I saw on my child’s social media page last week that it was (and forgive me I’ve already forgotten the right term) Transgender Awareness Day. And I had a million things I wanted to say, but thought better to wait and organize and edit and et cetera. This is not a topic that I write or talk about often – and I had a moment of oh, shit, I hope because I don’t talk or write about it often that my child doesn’t believe I don’t think about it often. On the writing side, I don’t write about it often (also mostly never) because in today’s climate, if my opinion doesn’t align with the current ask of society, I will immediately get blasted by an entire academy of armchair quarterbacks. And my opinion doesn’t align. And this is an important topic to me – getting blasted honestly would only enhance the stress of it, so I just avoid it. Calm down, armchair quarterbacks and give me a minute. But before you do, please turn off your but I am the most right about everything sensors. Blasting me (actually too soft of a word probably) is the least beneficial approach to teaching. Character assassination? That may be closer to the feedback I’ve gotten in the exactly two times I’ve brought this up on paper. Threats to call various child services? Yes – although not so much anymore, but only because a) when that did happen, I vowed to clam up forever, and b) my child is now a legal adult so that would probably be weird. I guess my ask to society is – if you don’t agree with what someone says or writes – take a pause. Differing thought structures do not have to equal instant hatred, ostracizing, or cancelling.
I’m not even sure what to call the rise of transgender in our country right now – if I call it a trend, I’m awful. If I call it a craze, I’m awful. If I call it an awakening, I’m weird. Of course, this is only one of so many current hotspots that people only whisper about – fearful that anything louder will result in an instant loss of, well, what? Name it. We all have so much to lose. And because immediate and total destruction of relationships is a common response to a failure to be on board with any (or all) of those hot spots, we whisper. A few months ago, a teacher at my child’s middle school came after me when I mentioned a book I’d read on a mutual acquaintance’s social media page. Came. After. Me. The book was one of many avenues of research I’ve done on transgender and I’d basically just put it down and felt so much more clarity on the topic than I’d ever had. She came after me, lashing out with her level of disappointment in me. She didn’t ask what I’d learned or what caused me to read it or if I’d gathered information elsewhere as well – instead she went for public humiliation. All I could think was wow, I interacted her for maybe five minutes seven years ago – she does not even know me and just raked me over the coals in front of all our mutual friends. She thought she had our entire family and our dynamics all figured out – likely based on what our young teenager was telling her? I don’t know actually – my child was never one of her students. This person who has never sat on our couches or at our dinner table or in our cars where many of immediate family discussions have taken place thought the best reaction was to shame me from behind her keyboard. I still wonder what she thought I would learn? Or how she thought that might help me understand? Spoiler alert: it was NOT to talk about it. But that wasn’t not really fair to me – was it? It was certainly not fair to my child who has been affected by the trickle down of silence.
We have been left behind. The thing that seems to have been skipped over the the uptick of the gender spectrum is what happens to the rest of the family. As was I was reading last week about feelings invisibility among the transgenders, I was thinking oh gosh, we have so much in common. I had a similar feeling a month ago, listening to a podcast on which the guest were a transgender teen and his mother. His mother started talking about the grief she’d felt on this journey at losing a daughter and quickly stopped herself, apologizing for forgetting that this wasn’t about her. I wanted to dive through my airpods. Yes!! It is also about you!!, I wanted to yell, It can be about your child and your spouse and siblings and the actual entire family and it also be about you. One of the most terrifying and suffocating feelings with this is that our concern for our children’s mental and physical well-being is immediately labeled as being transphobic. One does not equal the other.
