(If you came searching for ALO's Barbeque, click the word. It's a good song, that's why I borrowed it's lyrics.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How we knew

As we waited for the adoption of our son, L, we were getting hints that he might be a different sort of child. So many things about him seemed so feminine, so my sister, a therapist, sent me emails from various lesbian and trans friends. One said:
Assuming that this child fits the Harry Benjamin classification of a 'primary transexual' then moving to the USA would afford her a  tremendous opportunity to start a new life in a role that is far more in conformance with who she feels she is. It would be a pity to waste that opportunity.
I totally freaked out. The weight of the  responsibility of making that decision mixed with the jarring idea that we shouldn't adopt after all was too much to stand. "Tossed and turned" is hackneyed, but that I did; it was a long and painful night. Could we really make that decision in the two weeks we would be in China? How could children know their identity at such a young age? Still, when we were in China I asked him if he really were a girl inside, but he insisted not. He just liked girl things.

In the fall, after he'd been home two months it was time to revisit this idea. The gender counselor we'd consulted took one look at the tension between Matt and me and suggested we deal with "us" first. This  was frustrating because I wanted a diagnosis at once so we could move forward. While I was aware that the stress of the adoption and gender situation was was already taking a toll on my relationship with my husband, I also knew that our child's timeline had it's own trajectory despite the counselor's admonitions.
Soon after, I'd begun reading articles about blocking hormones and letting your child go through puberty as their affirmed gender. Frankly, that seemed nuts! How could you be certain enough to interfere--with the possibility of making some irreversible choices--with a child's body?

I continued my research. By January I was trawling the web for information on gender identity. I came across the local PFLAG yahoo group. On it a parent signed off: proud Jersey Girl, mom of Sammi m2f and Nancy just f, 11 year old twins. Wow. This was the first time I'd have the opportunity to actually be in touch with somebody who had gone through this with a younger child. I immediately emailed her and asked if she minded awfully talking to me about her decisions. She emailed back, "Mind? I've told the whole country on 20/20, so I don't mind talking to you!"

We talked for hours. In a nutshell she told me, "Let your child express. His or her true nature will be revealed." I let go a long breath. This is what I'd been waiting to hear. Every instinct I had as a parent told me to let my children self express. After we hung up I immediately found "20/20: My Secret Self" on YouTube. (TransYouth Family Allies now has several videos linked to their site.) At this point I let go of my doubt and knew we would move forward no matter where it would take us. No way Matt was ready for this but I saw it was inevitable.

Meanwhile, Matt approached me. "I'm finally starting to love this kid," he confided, "I came to pick him up after art class and he'd drawn a princess with a mustache!" To understand this statement you have to understand Matt. He is irreverent, a lover of a all that is quirky. I gulped. He had no idea what the drawing really meant. I knew telling him would deteriorate this early step in bonding.

Still, I needed to have a chat with our child. We sat down and watched the 20/20 video together. Again, again and again. I know what you're thinking; wasn't I encouraging my child to be a girl? When you reconsider you'd see how incredibly ridiculous that is. Who in their right mind would switch genders if they didn't absolutely have to? If he decided to try the girl mantle for a few weeks and then changed his mind, no harm done. If he felt in his bones it was right, then so be it.

Eyes glued to the screen he learned all the characters and their pets' names. He'd look at me and tell me he didn't know who he was. I assured him he needn't ever decide. He could be a boy, a girl or somewhere in between or he might feel different in a few years. In his limited sing-song English he'd repeat with a broad smile, "A boy as a girl, a boy as a girl!" Soon after, a call came from the guidance counselor, "He's telling his English teacher that he doesn't know if he's a boy or a girl!" I said, "Well, he doesn't know, it's natural he'd want to discuss it." She urged me to warn him not to talk about this with his classmates. Of course it was too late. He never has had the ability to hold his tongue.

Finally the time came to show Matt the video. I sat him down and said he needed to watch this, all five parts. He sat through the whole thing, grim faced. Then he looked at me and said, "This is our child." I was surprised. Although I knew L had a good chance of being trans, I couldn't say so definitely. As sure as Matt was that L was transgender, he was equally sure that he wanted nothing less in the world than to have a transgender child. 

Afraid of the boogie man, L would always ask me to sit with him when he took a bath. One day as he lay in the tub he looked at me, pressed his hands together and declared, "My heart tells me I'm a girl." And so she was.


  1. I'm one of the participants in the 20/20 show and very happy that it helped you clarify how to help your wonderful daughter. Best wishes to you and your family!

  2. This is so beautiful and touching. I am in tears thinking how amazing you are in handling this so wonderfully for Janet. How beautiful. Thanks for telling the stories so I can understand and share what I learn. --Beth