Janet, 14, keeps hoping nobody will know she's transgender. I roll my eyes but also wring my hands when she tells me this. I mean, please, she changed her name and pronouns three quarters into her year as a third grader. Almost everybody in town knows.
Yet when she entered middle school she held on to her false hopes that the new crop of classmates somehow wouldn't discover her secret. When each new friend pulled away in a matter of days it proved her wrong. It's hard to make friends when you're social suicide. Luckily she has a few buddies made of sterner stuff. Alas, staying under the radar has not turned out to be an option.
Assigned male at birth, Janet has bravely taken the steps to align herself with the girl she truly is. Intrepid in her path to womanhood, she yearns to blend in. Luckily, she does so to strangers, but not in our community. I've been hoping she'll move on, that she'll learn to announce that she's trans with pride. I am who I am and to heck with the rest of you! That kind of confidence can attract people to you. Without a doubt she serves as a role model to some children in this town lingering in the shadows. It's too bad she can't see herself that way.
Yet, the other day I was getting to know a trainer at my new job. He told me that he was a family man, held down a job, and deejayed on the side. All three made up who he was. I countered by claiming the first two and smilingly added that I'm a writer and an artist. I want others to know I pursue a path that speaks to my soul, but when asked what I wrote about I faltered. "Er, um, well, let's just say I once caused a scandal in my suburban town." Why didn't I elaborate? Why did I elude to being controversial but shy from the reason?
Am I ashamed? No. I'm pretty sure I rock for being such a supportive mom. In town I don't really care what people who know me think. I didn't lose friends when Janet transitioned. I even received a few letters of support from neighbors and acquaintances. Mulling it over I have stumbled upon my motives.
Here's my dirty little secret—I don't want people to know either. Proud of my writing, proud of my daughter, but afraid.
Now I've got to admit the worst part. It's because I'm afraid new acquaintances won't like me. I'm afraid they'll judge me and treat me differently. Seriously, at 49? To be honest I was hoping I'd be more evolved by this age. Sure I can write about it to a bunch of strangers, but in person?
So I've started trying to be a better role model.
Recently I pulled up in my company car to pick up a driver's ed student. Once on the road, trying to make him at ease I started on some small talk. Given his foreign sounding name I asked him about his ethnicity. "I'm mostly Turkish," he admitted, "Actually I'm Muslim but I rarely tell people." (On an aside, the diversity in my community ranges mostly from Irish Catholic to Italian Catholic.)
Wow! So cool he felt comfortable telling me. It gave me some courage. I told him my middleschooler gets bullied, which in itself is not exactly mind blowing. Then I added, "She's gender variant." Boy was I surprised when he came out with, "If you don't mind me asking, is she transgender?" It turns out a transgender woman had recently spoken in his biology class. He was fascinated. We ended up having a great conversation, not only about transgender issues but also about hiding ourselves.
I can't wait to try it again.