I appreciate the push to accept everyone right now – I really do – but I don’t appreciate that taking time to process, research, and learn is equated with dismissal. Or that grieving the loss of a child and a future you thought you were moving towards is equated with lack of acceptance. And there is grief as there is loss. Why is that not okay? I suspect that every parent has a moment when they realize that their expectations for their child will be different than they imagined. It’s a punch to the gut. Not an angry punch – it’s a sad one that requires a reworking of visions. Just because we like to tag ourselves as woke, does not mean those feelings disappear. We may be a more accepting society now, but there remains a loss – and it likely remains longer because we can only whisper talk about it. I know there has got to be other parents working through the same things we are – we cannot be the only ones who didn’t raise a Pride Flag the second our eighth grader asked for a change in pronouns and puberty blockers. We cannot be the only ones who never saw it coming – where it wasn’t a case of our child dressing or acting or whatever things would have pointed to a we knew it all along moment. Did we miss something? Were we asleep at the wheel? It did not help that it seemed exponential – first one child, then another, then the whole lunch table. Was that even statistically possible? So, yes, we balked – choosing instead to pause and let our child grow up a bit – hoping we could get to that magic time when frontal lobes finish forming and decisions are thought through with more care and clarity on permanency.
This is basically impossible to implore to a teenager going through all of the teenage things on a regular day. When you add in the internet and, in our case, a rising tide of you can be whomever or whatever you want to be, and cyber pokes indicating that if your parents aren’t accepting you, then they don’t love you, it becomes super impossible. When your preference to not jump into anything permanent with a child who has only lived in their own skin for a blip in time is met with glares from teachers and administration, it takes away much of the ability to parent that the same teachers and administration praised you for in all the previous years. I suppose it is easier within a school of hundreds to take down preferred names and get to the teaching – but what really happens is that by doing so, our children are getting another nod of we accept you but your family does not.
When I try to explain how it might feel to someone who hasn’t been through it, I often talk of hands. What if your child came home on a random day and announced that they were no longer right-handed? That they always knew they were left-handed but felt forced to hide it. That they had only ever used their right hand to please us. It would seem ridiculous, right? But you would probably nod and smile and tell them to at least try and write neatly. And what if they then started taping their right fingers together so as not to use them or throwing away all the right handed gloves? You might ask around to see if the taping was dangerous and ignore the rest. You might try to find a book or study geared towards helping parents understand what is happening and what may happen but struggle as none have been written. Then the school tells you that this is quite common this year, pointing to social media and too much screen time. The therapists tell you, at first, that it doesn’t make sense – then, later, that they’ve been advised to “affirm at all costs” while whispering that this is dangerous – letting teenagers self-diagnose – and to hold on for a bumpy ride. There is no real support because no one really knows which way the road will go. There are no articles or research or chat groups or support centers. Well, unless you are completely on board with the idea and are willing to sign your child up to have their right hand amputated to really put a stamp on your level of acceptance – there was plenty of support then.
As a parent? Terrifying doesn’t begin to describe it. Today, there are more resources – but in our house, we are already five (?) years deep. Five years in which research has been done and changes of minds have been made and, yes, sometimes not. We have read about the happy endings. We’ve also read about the endings that include regret and a realization that it wasn’t a gender issue after all – that there were deeper issues that brought an unhappiness to a child’s view of themselves. On a very basic level, my mom hairs stand up when we start talking about permanent voice change or surgeries or fertility fallout or cancer and how none of that matters because being a mistake, it can all be undone. But it can’t, I want to say, you will lose feeling and ducts and all the things that are so important for bonding with a newborn and, no, you can’t possibly know in your not quite formed brain whether or not you will want that when you fall madly in love and want to start a family. I can’t say that though, because that makes me unsupportive and phobic.
I can’t even say I read a book.
Neither of my children will ever be invisible. They are locked into my heart forever – something I didn’t think possible when I first started kicking around the word stepmom. I’ve dropped the step because it so irrelevant in our love for each other. They are as much my actual children as any that I’d have birthed myself – perhaps even more so because I chose to love and parent them. I could have blown off the responsibility of raising the offspring of another marriage easily with nary a batted eye from anyone – but then, I couldn’t. They needed me and I needed them and we have fought tooth and nail to form relationships that will never be undone. And trust me, we have probably gotten as close to that edge as we could and refused to make the leap. They have taught me so much about myself as a person and who I can be and what I can offer and exactly how deeply I can love two beings who also drive me bananas. We may not be making our way down this particular road holding hands while skipping along to joyous songs, but we are making our way down it in the way we have chosen to as parents.
So no, you don’t need to be disappointed in me.
And if you knew me at all, you would know that most of all.