUST research on the web, be cautious as there are some frightfully ignorant webpages out there.  Try "Laura's Playground" and don't worry that the graphics seem childlike, it's full of great, sanctioned-by-professionals information.  Hope to have you back :)