Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Memo to the Doubters:

1. Yes, it is completely plausible and possible that my child understands her gender identity better than you. Trust us when we tell you this is who she is. Trust us when we tell you she has persistently and consistently insisted she is a girl. Trust us, when we tell you there is evidence based research demonstrating that kids as young as two to five years old can know their true gender identity. Trust us that we would not lightly have our child buck all social norms and put herself at risk for bullying and worse just to be "cool" parents.

2. If you know transgender adults, why is it hard for you to understand my kid is transgender? Did you ever actually speak with these trans* adults? Because I am guessing many of them knew from the time they were Kegan's age or younger that their outsides didn't match their insides.

3. When you say nothing to us, when you offer no support, for months, we assume you don't accept Kegan. We assume you are so uncomfortable with her or us that you are choosing to ignore the situation and therefore no longer desire to be in our lives. Saying nothing, says a lot. When you say, "I didn't know what to say," I consider that a cop-out. You say, "Thank you for telling us. We love Kegan for who she is not what her genitals are, not for the clothes she wears. We love her." It is that easy and that simple.

4.  When you say you need time to accept this because you are Catholic or Conservative or have never known a trans* person, know we will give you time, but I can't hold your hand while you work through your issues. And speaking of your issues, how is my child's gender your issue anyway? How does what my daughter wears or what length of hair she has or what name she goes by affect you? I have never realized until recently how skilled people can be at taking something completely not about themselves and making it about themselves.

5.  When you say you will still be our friends, but you can't call Kegan by her correct name, you are not our friends.

6. Yes, I am angry tonight. Tomorrow I will think of  bright, cheery, sunny sentences to write, but tonight, I just needed to say all that!

August 4, 1944

Kegan is only five, but is very precocious. Today she asked me to read her the Diary of Anne Frank. While it is one of my favorite books, I don't think it is appropriate for a not quite six year old. She knows the premise, "During World War 2 there were a group of really bad people who felt like some people, like Jewish people, should not be allowed to live. So these Nazi's would send the Jewish people to concentration camps and sometimes kill them. Anne Frank and her family were so lucky that some very kind and brave people hid them for two years, bringing them food, and clothes, and protecting them from the Nazi's. Until someone found out and Anne and her family were arrested." 

She doesn't know much more than that and I still find myself questioning how appropriate it was to have told her that much. But she reads and saw something about World War 2 somewhere and I had to give her an intro a few months ago. Then she heard us talking about the Anne Frank house...and so her education is constantly growing while her innocence is being drained.

While I was telling her that I didn't read the Diary of Anne Frank until I was 12 and I felt she was a little too young for it still, she asked me, "Why did the Nazi's not like the Jews?" And as I have wondered myself for years, I found I could not adequately answer her question. How does a person or worse an entire group of people decide to systematically hate an entire demographic?

And then I thought, "Well it wasn't just the Jews the Nazi's were against." Luckily that stayed in my head because immediately my next thought was, "Kegan, you would have been a marked person, The Nazi's did not want transgender people to live either."  Even with her blonde hair and fair skin, she would have been a blight on their society. Not a blight like she might be in today's society in America, but so much so my daughter could be sent to a Concentration Camp, could be sent to the gas chamber, or just shot as she stepped off a train looking around at all the other unwanteds trying to find their bearings.

My daughter could have been an Anne Frank. Not because she is Jewish, but simply because the Nazis hated people like my child. 

And then my heart broke, again. Like it always does as I think of the cruelty my child will face even though it is not 1944 anymore. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Words Have Meaning

Words have meaning. I have always said that. Never has that been more true than as I contemplate the way we use words with the issue of transgenderism. (Speaking of words, is that even a word?)

We have given Kegan very little education on being transgender in our society. I am a big proponent of being honest, of being forthcoming, and being an educator. Kegan knows she is different than many girls. But she doesn't know it is, kind of a big deal. And we will keep her sheltered from that for as long as we can. (Fully recognizing the time limit on that is soon expiring.)

