Hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t unexpectedly pop-up in this still new world of raising a child who identifies as transgender. Yeah, you would think I would have learned to stop being surprised, but, alas, I have not. Sometimes it is something banal like those stupid pink curlers. Other times it is more profound…like a phone call I received better than ten days ago which I have still not managed to fully get my head around.
It was the Friday before February vacation (aside: didn’t the kids just have a vacation??) when the phone rang, the caller i.d. stating it was Jessie’s school. Just as an elementary school kid goes ashen when told, even if they have done nothing wrong, that the Principal wants to see them in her office, I, too, had a visceral (not to mention physical) reaction. I instinctively knew that Jessie was okay (mostly because she wasn’t even there, having left earlier in the day to hit the road with Rich for a few days in the snow) yet knowing as much did little (okay, nothing) to alleviate my stress. The Principal was calling and it was not just to shoot the shit.
We spent a few moments catching up with one another and learning how things were going in each of our worlds. (Well, I guess you could say we did shoot a little shit.) But I was still curious as to what the call’s agenda might be so I absent-mindedly opened up “Bejeweled Blitz” on my computer to distract myself, if only a little, from whatever was about to go down. (I have come to realize that the repetitious nature of the game does wonders for calming me down…hey, whatever it takes!)
Dr. B. has done everything in her power to make Jessie’s transition and school experience as seamless and normal as possible by fully, professionally and artfully embracing the myriad challenges in having a child in your school identify as transgender. As such, she has taken on all sorts of initiatives and programs to ensure that not only her staff, but the administrators of the entire school district are as educated and accepting as possible in all things transgender. I’ve greatly appreciated it. Little did I know, however, that I was about to be asked to put my money where my mouth is…and I’m not sure I’m ready.
She began the conversation by acknowledging that Jessie (and George) has long had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which addresses her struggles associated with dyslexia. As such, she is a very well documented child and has a thicker file in the school than the average kid. Immediately upon her transition the staff was diligent about scribing the narrative portion of all reports, notices and announcements, with her new chosen name of Jessie. The top of the page (read: the official part) includes her school identification number and remains associated with her legal name: George. And now, just barely a year later, Dr. B. is offering to change the official name to Jessie and, gulp, change the gender marker to female. I admit to being caught off-guard. Of the long list of issues that have shaken me up, the discrepancy in names (in this context, that is) has never bothered me. In fact, I recall that the first time I saw “George” on the top and “Jessie” in the text, I got a little choked up; I actually took comfort in knowing that this was somehow still the same child. It felt surreal. It felt bizarre. It also felt like an appropriate segue into whatever we were diving into. And now this?
As I sat in the chair, getting my ass kicked in “Bejeweled Blitz” (that happens when your eyes fill with tears making it impossible to see the screen – or anything, for that matter – clearly) I was speechless. A part of me wanted to say, “How wonderful! You can do that??” while another, slightly (okay, much) louder internal voice screeched, “No!”
And then I felt guilty.
Why wasn’t I embracing this? Why did I feel nauseated and fearful? And why have I not told a soul about this until now?
When Jessie first made her announcement and subsequent (not to mention immediate) transition, she asked me daily if we could go change her name legally and, as she planned it, go directly from the Social Security Administrative offices to CVS to get hormones. Yes, it was that uncomplicated and literal to her. I would gently suggest to her that it was not quite so simple and that we would work together with (many) professionals and everything would come in due time. Interestingly, she has mentioned neither changing her name nor the administration of hormones in months. And I, taking her lead, have not brought either issue up, either. Perhaps that is part of the reason this offer from Dr. B. sent me reeling: we have a new normal, one devoid of discussion of things the likes of name changes and hormones. I guess I had almost “forgotten”. Sort of.
After a pregnant pause, I realized I had to respond somehow. Here Dr. B. had extended herself, not to mention this epic bestowal, yet I was speechless. Thankfully, she knows me well enough to have anticipated the, dare I say it?…ambivalence and offered up the next words: “we can always change it back.” And that made me feel better, but not well enough to give the go ahead.
Early on in our meetings with the psychiatrist who specializes in gender issues, it was pointed out that 80% of children who identify as transgender while prepubescent will change their minds. (Freak-out worthy statistic, am I right?!) It was further explained that in the literal mind of a then ten-year old, “if I like girl things, I must be a girl” is not just a concept, but a reality. The shrink’s final words, from the first time we met, implored us to figure out a way to “tolerate the ambiguity”. I went home that day and wrote this blog post: http://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/?s=chronically+ambiguous&submit=Search
That was nearly a year ago, and, I am sorry to report, that I still don’t know if I can tolerate it. I am beginning to notice, however, that a (not insignificant) part of me seems to be at ease with it somehow. Perhaps having both “George” and “Jessie” on her school documents somehow keeps me, in a crazy-ass kind of way, grounded. In my (off-kilter) mind it actually illustrates the ambiguity of the entire situation which, for now, is working for me.
When Jessie, who is the captain of this ship, wants to put down anchor, I will be there alongside her to hitch her to a mooring. Until then…we will stay adrift on this one. Thanks anyway, Dr. B. (For now.)