Sink or Swim?

“I’m a girl who used to be a boy”

-Jessie 7/5/12

This summer I have been swimming laps.  It is simultaneously relaxing, invigorating and crazy-ass boring, but excellent exercise for my ever cranky back.  While in the lap lane I am able to empty my mind of all thoughts and focus instead solely on keeping count as to what lap I am on, currently stopping at thirty-three which Harrison, my swimmer, has promised me is a half a mile.  Time-wise, it actually doesn’t take me very long to accomplish this feat yet the other day it was long enough for a (potential) situation to have arisen.

As I finished up and waded my way through the open area of the pool, I released my hair from the knot on top of my head and tried in vain to focus without the benefit of either the blue goggles in which I swim or my glasses.  (Now might be a good time to remind y’all that I am blind without the benefit of corrective lenses of some sort.  I tried to deny this for years, but finally had to give in and admit that I had inherited my father’s vision.)  Everything was fuzzy and, perhaps as a result of my weakened eyesight, my hearing was keener than ever.

A group of tweens were somewhat eerily standing around (not a splash in sight) in the 4′ area asking one another questions: “who will she marry?”, “how is that possible” and “so what is she?”  It took me exactly no time to realize who and what they were talking about, and I felt my heart sink to the bottom of the pool.  Oh, G-d…what has she done?

I continued to wade over to where Jessie was perfecting her dive among even more tweens and motioned for her to come over as I had a question for her.  Not surprisingly, she rejected my invitation and opted to continue to jump in and out of the pool with speed enough to ensure that I not catch her.  I decided to save my query for a later, more private moment, but I also felt the relaxation part of my swim dissolve.

There is a lot of discussion among the transgender community (or at least that which I am privy to) which dissects the pros and cons of going “stealth”.  Many children (and their parents) prefer to simply present as the preferred gender and not draw attention to anything; thereby considered stealth.  Others approach is different in that they prefer to openly share that they were not born the sex which they present as.  While the George to Jessie transition was anything but stealth, she has been favoring the “I am a girl” stance for some time so I was surprised at her having made this announcement.  And, by surprised I mean flummoxed.  And by flummoxed I mean freaked out.

I squinted in the sun, found my way back to my chair and took some deep breathes, wishing that my water bottle was filled with something more like wine.  My head was awash with curiosity over what might have precipitated her announcement, how she was feeling and, frankly, what the other kids were running to their parents to share.  (I know this sounds crazy since I am so out there with all of this but something about it felt so wildly, splashingly uncontrolled and, frankly, it knocked me out a little bit.)  It was officially driving me crazy, but I knew that I had to wait for the car ride home to even broach the subject.  Well, look at that…time to go home! (Before you judge, let me just say that we had been at the pool for several hours at that point, so our leaving was not totally crazy.)

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I was unsuccessful in containing my curiosity for one more minute and inquired on the walk to the car (as opposed to being in the car which was my initial plan) as to why she had felt the need to announce that she was “a girl who used to be a boy”.  Not surprisingly, her initial response was to not respond at all.  Knowing full well that she had heard me, I continued to walk in silence, trying my damnedest not to push her since I know, from experience, that this will do little other than shove her into unending secrecy.  Once we had loaded the stuff in the car, I asked again…making sure to point out that any response was fine, I just wanted to know why she felt the need today to tell a group of kids that, again, she “is a girl who used to be a boy”.  (Note we have logged many, many hours at the pool this summer so it wasn’t as though she was seeing these kids for the first time since last August.  In fact, she has been cavorting in the water on a nearly daily basis with most, if not all, of them. So, um, what the fuck?)

Sensing my shriveling patience, she initially responded with something along the lines of having known one of the kids “five years ago” (at which time she would have been five…yeah, I don’t think so) and then changed her story to “I just wanted them to know.”  Neither response seemed to reveal the whole truth, so I, of course, have been unable to either clear my mind or stop armchair psychologizing what it meant.  (I don’t think that psychologizing is a real word, but this is my blog so I can make up words.)  And, further, I am crazy curious as to what each of those kids told their parents once they got into their cars.  I have zero compunction over the shared information, rather the fact that this was the first time that it happened without my having any control whatsoever over how the information was disseminated.  And here’s the truth: I haven’t gone back to the pool since.

I have every intention of returning to the pool and am well aware that as concerned as I am about the potential fallout for Jessie as a result of so brazenly sharing that she is different (something most kids do not always readily support) she is equally, if not more,  unconcerned.  That is classic George and Jessie…beating to his/her own drum without a care in the world as to how other’s might react.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  It never occurs to her to tease, ridicule or ostracize other kids for being different in any way and, with the literal brain of a ten-year old, she assumes (I fear mistakenly) that other’s subscribe to the same mantra.  It is a hard lesson to learn and one which I, as her mother, dread even the anticipation of witnessing.  So tomorrow afternoon, off we will go to the pool; me taking my regular spot in a chaise under an umbrella and a trashy magazine (which I will have to be sure to purchase tomorrow morning) and her to the 9′ section of the pool to continue to work on her dive and her burgeoning friendships.  I only hope that the bevy of children with whom she shared is still there to get wet along with her.