Kegan will sometimes say, "When I was a boy..." I gently comment, "When we thought you were a boy? You've always been a girl, we just thought you were a boy."  It is important to be clear she didn't become a girl, she is and always has been a girl. We were wrong, we made a grave error, we gave her the wrong label. She was a girl from day one, not she became a girl.

The author of Gender Born, Gender Made talks about the term "transgender" being inappropriate. The prefix "trans" means to change thoroughly. But people who are transgender are not changing anything. They are making a correction in the label name they were originally given. If I consider this for long it makes me sad. It makes me sad because words have meaning and we already mislabeled Kegan once, as a boy. When we label her transgender now we are making the same mistake again. She didn't change, she is still Kegan. She just let the world know, we the world, got it wrong. Sadly, I don't expect a more accurate label to come along, so for now we just are going with "transgender."

Recently a girl in Canada had her birth certificate updated to reflect her true gender self. I saw a tweet that announced, "11 -Year Old Canadian girl gets birth certificate changed." Someone replied (or whatever you do on twitter), "She didn't change her birth certificate, she corrected it." I thought, "Wow!"  Two words, both start with the letter "c," but it changes the meaning so drastically!

As a mom of a trans* kid I constantly find my addled brain on alert to choose my words very carefully and very wisely because I know those who don't accept the idea of a gender spectrum or the idea of people identifying as their true gender selves as reasonable human variations, will look for my errors. They will pounce on my misspoken words. But equally important, as I educate those who are accepting, as I speak as an ally, I need to ensure my words are accurate.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"I am a Girl, Not I am a Girl, but...

We had our playdate today. It went without a hitch. Kegan totally passes, so that is truly never a concern. Watching her with two other little girls was peaceful. Not in a zen-yoga-lady kind of way, just it was good to see her in her element. The date was outdoors and casual, but organized enough to keep things moving along. It was good.

As we were driving home, it occurred to me, if I truly accept and truly believe in my heart and mind that she is a girl, that her birth certificate is errored, that we have simply misidentified her all these years, then no one needs to be told. It is not as if I would ever identify to anyone what Sean has going on between his legs. The thought would never be necessary, it would never cross my mind. I realized, this is in fact, much simpler than I have been making it, "She is a girl. Not she is a girl, but..."

I spoke with our therapist last night and she told me that telling after the second date is likely premature. She suggested it is not necessary to tell ever or maybe after 10-15 play dates it would make sense. Unless there is a sleepover or a swimming play date, there is no reason to share that information yet. And even when it is a sleepover or swimming date the information is shared as a safety precaution for Kegan, not to quantify her right to the label "girl."  (More on safety later.)

She explained that sometimes when you are in the "Telling Phase," the brain gets locked into telling people and it becomes difficult to discriminate between who to tell and who not to tell. That resonated with me because we have been having to tell everyone. This is the first family that only knows Kegan as Kegan, not as "Kegan, formerly known as a boy."

Our therapist said that sometimes when people find out, even if they are accepting, they still treat the child differently. Kegan deserves to have a childhood as a girl without these layers of transgender issues. Kegan is a girl, not she is a girl, but. We need to let her just be that girl. People see her as a girl, she knows herself to be a girl, she should get the same childhood that any girl gets. Her femininity or girlness should not be constantly evaluated or labelled or characterized with ifs and buts.

We are not keeping her identity as transgender a secret, but it is private. That was a hard sentence for me to understand because sometimes when we are stealth, I feel like by not telling, we are making it something to be ashamed of. But a secret is something you carry by yourself, private is something some people know about, but not the whole world. There is a distinct difference and private is appropriate for many things. Private is not shameful, it is just private and personal.

