Changing Identities, Changing Minds

My relationship with my body has changed as I’ve aged, but I always took it for granted that I was born with the right parts, as a woman. I recently learned that there’s a name for this: I’m cis-gender.

A few months ago, I found the faded spiral-bound notebook that contained the list of ideas for baby names I wrote over the course of my second pregnancy. One column for boys, one column for girls. For nine months, it could have gone either way. I didn’t realize that it could also go either way 17 years later. I took it for granted that my child is a boy.

That child, now a teenager with a deep voice and fuzzy upper lip, is growing long hair and trying on makeup. My young person—as the parenting group leader likes to say—is going to take on a new name but hasn’t chosen one yet. We are slowly shopping for a new wardrobe, learning about hairbands and barrettes and elastics, experimenting with a flat iron and a curling iron and consulting with a pediatric endocrinologist.

“You’ll feel better when you are able to fully express who you really are,” she said to my child during our first visit, letting the weight of her words settle to the shiny floor of her swanky office. I had taken it for granted that I would know if my child was unhappy.

I had assumed that if something was amiss, my mother’s intuition would give me hints. I would pick up on some otherwise imperceptible clue, and I would intervene. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I feel guilty for not knowing sooner, even though this knowledge would not have changed anything.

In hindsight, I searched for those clues, judging myself for my lack of understanding. Is that why my child never went swimming without a shirt? Should I have known that my child’s perennial avoidance of public restrooms—even at school—was because of a misalignment of gender? And the eyeliner and choker in that Instagram photo last year, that wasn’t just a teenage experiment?

For the first few nights after my young person came out to me, my dreams were haunted by statistics about trans youth. I spent my days researching, reading and reaching out to my support network. I had taken it for granted that my child would not suffer from discrimination, hatred or violence.

It’s been nine months since my child came out to me. Although my initial response was fear and worry about the hardship faced by many trans teens, I have learned to find gratitude in this experience. I’m grateful that my child will have the chance to freely express their gender identity, whatever that looks like. I’m grateful that my child’s friends are supportive, and that they are entering adulthood in a time and place that may actually embrace them, rather than reject them. Most of all, I’m grateful for the way this has strengthened my relationship with my child.

It’s not in the grand gestures, but the small things: we share a Pinterest board of my child’s favourite outfits (and I gladly take the ribbing when my child has to remind me that “drip” means nice clothes); we talked about role models once and watched Oprah interview Elliot Page; and when I ask a question I don’t always get that blank teenage stare.

These small things—these are the real treasures in this unfolding journey: I have discovered the power and grace in appreciation, which is a potent antidote to taking anything for granted.

Online Resources:

Improving Gender-affirming Care Across B.C.:
phsa.ca/transcarebc

Gender Spectacular Families:
genderspectacular.com

Gender Creative Kids:
gendercreativekids.com

Gender Spectrum:
genderspectrum.org

QMunity:
qmunity.ca

BC Children’s Health:
bcchildrens.ca/health-info/coping-support/gender-resources

Transgender Resources:
uvic.ca/research/transchair/contact/resources/index.php

Gender Generations Project:
gendergenerations.org

Transgender Teen Survival Guide:
transgenderteensurvivalguide.com

Books:

The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens, by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney,
simonandschuster.com/books/Transgender-Teen/Stephanie-A-Brill/9781627781749

The Gender Creative Child by Diane Ehrensaft,
theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2016/gender-creative-child

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