19 thoughts on “Sink or Swim?

  1. I applaud Jessie. She spoke the truth on her own terms. She was not paralyzed with fear of any future remarks. Bravo!!! I wish more of us would act that way. The truth is that whoever can’t handle it is probably not worth knowing. Truth always wins. Those who live in fear are cowards. F— ’em (was I allowed to say that? Lol).

  2. Hi Julie,

    One thing I have learned from my time in the trans community is that trans is only one part of who a person is. Jessie is a normal kid and kids say things, sometimes for a reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

    You may have hit it on the head and maybe she hasn’t learned the hard lesson that not all people are accepting or even nice. I have two and while we try and shield them from the bad stuff, some painful lessons like this one just have to be learned on their own. I’m hoping for the best in this case and maybe these kids won’t even be phased beyond the normal curiosity, The times are a changing.

    Keep going with your instincts. From what I’ve read, so far, so good! 🙂


  3. It’s a very difficult question to answer, even for someone like me who transitioned much later than Jessie. Coming across someone who knew you in your previous gender is one of those times where you are tugged in opposite directions. We deeply yearn to reconnect with someone from our past, and yet doing so opens us up to the deep uncertainty of disclosure. It is very difficult at times to deal with, and I surmise that Jessie was battling that decision at the pool.

    For many, stealth is akin to the witness protection program. It’s a whole new life. For others it’s a prison, with the fear of discovery locking you in. Unfortunately, how one feels about it can only be discovered by time and experience.

  4. This speaks to me a lot and, in order to explain why, I will have to explain. I waited decades to transition, did it proudly and very loudly while working in a prominent position on Europe’s largest construction project, then had to dismantle myself when i had to choose between my life and the woman I have loved for 25 years. So. I content myself by being as wilfully open as I can about who I am and have been. It took years to realise, with the help of good friends, that I’m all the same person. Once I became open about myself, the chief difference that people noticed was that I was far more likeable. I try to hold onto that.

    I have now trained as an elementary school teacher so that I can throw myself into other’s lives and not bother too much about self-fulfilment. I came to this by way of teaching swimming. And I am a 200-lap-a-session swimmer. Before transition, this pastime gave me huge contentment: it changed the shape of my body and allowed me to disappear into a world where sound and thought were blotted out and people were no more than bobbing heads in bathing caps and goggles.

    I haven’t been able to go back to it: my body is both male and female, and I am lost between changing rooms. It has felt good to be open about myself and to be myself – defying categorisation and stereotype – but my choices have consequences.

    As for other people: I look for the beautiful individuality and complexity of their identities – past and present – as they are usually far more interesting than whatever I immediately imagine them to be.

  5. Embraced her whole self at the pool… A place she has always owned! Whatever the “reason,” I love that all of who George was and who Jessie is and will become is now acknowledged and living at the pool in Jessie’s own words. She is and has always been a special kid in my heart. (And from time to time always, more often than not, does and says things unexpectedly to make everyone really live life…..My dad says “Life happens when you are making plans.) Planning what and how to say to “pool people” about where George went would lack the spontanaity of who Jessie IS : )

  6. I’ll give you another word to add to your blog vocabulary: “Transpeculation”. Actually it is a synonym for “psycholgizing”, or, at least, a definition, in part. As I read along, I thought of at least a half-dozen possibilities why Jessie had broken from her “I am a girl” stance. Stealth is but a state of mind, anyway, and, as girls, we have the prerogative to change our minds. I am more intrigued by the girls’ reaction. I’ve heard much worse!

    At any rate, we all have the choice to be in the pool or not. Sometimes we dive into the deep end head first, and sometimes we may choose to enjoy the solitude of doling laps off to the side. Still another option is to tread the waters of speculation (“transpeculation”, in this case). How’s that for “psycholgizing”? 🙂

  7. I think what happened will be a good thing.In another year or two,there will be a bulge in Jessie’s bathing suit and she won’t be just one of the little tween girls.So,better to see how it all shakes out now so you will learn what to expect. I bet there was some great suppertable discussions that went on!! lol You are doing a great job and Jessie will turn out wonderful.

  8. now im curious!! i wish i were as brazen as she is about my “regular” bullshit. i wonder if she’s so tough on the outside because she gets afraid on the inside? of course, probably not since it sounds like she’s a tough as nails, take charge kid. i hope she stays that way and her heart doesnt bear the brunt of people’s ugliness as the years go by.

  9. Julie-I’m going to speak from just the parent’s perspective because reading your post I knew exactly how you felt… are right in knowing that you have to go back. And good for you for having the courage to do so. I know it’s so hard, but we have to take control of our own lives and not let other’s opinions dictate what we do. I’ll be thinking of you-hang in there!

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