I am a liberal person, the sort of lefty that conservatives call a “snowflake” and a “social justice warrior,” and because I am a Jew, a “globalist” and an “East Coast elite.” I believe that systemic racism is fucking up and taking people’s lives and livelihoods; I believe that people who say “all lives matter” ought to be hit in the head with a sock full of manure; I believe that the government should not have a say in what happens inside a woman’s uterus; I believe in equal rights on every front for all people of every race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, and so on. I volunteer at my place of worship as the director of inclusion and diversity to make sure that my own community recognizes, celebrates, and utilizes its own diversity. I would happily take guns away from everyone (except perhaps those who need them to provide food for their families); I have participated in marches, protests, and social action groups. I sat on the board of an LGBTQ community and support group for years.
Now that you have my resume, I can share with you that today I took off my muzzle. Well, at least one strap. I have been succumbing, as a result of the tremendous pressure I have felt to do so, to the axiom that when your kid says “I am trans,” you believe him or her or them, you support the kid, you do not question the child directly, and when it is reasonable to do so, you provide access to medical intervention.
I never actually believed this.
I do firmly believe that is a parent’s right and responsibility to intervene and to question the moves his or her or their kids make, especially life-altering, potentially dangerous moves made by people whose brains are not yet even close to fully developed. I believe that I have been paying close attention to my own child since his emergence from my body, and while I may not know all his secrets, I know my child in a way that no one else does or can.
I have no intention of casting doubt on the identity of all trans people. Lots and lots of people are trans. Don’t bother to attack me, because I have heard it all, read it all, been there, and watched the musical.
My child may well be trans, and I am willing to admit that it’s possible I am having trouble seeing it through all the other issues in my way–mine and his. No two people are the same, and just because one trans teen is a particular way, it does not mean that mine is just like that one. My child has an array of medical issues that complicate and have the potential to shorten his life. It is heartbreaking and unfair. If I could take them away, take them on myself, I would. I can’t do that, but I can do everything humanly possible to keep him healthy, manage disease, medicines, and emotional health.
My child was born a girl, or as they say these days, “assigned female at birth.” This “assignment” was based on genitalia. Later, this assignment continued to appear accurate, as the body in which my child grew developed breasts and hips and began to ovulate and menstruate. Biologically speaking, the assignment was accurate. From infancy, this beautiful, smart, funny, talented kid suffered crippling anxiety. We didn’t always know that’s what it was, and for a long time we worried about odd behaviors we couldn’t explain, such as the way he would freeze and cry at the top of the slide if another child climbed up the ladder to go next, or if another baby or child looked in his direction from across a crowded restaurant. Part of the problem was solved when I realized our toddler needed glasses, and then early adolescence made the anxiety easier to identify.
Therapy, medication, awareness. Worry.
At 15, my very feminine daughter told us he was our son and gave us a new name to use. It was the second name change, actually. The first was a genderless name that we all got used to for a year, and then it was changed again, without warning, to a masculine name. At first, we bristled quite a bit at the abandonment of various religious/cultural traditions involved in the naming of our children, but that seems like ancient history now. We did not understand. There was nothing we could see about this kid that was male or masculine, nothing in his behavior, interactions with others, movement through space, points of view. We had lots of conversations about gender, about binaries. I argued that the position he was taking seemed committed to a binary notion of gender that I could not understand, and he just said he “felt like” a guy. I wrestled with tired notions of gender—what does it even mean to be masculine or feminine? What does it mean to relate to others as a woman?
What does it mean to be masculine or feminine?
We are still waiting for help from him in understanding this. My kid says I don’t need to understand. He might be right. But he has asked me to bury my daughter, pay for medical transition and legal services, offer emotional support, and look out for his well-being on every front (while he occasionally attacks me on the internet). And I am doing all of that. As he is no longer a minor, I am asked to do this all without access to vital information about most of it. I don’t think, in the face of all these expectations, that it’s too much to request that he help us try to understand how one can “feel like” a guy without having been one, biologically or socially. We are asking him to tell us what makes him tick.
In the meantime, I lie awake at night wondering how the medical professionals in charge of my child’s health thought it was just fine to give hormone therapy to a person with diabetes and epilepsy who fails to manage either disease. Did the endocrinologist actually read the psychologist’s 12-page report, in which she wrote that hormone therapy was not an answer to the issues, but only might be a piece of it? The person who prescribed testosterone is the same one who prescribes insulin—the same one who knows that my child rarely tests his blood glucose, has a shit diet, and therefore can’t possibly be dosing his insulin correctly. Which of us will have the first heart attack?
I think the world of medicine is caught in the same trap I am. A friend of mine told me she took her toddler in for a checkup. She is the mother of a lively little girl. The pediatrician came into the exam room, greeted them both, and then asked my friend’s daughter, “are you a girl or a boy?” Bless this mama; she told that doctor where to get off immediately. As she put it, if her child says to her that she’s a boy, she’ll go with it, but why on earth does the doctor need to plant the idea in the child’s head?
Access to puberty blockers and hormone therapies has gotten incredibly easy; the sort of psychological evaluation required is minimal, and any kid with access to the internet can find out exactly what to say to get what he believes he needs or wants. There are so many girls in my kid’s cohort who have changed their names and are identifying as male or nonbinary that is clear to any rational person that something is going on beyond a newfound freedom of expression. I am not surprised that an entire generation finds the prospect of being female unappealing, to be honest, but that is an oversimplification. I am well aware how these points of view, these days, mark me as the enemy. It’s a real shame, because I am most definitely not the enemy. I am far from it.
I left the board of the LGBTQ group to which I belonged because the community meetings we ran serve as a safe space for the community, and even though I am Bi, it was not a safe space for me, and my presence made it less safe for others. Talking about the issues that were weighing on me made young trans people feel unsafe, so I felt it was my responsibility to leave, and that is what I did. I have other safety nets. I could not express my feelings of worry and doubt without being attacked, because worry and doubt are not allowed; worry and doubt are transphobic. Worry and doubt mean you don’t support your child. Speaking honestly with your child means you don’t support him; demanding that he be honest with you means that you are cruel or at least uncaring. Even at meetings that were supposed to be safe places for parents to say what they wanted and ask even the worst questions, there was always at least one Koolaid-drunk parent ready to tell me how she just loves her child no matter what, as if my expression of concern for my clearly at-sea kiddo meant that I had stopped loving him.
I want my child to be happy in his skin and in his life. He can’t do that if he’s dead.