As far as safety, we have to balance her right to privacy with her absolute, non-negotiable need for safety. If she is at a sleepover and her penis is observed it could lead to an unsafe situation. The therapist said we don't need to scare her and suggested using the words, "It can confuse people. Most boys have penises and most girls have vaginas, some girls though, like you, have a penis. But since most girls don't have penises, it can confuse people when they first find out a girl has a penis. It is something unexpected and so it can be confusing." That makes sense to me. It makes being transgender a slice on the spectrum of gender. Certainly if people might be confused we want to be preemptive before they discover inadvertently. Certainly being confused is acceptable for many areas of life. Certainly being confused is not the same as unaccepting.

Our awesome therapist assured me, we are not tricking people, we are not lying. We are just letting our daughter be the girl she is freely. We are letting Kegan free to be the girl she is. She doesn't need a clause defining her girlness, she is a girl as much as I am.

I knew that before, but now I truly "get it." She was equal to her peers today in their claim to being a girl. She is a girl, not she is a girl but!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Best of Times (so far)

I am so thankful that Kegan is being raised right now, in this time, in this world. Not the world where rape is an epidemic on college campuses. Not the world where airplanes are shot out of the sky with missiles. Not the world where Gaza is being blown to pieces. Not the world where 4 people died in Chicago this weekend alone, by gunshot wounds. Not the world where citizens on our border hurl hateful insults at children trying to escape a life of unbearable hardship. Not the world where we fly drones and shoot people with very little consequence.

No, not the world. But this world:

The world where being transgender does not mean an automatic ex-communication from your Church, your family, your friends. The world where more and more parents are supporting their children who are trans*. The world where kids like Jazz and Ryland exist so boldly, leading the way for kids like Kegan. The world where the President of the United States stands up for the LGTBQ population.  The world where people may call it a lifestyle choice (which I abhor!), but still offer my daughter hand me down dresses.  The world where tolerance is becoming more common, where acceptance is becoming the goal. The world where it is as good as it has ever been, but not as good as it will be for the transgender community.

The world where moms like Debi Jackson educate hundreds of thousands (and soon millions, thanks to the power of videos going viral!) on what it means to be transgender and what it does not mean in six minutes or less. I just stood at my kitchen counter, with my hand covering my mouth to silence my deep crying as I watched this amazing woman tell my story, tell Kegan's story.

Sometimes I see or read something about trans* kids and it is so open, so raw, and such pure truth. Debi Jackson is a hero for all moms and all kids. I wish she was my BFF or at least the mom next door!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Names of Roses

I just submitted some claims to our FSA account and it is so strange to see Kegan's old name on the paperwork and is even stranger to click the box next to that name. I realize it is just a name, but at the same time it is not "just a name." It is her old name, her name when we thought she was a boy, her past.

We still have photos of her when she looked like a boy on display in the house. So far we have not discussed removing them, she hasn't asked and we haven't offered. She seems very confident in her life...this is who I was and this is who I am now. Maybe because she transitioned so young she won't ever ask us to take the photos down.

Somehow the photos don't seem wrong, like her name on the insurance bills do. Maybe because we all look different in old photos...certainly not as different as Kegan does or will. But hairstyles change color, length, height(!!); clothes change drastically between decades...sometimes it is hard to recognize who we were or who we thought we were.  If she does ask us to remove them or place them out of sight of visitors, we will honor her request without delay.

I was literally about to type, "But I honestly don't expect her to make that request," when I flashed to her teen years and friends coming over to visit and suddenly I thought, "Yeah, she is probably going to ask." Then I flashed to an upcoming playdate with a new friend who did not know Kegan prior to her transition. Will Kegan want this child to continue to not know, at least until when/if they become good pals? (This brings up a whole new set of concerns: who deserves to know? Who needs to know?) This playdate just went from a fun new opportunity to a huge risk somehow. The playdate is not even at our home....I am just projecting ahead to if this neutral location goes well.

