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 Siri Oline Myge, Anna's Mother
Translated from Norwegian by Siri H. and Amalie Dale.
Children who struggle with their gender identity are very vulnerable. Their quality of life depends on how they are met at home, in kindergarten, at school and elsewhere. Experience shows that breaking norms starts at an early age (Kahrs and Arntzen, 2013). In fact, most transgender children will show these first signs before 3 years of age (Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad). If these children break the norms in relation to their biological sex, they will be facing sanctions on their behaviour. They often experience limited freedom for their identity. These children neither understand why this strong desire is there nor how they dare to take chances that can lead to being discovered. Later, in adulthood, they say that there was a strong inner desire that just had to come out (Arntzen and Kahrs, 2013).
She visited her biological father one weekend. She borrowed her father's mobile to play games. The game folder her father had labelled "Adrian". Just before she returns home on Sunday she replaces her folder name - to "Anna". Then she leaves. Without telling. She probably thought it was the easiest way to tell it to him. Who she really was. All the way.
Anna is attending 2nd grade. As Anna. As a girl. None of the children have any issue with this nor say anything. That's the way she expresses herself. That's how she wants to be perceived. And she does it with such an elegance and credibility that nobody envisions Adrian anymore. It is quite clear that Anna is one of the girls.
Adrian attended 1st grade. As Adrian. As an androgynous child. A child who lived two identities over a long period of time. It was incredibly exhausting, the difference between inside and outside the house was huge - because he believed it had to be that way. He wanted in a way to protect the community from being disturbed by his identity while he wanted to protect himself from the disappointment of not performing like a girl to society's expectations. Occasionally, the secretive game left a tremendous pressure on his tear ducts and the trapped girl felt very, very sad.
The longing for the true identity
The majority of men and women see sex and gender as a unit - a unit one simply is or has. Transgender individuals do not see sex and gender like this. On the contrary, they experience an intense longing to be the gender completely - they are longing for the sex that the body does not confirm. These are two very different gender experiences. The perspective changes after hormonal and surgical treatment.
"Maybe it's just the longings that make trans perspectives on gender different from everyone else's?" (Almaas and Pirelli Benestad, 2010).
Between 1st and 2nd grade we changed school district due to relocation. And the story of Adrian had to be retold to the new administration. It began quite primitive and prehistoric. At first the school was sceptical. This was unknown to them. This was a phenomenon, a challenge, a thing, which they did not understand. They only saw a child with a willy who wanted to dress up in girl clothes. They only saw the boy who failed to adapt to the norms and expectations that had been in the air for over a hundred years - namely that girls are girls and boys will be boys. The first message was that "it should be possible to explain to your child that it is inappropriate to have a dress at school, but this is something your child can do at home." Nevertheless, with help from Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad, the school realized that stigmatization was unwise, even though they failed to understand this completely. But they wanted to acquire more knowledge. Therefore, Ola (Anna's stepfather) and I invited to talk about our small "phenomenon" at a parent meeting. Briefly, we told; "Our child is as unique as your child. Our child is no more special than your child. Our child is only a child who dresses in clothes - just like your child. "It was a very nice parent meeting which resulted in a lot of understanding. Many people were given answers to their questions. Knowledge contributed to a tremendous positivity.
One must make people being themselves harmless. Therefore Esben Esther always wears female attire when talking about the topic of "trans". This shows that you can be a happy, charming and talented human being even if you are transgender. The danger doesn't lie in the expression - the danger is there if you are NOT allowed to express yourselves. It's scary, Esben Esther says. Those who are NOT allowed are those who usually commit suicide. They feel they have ended up on the wrong planet and that there is no room for them in this world (Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad, in Arntzen and Kahrs, 2013).
"How about little Wes who just wants to wear a dress? And what about little Tess who will not wear her dress?"
Little Wes gets sent to the doctor early - for boys in dresses have to be crazy. While little Tess gets a pat on the shoulder and is being sent out on the football field while saying "You're a real tomboy, Tess". And that's okay. But a girlyboy - you just cannot say! These two very different gender expressions seem quite different. While girls rarely get any comments for being like a boy, boys will early experience severe reactions for being "girly" (Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad, in Arntzen and Kahrs, 2013).
I can really relate to what is being written in the paragraph above. But why does it have to be that a boy must get an excessive amount of restrictions when expressing feminine? It may seem like being feminine is associated with something "weak". That the female gender is the weaker gender. That being female is below being male.
After a while in 2nd grade, in September 2013, Adrian (then) came home. Crying. His "neutral" schoolbag was full of dog poop. He (then he) had put his backpack onto the grass to pick late summer flowers. The backpack looked terrible. It was not possible to wash it off. We went out to buy a new backpack right away. He stood for a long time by the shelf with the bags and longed for the purple backpack he had always wanted. He got it. Back home from the store, I heard him rummage with something in his bedroom. He had found in his wardrobe a nice pantyhose, a beautiful dress and a lovely cardigan. "Mom, now I'm ready. Because now I've got a backpack that fits me perfectly!" He meant he was ready to let go of one of his identities. The one he hated. The one he was tired of. Now he didn't have to live two identities anymore, even though everybody really knew who he was. The morning after, at the school care, I followed him. He was eager to see how everybody in 2nd grade would react. The reaction was like this; he came in, he shouted "Hello", the majority of the children raised their heads and looked at him, they said hello back, and continued with what they were doing. No reaction! A couple of the girls were a bit envious and asked where he got the dress from, because they also wanted one! Then they sat down in a corner and played chess.
From this day Adrian never came home again. This day Anna came home. Happier than ever.
Some days I feel like I gradually lose my child. Ola doesn't feel any difference. He feels Anna has been with us all the time - and she has. But as a mother I feel that Adrian fades, as if that part of him withers or dies, and a new sprout of Anna appears as a long- awaited spring. I do know this is the same child who was born May 3, 2006. Still, I both have happiness and sadness that need to be processed. Most of all happiness. Most of all!
Our sweetest little Anna
is painting the night with day.
She replaces the stars with sunrise
just like a magic fay.
She spreads a handful poppy seeds
and watch them grow to flowers.
She makes the biggest rainbow of all
and shares it to call it "ours".
Almaas, E., & Benestad, E. E. P. (2010). Sexologi i praksis. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Arntzen, M., & Kahrs, K. (2013). De usynlige kjønn. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
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Special thanks to Mary Tyler Mom who inspired this unique and beautiful way of honoring LGBT History Month.