Two months ago, I began my journey as a blogger, listing all the things that I am: mother, wife, teacher, friend. I laid out the story that I planned to tell my readers. Not my son’s story, but a mother’s story. My story.
The story of a mother who has struggled and come to terms with raising a transgender child. The story of an Affirmed Mom.
But I left something out.
I should have included that I am also the first to admit when I’m wrong. And that I am not above learning and changing and growing. Maybe not always willingly, maybe not without some amount of kicking and screaming. But to stop adapting is to die.
Since I wrote my post, two months ago, I have changed. I’ve come to learn that I’ve made mistakes, and that the mistakes I’ve made are unacceptable.
In my original post, I stated:
I am the mother of two, aged two and seven. My two year old, Rudy, is spoiled and he isn’t afraid to let everyone know. I joke that he’s lucky he’s so cute, because seriously, he is. Lucky. And cute. My oldest, Jake, he’s a whole different story. Jake was born a girl, and at the age of six, transitioned to a boy.
And then followed it up with:
When my daughter told me she wanted to be a boy, I thought the world had ended. The bottom had fallen out. I knew I had to let her. “Let her”. Like I had a choice in the matter…
This wasn’t a surprise, it had been coming since she was two. But you talk yourself into believing a lot of things. It’s a phase. She’s a tomboy. Maybe she’s a lesbian. Maybe she’s a butch lesbian. Then you bargain. I’ll let you wear the boys pull ups, but you have to wear a dress. You don’t have to wear a dress, but you have to wear pink or purple. You can wear blue, but we have to get it from the girl’s section. You can wear boy’s clothes, but not the underwear. You can wear boys’ underwear, but you can’t shave your head. You can shave your head, but…but you can’t change your name.
That’s where I drew the line. I loved her name. I chose her name. I tenderly and lovingly bestowed her name upon her the day she was born, as I kissed her sticky forehead as it lay against my breast. This was my daughter and I would not, could not let her go.
So when I had to let her go, when I had to lose my daughter and welcome my son…you have to let go of a lot of things.
Even seeing it put into print so clearly didn’t make me aware of the damage I’d done. It took a young man pointing out the error I had made, in a comment, several weeks later:
Hi Pamela, I’m MJ. I’m a trans man, and a contributor to FTM Magazine. I read your piece about Jake meeting his hero, Jason Robert Ballard, and it made me smile and tear up 🙂 I think it’s great that you support your son so much, and you want to learn how to help him through transitioning to the best of your ability.
Reading this post, I’d like to bring up the idea that many trans people feel we were not born any gender. I don’t think anyone is born a gender, since gender is part of our personalities, and newborns don’t have much of a self-concept, let alone a complex one like gender. I don’t say I was born female. I say I was assigned female at birth. I think it helps open doors for conversations about how trans people’s identities are legitimate, as much as cis (non-trans) people’s. I also never refer to myself, even before I medically or socially transitioned, with she/her pronouns.
Some people feel differently, but I wanted to share that with you because it seems like you want to learn as much as you can, from what you write and share with your readers. And I’m grateful you do! Supportive and educated voices are always needed. And if you’re interested in reading a quick article about trans people, gender, and language, this is the best I’ve ever seen, and the title is kind of amusing: http://www.tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/
Take care, thanks for writing!
My response was kind, but typical. I thanked him. I admitted to having erred in saying that my son was born a girl. I promised to change it, which I did…to say instead that he was assigned female at birth.
Then I agreed about my pronoun usage and gave some very poor response that in no way justified my referring to my son with the wrong pronouns. My referring deliberately to my son, with the wrong pronouns.
I have thought about it since that day. I’ve grown close with the commenter and consider him a friend now, a good friend. A friend whose opinion matters very much. It’s his words I see in my mind, every time I edit any post now. How would MJ word it? What would he think of this phrase? WWMJD?
Because he’s right and I am wrong, and I never told him the reason I did it.
I used the wrong pronouns to make it more palatable to my readers. I didn’t want to go into long explanations or involved terms that the majority of cisgender people don’t understand, before they liked what they read and subscribed to my blog. I wanted to go easy on them. To introduce the idea of a transgender child in as gentle and likeable a way as possible.
So that they would like me too.
That has always been my hubris, my downfall. I want to be liked. I want to be thought well of. I want to be remembered fondly.
MJ didn’t deserve that brush off. The transgender community doesn’t deserve that brush off. And since his very honest and sincere remarks, I’ve grown and I’ve changed.
I had thought of my child as being born a girl and becoming a boy. But he was never a girl. His body was labeled female, but never his heart and soul. I wronged him by ever referring to him the way that I did, saying he was born a girl and using female pronouns. And though I bragged about how he approved my posts, which is true, he’s only seven. What could he possibly know or understand about how he’ll feel, ten years from now? What inadvertent pain, anxiety or shame might I have caused him, by that very careless move?
Because I wasn’t lying to MJ when I said I’d thought it over. I did consider how to word it and which pronouns to use. And I was speaking the truth, when I said that going forward, with the exception of one (though possibly two) future posts, I always, in every instance, refer to Jake by the correct pronouns.
It still gave me no right to do it then. It was my own insecurities that drove me to do it. I felt it would cause my readers less confusion and be more dramatic, to go through that change from female to male with me. I had a desire to make people like my child, to like me, to accept the decisions I’d made, the parenting style I’d adopted. What I should always be considering, first and foremost, is what is best for my son, what will be respectful of him and the transgender community at large.
But I think also, even then, I wasn’t thinking like a trans ally, or even as a good parent. In my mind and in my heart, I was still coming to terms with accepting what society had spent a lifetime grilling into me. I hadn’t truly embraced, not the boy my child had become, but the boy my child had always been from the very start.
I am fully embracing him now.
I cannot go back in time to change the mistake I made. I cannot undo the way I wrote then, the way I felt. I can apologize, to my son. I will ask him to forgive me and to understand that we are all fallible. I am also adding a note to the original post, to guide readers to this explanation of my error. I can only hope that those steps are enough. And of course, to never make that mistake again.
I have changed my view of gender identity. I know now that we aren’t born him or her, this or that. We are born human, with unique inclinations and ideas, with guidance beyond our own identity and what the world around us tells us we should be. That’s how my son was born. A beautiful, innocent, amazing child.
That’s how every person on this earth is born. And that’s how they should be allowed to grow.
I feel like I can add something else to my list: I am a trans ally. More than I ever thought possible.
When I proudly affirmed my acceptance of my son, I was holding back, not truly letting him be, at every stage of his life, exactly who he is meant to be.
I would like to re-affirm my intention. To let both of my children find their way, express themselves how they feel comfortable, grow where they are planted, and experience fully whatever this world has to bring them.
And I am still an affirmed mom of a child who is a unique and amazing human being.
I’d love to hear your story. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share.
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