Some months ago, my kid posted a Go Fund Me. It was suggested by his then-boyfriend as a way to get what he wanted? Force our hand? Humiliate and shame us? The idea, the cause, was not to raise funds for cancer care or for funeral expenses of a friend or to help a family that lost its breadwinner. It was to get money to pay for testosterone shots, because he was angry, petulant even, that we had asked him to wait a bit longer. We will not pay the copay for testosterone-focused appointments (we were already paying for endocrinology appointments anyway), we said, nor will we drive you to the appointments, because we want you to give it some more time.
Like many people his age, my kid has an online presence. He doesn’t spend much time making videos of himself singing with his incredible and well-trained voice. Through a variety of social media platforms, he has created an online persona, one that is sort of who he is and sort of not, someone who is overly focused on victimhood and minority status, wrapped up in the dramas of people with internet careers whose followers make or break them on a whim. But his wasn’t the only persona he was busy creating; he was regularly posting about me—including things that were simply not true, so that his mother became a fictional person that his followers believed they knew. Of course, they all think they know my kid, too.
Before I go into what transpired, I will explain about our desire for delay. Part of it is exactly what you suspect—we do not see the boy/man our child says he is. I am using his preferred pronouns here out of respect and love for him because I understand the importance of that to him and to others. I also understand that in many ways, it is not important that we see that our child is in the wrong body. Of course, as his caregivers, it is also important that we do see it. But this problem, the obvious one, the problem of a prejudice I am admitting because I would be accused of it anyway, is only a piece of a complex puzzle.
I gave birth to a baby who was identified as female and grew into a very “girly” girl, who loved sparkly sequined shirts, dresses that floated upward in a satisfying parachute when she spun around the room, and other clothes I would not have picked for him myself. He loved to play with “girl” toys and “boy” toys. We did not distinguish between them in our home. Even after his tastes grew slightly more subdued, he was decidedly feminine, or what our society deems feminine: small boned, curvy, giggly, flirtatious, delicate, graceful (except in footfall), soft. Huge, dark eyes curtained by long, thick lashes could fill easily and quickly with heart-breaking tears or light up with the smile that had begun with his angel’s bow lips. These qualities remain. The way he tends to crush on boys (he says he’s a gay man, which only adds to our confusion and doubt) looks an awful lot like it always did, like a girl crushing on a boy. All of this may be because there are no real differences here, no differences that are actually sex-based. Maybe that is what I am learning.
The problem is one of maturation. Aside from the fact that the announcement that he “feels like a guy” came out of nowhere, and that he displayed none of the qualities of a person struggling with or coming to terms with such an identity, he was absolutely surrounded by other girls who were making this same announcement. For some, it was hard-won freedom, and I am so happy for them that they found a way to express themselves, sometimes at great personal cost. My child, though, is immature beyond the usual level—at 19 he is closer, emotionally, to 15. He tends to be deceptive with us about many things, from the mundane to the critical. He seems unable to form deep or meaningful relationships with other people, including family members, because he has no ability to think about anyone but himself. This is not an accusation or an exaggeration. It is an observation. He will express sadness if you tell him something bad from your day, but he will ask no questions, offer no words of comfort, and move on immediately to a different topic. This has been a problem for him over and over again in friendships and dating relationships, where he fails to pick up on cues or the needs of others.
This same immature young person has two diseases to manage, as I have mentioned in earlier posts: diabetes and epilepsy. He also has some pretty serious anxiety. He has been failing to take the medications for these issues, eat properly, or test his blood glucose. There are serious health risks associated with those lapses, and if you combine them with the health risks of testosterone shots, my child is being set up for some serious medical issues. I would also argue that if you are not stable and mature enough to take care of your diabetes and epilepsy, you may not be in a good place to make decisions about changing your sex, about making sure, at the tender age of 19, that you’ll never be able to have children, and so on. How many of us, at 19, were sure we never wanted to have kids?
So when the Go Fund Me went up, not only did total strangers say things such as “fuck your transphobic parents,” but family members who truly know nothing about us or our family immediately donated. They see us once a year at most, exchange pleasantries, and do not know how our home life looks or what our challenges are or what really goes on between us and our children. They do not know about the parade of medical professionals and educators, and specialists and psychologists and psychiatrists that have helped us to manage what one therapist referred to as my “inpatient clinic.” They did not contact us, did not question for even a moment that our child’s representation of the situation was anything but accurate. They assumed, I guess, that we were in the wrong, and of course what could be healthier for all the relatives concerned than if they just went ahead and gave our child money for something we’d said no to? Something medical that would permanently change his life? I was amazed, honestly, given who we are, that not one of them thought to talk to us first to see if we are the transphobic assholes we were purported to be; they simply accepted it as though it were obvious. That hurt a lot. It hurt my husband.
It hurt even more, when one of my nephews, the apple of my eye, proceeded to lecture me on trans rights even though he really doesn’t know anything about my kid or what it has been like to parent this child for the last 19 years. Of course, he has no idea what it’s like to parent any child. He also seemed not to know that I have been championing the rights of LGBTQ people since long before he was born, and that as smart as he is, he and his generation did not invent the ideas with which we are wrestling. I cannot describe how painful it was to feel the nature of that relationship changing, to feel that he had (unjustly) lost respect for me, and that reading a note in which he’d written he was “disappointed” in me has injured me in a way that will not heal.
We gave in on the testosterone not because we allowed ourselves to be bullied into it or because we came to see the error of our ways, but because the constant tension over it was hurting our marriage, affecting the atmosphere of our home, and taking a lifestyle, for lack of a better word, that was already strained to the breaking point by stress and worry and making it so unbearable that sometimes I found myself wishing I were dead, or better, resisting the urge to get in my car and drive away forever.