Maybe our photos will be coming down. It makes me sad if they do, not because I need to have photos to remember her past, but because the thought of her feeling the need to hide or forget her past shatters my heart.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bob (The Hairstyle, Not the Guy)

Kegan has now had her second "shaping" haircut since deciding to grow her hair long "like a girl". We are surprisingly close to a real bob already. Our hairstylist thinks she will be able to cut it all to the same length for a "just below her earlobe" bob by the end of the year. This is not earth shattering, but it is pretty happy news.

The problem with me having a girl is I am by no means a girly girl and I really am clueless when it comes to styling hair, applying make up properly, and tweezing eyebrows. Fortunately the make up and eyebrow issues have several years before they matter. Her hair is thick and lovely, but it is also sort of awkward....her bangs are too long to wear down, but not quite long enough that they stay in a barrette well. We are currently using headbands most days, which to my surprise look super cute. I still have to deal with hair poking upright, random pieces falling forward, and stray strands bopping about...but we are getting there,

Everyday when I fix her hair she goes to look in the mirror when I announce, "Okay, you are done." (Have I mentioned if I spend more than two minutes she gets antsy? Oh my poor ignorant of your teenage future years you are!) Everyday she says, with a smile in her voice, "Thank you. I like it!" And she is genuinely happy. Even on the days when it is only so-so or just okay, she loves it. And she loves that I "fix" it for her. Whether I just wet it down and put a barrette in, use the flat iron to straighten or curl it, spend five tries getting the headband to gather and hold all her hair...she acts as if I have accomplished a feat of beauty.

But the best part is, she doesn't really get "being beautiful," she has not been informed that her role as a female is to look spot on perfect everyday and I absolutely love that and revel in it. She is just happy that she has a barrette and a "girl" hairstyle. And her idea of what makes a girl a girl is still simple and innocent. I have no plans to inform her otherwise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Hard Stuff

I recently wrote a post in response to the not infrequent comments my husband and I get about how incredibly difficult this journey must be for our family. The only thing that makes it truly hard, right now, is the lack of acceptance or the ignoring by family or friends. A transsexual woman commented on that post that I must really know it is actually quite hard for Kegan (or will be as she ages). I wanted to address that.

Certainly, I know it is so hard to be transgender. I am totally aware of how difficult it is to be a girl with a penis (as much as I can be aware, as a girl with a vulva). The other day I was explaining to Sean about why, as a girl, I don't have a penis and had to stop because, well, not all girls have vulvas...some of them, like my daughter have a penis. I get it. It is actually really hard.

I know that my daughter is part of a community who has an astronomical suicide attempt rate. 41% versus less than 2% for the general population. That thought crosses my mind daily. Daily. I am constantly aware that my daughter has a close to 50% chance of attempting suicide simply because of who she is.

Unemployment is higher among trans* individuals. My daughter could be fired from a job (if she was old enough to have one that is!) in many states just because she is transgender. Getting a driver's license photo taken is not just about trying to smile in time for the DMV customer service rep but convincing him or her to allow you to look like you look on a daily basis. It is not easy to be transgender.

Do I worry about who will love my child? My only hope is for my kids to be happy and safe in life. Who will love this flawed human being who by the way also has a penis but is actually a girl? Will she be a lesbian? Will that make physical love easier? I have no idea, I am utterly ignorant on how to help her figure all this out. Will she be straight? Will there be a man who is comfortable with non-traditional sex to love her enough as she is? Does it make me sad (and stunned) that at not even six years old I am worrying about my child's future sex life? It does. Worrying about her marriage prospects. Worrying about people accepting her not only today, but next week, next month, next year, when she is 14, 16, 18, 22, 33, 46, 57, 63.

When my daughter is 89 and living in a skilled nursing facility will the world be kind to her? Will the caregivers be polite to her and call her Miss Kegan while giving her a bath and seeing her penis? Will they be mean behind her back? Will some of them refuse to care for her because she does not meet their norms? Will some of them not answer her call button when she needs help because of who she is? My daughter is six and I literally worry about her end of life days when she is an old lady. How messed up is that? Thanks society!

