Go Fund What?

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.

If you consider, on top of this fact, that most people’s brains are still developing until they are about 25 years old, then you can see how allowing such a person to make permanent, life-altering decisions would be frightening, indeed.

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.

Taking off the Muzzle

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.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

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.

Viral Anxiety

Anxiety is a funny thing. I know how it can look and how it can can feel. I have tasted it in a few varieties, from the panic attacks that require Ativan and work-at-home days, to a racing heart, to mild reflux. Somehow I am never prepared for the kind that sneaks up, though: anxiety over something I did not know was worrying me.

As I talk with different people about Covid-19, including my own high school students, I realize that the emotional response to a pandemic seems as diverse as the physical response to infection. Some folks are completely freaked out and have become increasingly agoraphobic and paralyzed by mysophobia, so much so that they are likely to need treatment for that when we are at last “freed.” Others, whose lives remain miraculously untouched by the virus, don’t feel frightened, feel like everything will be okay.

Most of us fall somewhere in between.

Most of us, I think, fall somewhere in between, exercising caution in ways we considerable reasonable. Making human mistakes. Hoping for the best. Washing our hands, wearing masks.

So when my husband told me he’d been sleeping all day, when he wasn’t in the bathroom or nursing his headache, my reaction took me by surprise.

I was so angry!

I couldn’t decide where to send my rage first–at the fact that I would now have to deal with everything in our household on my own (you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is A LOT), at the fact that he didn’t refuse to teach his college courses in person, at everything that has ever been difficult in our marriage, or swirling around our weekend plans (now up in the air) to join the extended family for our annual trip to the mountains.

When one day became two and three, I insisted he get tested. He had one test at a drug store at the end of day two, and on day four of his illness, no results in yet, I suggested he might want to go to a doctor to find out what he did have, even if it wasn’t Covid. He had a rapid test in a doctor’s office, and it came back negative. Then the drug store test came back negative, too.

He had a bug.

I would love to celebrate that (I do, I really do!), but all I can think about is how I could not calm down because he was disabled and I was not able to handle that. He slept and slept, and everything that was wrong in my world was exploding, imploding, breaking down. I was breaking down.

I have never been good about illness in the people I love. When my kids are sick, it makes me anxious. I am much better now than when they were little. When my elder child was wee and caught a stomach bug, it took everything I had not to run away from the house. I am not exaggerating. The first time that ever happened, my good friend Estee was there with her daughter Eva for our kids’ first play date, and she helped me through it. A time of firsts. Neither of us has ever forgotten. Nor have I ever stopped being grateful.

Even now, when the kids are 18 and 15, if they get a fever, I worry a bit more than I should. If my husband gets sick and is anything less than stoic, I now know, I am a mess.

My hair is falling out by the fistful. Despite a low-fat, low-calorie, healthy diet of whole foods and regular exercise, my body holds onto weight like it really doesn’t know when it might need this tire around my middle. I take my meds; I meditate. I make things. I go for walks. I color in my coloring books. I even take naps here and there.

Anxiety has hold of me like an invasive plant, tendrils of a root system winding their way through every system in my body.

Like the virus, it attacks, sometimes without warning.