Jacob's Mom's Story: I Know I'm a Girl, But...

Jacob's Mom's Story: I Know I'm a Girl, But...

October is LGBT History Month. To honor transgender people and their unique histories, I will be featuring transgender people and parents of transgender children all month long. Through sharing their stories, I hope to raise awareness of this amazing population of people who still struggle for basic human rights.

By Jacob's Mom, an Affirmed Northshore Mother

Since the day Elizabeth was born, I’ve been meaning to start a journal for her that I was going to be so proud to give her when she “came out” to us some day. I knew that day would be tough and I wanted her to know that I’ve known all along that she was gay and that I loved her no matter what.

I never started that journal. Each day when I’d experience something new in her, I’d find myself saying “I wish I’d started that journal”, and yet, I still couldn’t start. There was something “more” holding me back.

One early fall day in 2011, Elizabeth came home from Kindergarten and bounded into the room in her typical jubilant way, beaming from ear to ear and talking a mile a minute. “Hey Mom, can you please buy me a tie?”

“A tie? Like a neck tie? I said.

“Yes, a tie like my best friend Mike wears when he dresses up. You know a “boy” tie. Mike wore his for picture day and I want one too! I would really handsome in a tie!”

After a brief and measured hesitation to think, and having no good reason to say “no”, I said “Well, I don’t see why not?” I said it and I meant it, but I didn’t rush out to buy the tie.

Each passing day, I was greeted by an exuberant Elizabeth. “Hey mom, did you get my tie yet? I really want it. I want it now. Where is my tie? I’ll look amazing in a tie!!”

“Not yet Elizabeth, I’m sorry, I’ve been so busy, but I will. I promise.”

After letting about two weeks pass, where this mantra never for one second relented, I knew I had to get the tie. It was important to her and I could see it would make her happy. It was part of who she was. I knew in that moment at a very visceral level that she was not gay, but was likely transgender.

I called my mom crying because I knew in that moment that once I sent her to school in the tie, that her life would likely be hard and that our lives were about to change.  I worried what others would think of her….would they be mean to my sweet Elizabeth? Would they judge my decision to support my child and instead see me as a liberal who was indulging her child’s “phase”? Would anyone try to hurt her emotionally or physically? Would some of my family, rooted in the South, or some of our staunchly Catholic family members here, reject her or make her feel ashamed or that she was messing with “what God made her?”  I sat with these conflicted feelings for about two days and then it all changed.

On a trip home from Wisconsin, I stopped at the outlet mall. I searched the boy department and saw “the tie.” It was a gray tie with lavender musical instruments and it came with the matching lavender gingham shirt – right out of the boy’s department. It was cute and definitely “boyish” with still just a touch of feminine flair. I brought it home and showed it to Elizabeth.

My child lit up like it was the happiest day of her life. She proudly posed for pictures with her Daddy because “she was just like him.” She hugged and kissed me profusely professing me to be the “world’s bestest mom ever!!!”  I called her teacher to explain that she’d be wearing a tie to school and that I hoped she’d be supportive and help her navigate any possible teasing. I also sat Elizabeth down and said “Hey, your dad and I think it’s great that you want to wear a tie and we love that you feel good in this new outfit. We want you to know that it’s possible that some kids might be a little confused since girls don’t typically wear ties, and you might have someone tease you, but you might not. Are you ok with this?”  She cocked her head to the side and said “duh, yea, I know mom…I don’t care what anyone thinks. I love it and I look ‘awesome sauce’ in it!”

For 5 days straight, she wore the shirt and tie and she simply beamed. No one teased her at school because she “owned it”. As her kindergarten teacher recounted, she walked into the room, cleared her throat as if to say “Ahem! Please check me out in my stylin’ new tie over here.” Everyone said “Oh Elizabeth, that’s so cute” or “that totally suits you.” A few said “that’s so funny”, meaning it was “unusual” for a girl to wear the tie, but it wasn’t said in a mean-spirited fashion. The kids haven’t yet “learned” to judge others or to be prejudiced. They still judge you based on “are you fun?” or “are you nice to me?”

Time passed and the tie was worn occasionally. She continued to refer to herself as a “tomboy” and said things like “I know I’m a girl, BUT, I like boy things.” She had medium length hair and tended towards wearing gender neutral clothing (e.g. jeans, t-shirts). She primarily played with boys and they accepted her as “one of them”. Kids typically go by what they “see” vs what they “know” and so friends and even younger cousins referred to Elizabeth as “he”.

However, in first grade, some of the boys rejected her or left her out of their games and teased other boys who included her. She started to play with girls more regularly. One evening, while tucking her in, I asked “Who are your new friends?” She responded that she liked Anna in particular because she was “so beautiful”. I allowed myself the delusion that she was really just a lesbian. I secretly rejoiced and vowed to be even more supportive. It was easy for me to see a crush as meaning she was gay. I buried the nagging thought that she was really a heterosexual boy trapped in a girls’ body, because that path would be harder for her.

Then came comments like, “mom can girls marry girls and if so, can I do that but can I wear a suit and be the Dad?” She was seeing herself more as a boy who liked girls. As time and behavior evolved, I came back to my original view that my child was really a boy.

Then the demands for all things boy persisted with increased intensity.  “Mom, I want to cut my hair short.” I said in a questioning tone “Ok Elizabeth….do you mean short like mine?” No mom, I mean like a boy’s cut. My initial response was to say, “No, your mom and dad are in charge of some things at this age and this is one of those things.” Again, it was my worry of how others might treat her or judge her/us that made me not want to make such a bold statement. I suggested she put it in a pony tail and I went on to give examples of people like Joakim Noah who are boys that wear ponytails. She persisted again, but this time there was an angst and a pain that I hadn’t seen with the request for the tie.

I persisted in saying “not quite yet…maybe when you are older” and then one day I was looking at the photos on my iphone and found a video she had made saying “mean mean mommy….I want to cut my hair like a boy and I hate my hair and you are mean and don’t love me if you don’t let me have my hair the way I want it. I am my own person and you cannot tell me who I can be.” She was crying tortured tears. My heart broke and I realized in that moment that I needed to let all of my concerns go and just let her start leading….that there was no way “I” was going to be the cause of all of this hurt I was so feverishly trying to avoid. I couldn’t be the source of her pain. I had to be her support.

I took her to get her hair cut the next day. That old familiar sense of “joy and relief” showed up again, same as the day she got the tie.  She loved it. She was happy and complete, for that time being.

Today, at the age of 9, the progression has continued steadily, with progressively shorter hair (now a buzz cut with a bit of a Mohawk flair), boys underwear, etc. We began educating ourselves through the Lurie's gender clinic to know how to support her when she came to the conclusion that she was transgender. That day came when she said “mom, I notice some of the girls in my class are already getting their boobs and I really don’t want those. When are mine coming in and can I prevent that or can I cut them off? That’s when I pulled out the book I’d been waiting to read to her called “Be Who You Are.” The book portrayed a young boy who looked in the mirror and saw a girl. This book gave him the words to say how he felt. From that day forward, we haven’t looked back and I’m proud to now call Elizabeth by his new name, Jacob.

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Special thanks to Mary Tyler Mom who inspired this unique and beautiful way of honoring LGBT History Month.

photo credit: ties via photopin (license)

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