Have we lost family and friends who can't accept her? Yep. Do I dread the day she figures out that it hasn't just "been awhile since we saw certain people"?  Yes. Do I fear the day she discovers she is not as "normal" as we have led her to believe? Do I wonder nightly if we should be telling her more truth today so it won't hurt so much tomorrow? Or is it right to keep her innocent, to build her strength and boldness now while our opinion is the only one that matters to her? Do I cry over my fear of not having the right words to help her when someone rejects her? I do. I do.

I question every decision we make. Most parents do that. I question ours purely because I want to do the right thing (like all parents), but also because if I screw this up my baby might try to kill herself. Do I wonder at what point I have to tell friends who don't know...what about sleep overs? Do those moms have a right to know that my daughter has a penis if their daughter is sleeping next to her at age ten during a slumber party? I don't know. I want it to not matter. But in our world, it sure seems to matter a lot.

I feel so sad that my daughter won't be able to carry a child under her heart if she desires that. Do I question if we should freeze her sperm  if she decides to go on hormone blockers before puberty? I crazy is that? She is five! Five and I am it possible for a ten year old to masturbate to produce sperm for freezing so she might be able to have her own biological children one day? It is completely crazy.

So I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is hard. And as hard as it is for me, it will be ten million times harder for Kegan. But...the actual part of having a trans* kid...that is not hard. All of the above, with the exception of fertility, is directly responding to society. To the lack of acceptance by society. If society would just accept a non binary gender spectrum, if society would just be willing to evaluate the real problems in life (I made a small sample list on my post) then none of this would be hard. It would be a journey like any other life journey. Filled with joy, misery, love, heartache, sorrow, happiness, peace, anxiety. It would just be the "simple" life everyone has. Society makes it hard. People not accepting others makes it hard. The trans* part itself is not the hard.

I suppose ask me in 10 year when she is 16. Maybe I am speaking too early. But for right now, this is where I am. And all the hard comes from one place...the world. Never from my daughter's true self.

I think I might sound angry at my commenter and I am not. I am angry though. Angry that this conversation even needs to be had. I am so angry that my daughter will have a harder life than she needs to. I am angry that all these worries and fears come from people being unaccepting. I am thankful the commenter pointed out it is really hard for her and it will be really hard for my daughter, But I already knew that (sadly). I just wish the origin of what makes it hard could be solved. To do that we need to fix society to accept all human beings where they are right now.

Dear DMV,

I have read of three people in the past week having problems at the DMV. No, not the long lines, grumpy employee, wrong forms kind of problems that everyone complains about, but discrimination problems.

In West Virginia two women were informed that because their license lists them as male they could not wear makeup for their photo. By wearing make up (and in one case apparently, false eyelashes) they were "attempting to conceal or alter their appearance."  In South Carolina a teenager who identifies as male but wears "female" clothing (why must we label clothes?) and make up every single day was told to remove his make up for the same reason these women were told to remove theirs.

Here is the thing, DMV, that IS their appearance. By forcing these women and this boy to NOT wear make up, to not wear their false eyelashes, you are inherently forcing them to alter or conceal their appearance. If they are pulled over or attempt to use their driver's license for proof of identity, they will not match the picture because of how you want them to look in front of your camera.

If someone comes into your office and tells you that she is a transgender woman, try to take that at face value. If someone tells you he is gender non-conforming, trust him. People are not transgender or gender non-conforming for the fun of it or for a social experiment. People do not live their life in a manner which is shunned by much of society just to get a different look for their driver's license photo.

Get it together DMV. Because in 10 years my daughter will be waiting in line and I can only hope you will have figured out how to accept a person who who they are and for who they live their life as by then. In fact, figure it out by next week...these human beings waiting now should not have to deal with this today.

-Proud Mom of my MTF transgender daughter
-Ally to the LGBTQ Community