Damn if it didn’t happen again. There I was, preparing to cheer Harrison on at his swim meet (during which he collected two first place finishes) when another mom and I struck up a conversation. It began when I noticed the opposing team’s swim caps and questioned aloud which “W” team we were swimming against as there are two “W” towns nearby. The woman sitting next to me clarified for me, as she was the mom of a swimmer from said “W” town. As tends to happen (to me, in particular) in situations such as this, we began to chat: about swimming, the time commitment, the pros of swimming (there are no cons) and whether my son was planning on swimming at college (undecided).
Since the only captivating part of any swim meet are the races that your child is in, there is plenty of downtime during which all that happens is you become acutely aware of not only how damned hot it is in the pool area but also the probability that your hair is curling from the humidity. As such, it is always a bonus to be seated next to someone who is not face down in their iPhone or wrapped up in whatever is on their Kindle. (Disclosure: I did have my Kindle with me on the off-chance that there was no one to chat with.)
“W” mom and I were discussing how kids who swim tend to be a nice group and she, for some reason that I cannot recall, mentioned something about the Temple they belong to. (Random, I know.) Nothing like handing me an instant opening for a conversation! We played a little Jewish geography (for the uninformed, this is the Semitic version of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Put any two or more Jewish people together and they are guaranteed to know folks in common. In fact, there is a great likelihood that you are somehow related or used to be related or some such.) We went back and forth, establishing a few commonalities and then came a pause. It was for no reason, really, just a lull in the conversation…or one of our kids was in the pool.
After our respective cheering duties had passed, she turned to me and asked if Harrison was my only child. I knew right then what was coming next; by all accounts a fair and reasonable question: “is your other child a boy or a girl?” Damn. Saw it coming, but still, over a year into the process, I never quite know how to answer. I gave birth to and saw through for the first ten years, two boys. I’ve been through two circumcisions, on the receiving end (more than once) of a shower of urine from the changing table, bought countless superman underpants and boxer shorts and been informed by both of my children of the joys of being able to pee outside. Despite the year of longer hair, ear piercings and shoe shopping, I still hesitate to say I have a daughter.
I am aware that admitting this is probably going to sound as though I am not on-board. (I am.) Or perhaps it will come across as my being mean. (I’m not.) It may even compel some of you to no longer “admire” my approach to parenting my transgender child. (Up to you.) I get that. But I, perhaps more importantly, appreciate the need to be honest not only with the general you, but with myself. While I do not think of Jessie as my daughter, I don’t think of her as my son, either. I just think of her as my child; my second born, my wonderful, quirky, artistic, creative, hysterically funny and challenging child. Whether she is my son or my daughter matters little. What matters more is that I know how she ticks. I know that there is no point in buying her decent mittens as she is sure to lose them somewhere between the kitchen and the car. I know that unless I viciously and repeatedly flush the toilet in the bathroom, she isn’t going to get out of the shower until she has been asked a minimum of seven times. I know that she needs a snack in the car on the ride home from school – not when she arrives at the house. I know that she is capable of making me laugh and cry within the same hour. And I know that I wouldn’t trade her…most of the time.
When “W” mom posed her query, I smiled and said, “Well, I sort of have both” and went on to tell her the Reader’s Digest version of the George/Jessie transformation. To her credit, she did not visibly react in any way. She didn’t even look at me as though I had two heads. Her response made it clear to me (having answered this question innumerable times over the past year) that this was not the first transgender kid she knew of. With nary a pause she remarked that she knew of a kid at her temple, although hesitated as to whether they were MtF (male to female) or FtM (female to male, duh). I, in turn, knowing which Temple and, likewise, knowing many other parents of transgender kids, knew precisely who she was referring to and finished her thinking for her by telling her the child was FtM and doing great. Now there’s a round of Jewish geography that I am fairly certain my parents never had!
I truly appreciated not only the ease with which she accepted my disclosure, but also the fact that this time around, another family paved the way for me.* I have been doing plenty of my own paving which, truthfully, is difficult, isolating work. This simple (and fair) question, which has, historically, brought me not-quite-to-my-knees was just that much easier this time. So, too, is watching Jessie walk out the door bedecked in head to toe pink, head held high, confidence squarely in place at a time when, honestly, her mother’s is not. It’s a process for me and for my child(ren) – boys and girls alike. I am wise enough to know that this exchange was more the exception than the rule and wise enough to appreciate it having happened.
So, the next time you meet someone and ask them about their children know that you might not get the answer you were expecting. Trust me when I tell you…it isn’t the answer they were expecting to give, either.