Portrait of a Transgender Child: Part One

I know I said this story wasn’t about my son, exactly.  But I can’t tell you about being a parent of a transgender child without telling you about my transgender child. I think that there is a natural curiosity towards children like my son, children who fall outside the scope of our worldviews.  We look for reasons or explanations.  We seek to blame someone or to blame ourselves.  Outsiders ask questions, delicately of course, like could it be genetic?  Do you think you were too permissive when he was younger?  Should you have forced him to be more like a girl?

Others make accusations that are not so delicate.  You made her be a boy.  God doesn’t make mistakes so she must be a girl.  You are confusing her by letting her pretend to be a boy.  No child can know at 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 what their gender is. Right now, fortunately, the judgement falls on me.  But I wonder all the time when that will change.  I’m afraid, all the time that it will change.

Until you raise a child who consistently and repeatedly states their truth, you can’t really understand. Until you raise a child who is told, over and over that the way he feels is wrong, the words he’s saying are wrong, by his parents and his friends and all of the people he loves and trusts, but he says them anyway, you can’t possibly know.  What people without children like mine don’t understand is my child was never a girl.

So I will paint his portrait, as best I know how.  With words, not colors.  To help you understand.  When I’ve finished, I hope that you can appreciate the human being that he is, respect the man he will grow to become, and protect the innocent child that he still is today.


The Canvas and the Palette – Part One

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I walked in my husband’s front door.  No joke, that’s how we met.  A mutual acquaintance invited me to a geek get-together hosted by my husband and his roommate, and I decided to go. JR, my husband, says he knew from the moment he saw me that he wanted to get to know me better.  The feeling wasn't mutual.

At that time in my life, I was not in a good place.  I was depressed, for a while seeing a psychiatrist, and when I could afford it, on two kinds of antidepressants and a sleeping pill.  The antidepressants made me complacent and the sleeping pill gave me hallucinations and made me sleep walk.  I remember the first time I shared that with JR, he acted like I’d shared some big secret, given him this gift and insight into me.  But I don’t think mental health should be a secret.  It’s not something I’m ashamed of.

I also self-medicated.  My psychiatrist knew. We were working through things.  I made sure not to drink more than she thought was safe on the medications, but because I wasn’t always taking the medications, I probably drank more than I should.  I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was just a depressed twenty-something, who had no husband and children and few responsibilities.

I worked all the time, from 7 in the morning until 7 at night.  I had nothing else to do.  I might go out with friends from time to time, to a club or a bar.  I didn’t date very much because I didn’t find anyone overly interesting.  My life was pretty much at a dead end.

It was in this frame of mind that I walked into my future husband’s door.  I’m sure the story of how we got together might interest absolutely no one, so I’ll make it brief.  He lingered.  That’s the truth.  He never gave up.  I called off sick our first date, because I’d changed my mind.  So he showed up with food to take care of me.  He would ask me out for dinner and I’d claim I was too tired, so he’d insist that he bring me something to eat, nothing else, just drop off the food and go.

Sounds a little creepy, but really, he was being thoughtful and considerate.  Not at all like himself, but then, what man wooing a woman is?  And slowly, he broke down my defenses and started to grow on me.  JR can be exceptionally charming when he puts any effort into it at all.

It took about three months for me to cave.  Three months after that, our child was conceived.

Not intentionally, of course. Jake* started this world as an unplanned pregnancy.  Note that I did not say unwanted. It’s true, had you asked me the day before my missed period, I would have said loudly and emphatically, I absolutely did NOT want children.

But somewhere during the drive to my boyfriend’s house to tell him I was pregnant, things changed.  I was nearly thirty years old.  I had nothing to show for the three decades I’d spent on this planet.  I worked, all the time.  Drank, way too much.  This was exactly the wake-up call I needed.  Somewhere during that very short twenty minute drive, I grew up and I made the decision to keep this child, no matter what.

JR had no intentions or plans to be a parent either. He had made it clear, before, that he didn’t want to be a father…yet. He imagined, eventually, somewhere years and years down the road, of maybe having a single child, a son, and nothing more.  So when I made the decision to keep the child, for a brief moment I considered not telling him at all.  A brief moment, but then I realized that was cruel and unfair.  So instead, I told him I was pregnant, that I was keeping this baby no matter what, and that he could have as little or as much part of it as he wanted.  I let him off the hook. He was free to walk away and have no more involvement than perhaps financial, if I needed it.

He listened to the news that changed his life without a word.  He didn’t look at me, didn’t say anything for a long time.  Finally, after what seemed like forever:

“You need to quit drinking, immediately, and when do you want to move in?”

JR is nothing, if not practical, but I knew what he was saying.  He was going to be a part of this too.  I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath, until I let it out in one long exhale.  I agreed, no more drinking.  Moving in? He still had roommates…and that still seemed like a huge step.

“Do you want to get married?”

Absolutely not.  We’d really only just met.  I’m wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of commitment.

“How can you commit to a child for the rest of its life, but you can’t commit to marriage?”

I was stunned by the honesty of that question.  He was right, of course.  But it was different.  The child, at this moment, was a theoretical child.  Something I would have almost 9 months to get used to the idea of.  Marriage, on the other hand, at least to me, was supposed to be forever.  I couldn’t make that decision lightly, and certainly not because of an accidental pregnancy.

Fine, no marriage.  Kick out the roommates.  We could do this.

So we were decided.  We were going to do this.  We were having a baby.

*I will refer to Jake by male pronouns throughout the story.  This should cause less confusion for the reader, in trying to guess who I’m talking about or what pronouns I’m using, and it is also respectful of my child.

Up Next: Part Two: The Outline of a Portrait of a Transgender Child

Want to learn more about me and why I blog? Read Affirmed Mom of a Transgender Child.

Feel free to email me at affirmedmom@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments, or want to share your story. I'd love to hear!

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Filed under: History, Parenting, Storytelling

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