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:

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.)

24 thoughts on “Ambi-freakin’-guity

  1. Julie,

    First, this is not an irreversible decision and can simplify things for the here and now. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong either way.

    Regarding your comment:

    “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. ”

    I want you to know that I am wiping the wine I sprayed all over the keyboard when I read that! Thanks for the laugh!

    Hope you have a nice evening!

  2. I knew it was going to start to get interesting and I also figured you weren’t telling all of us the whole story! But you are doing a really great job with it all,and you sure have my respect for doing so.Remember Tillot Wright’s story about her chosen gender and changing it to suit……

  3. Oh willy nilly – yes, watching a Downton Abbey rerun has me thinking Brit again. Thought of you today as I was discussing with a 17 year old client how many transgender people she knows in her “online” world. We were commenting about how gender or Agender as she called it is all the rage.
    Interesting how for some kids it can be somewhat simple and yet, for their parents it is a freaking roller coaster ride. Hold on sistah, got your back.

  4. As a twist (who, me?) on that old TV game show, I like to call this one “Tune That Name”. It really does take but one note (or call) to change ones name, but it’s still apt to be a little “pitchy” (whether that be “American Idolese” or sticky like the sap from a tree – or maybe just plain sappy). As parents, one of the privileges we have is to give our children names, and most of us put some thought and reasoning into our selections. For most of us, our earliest identity is tied to our name, only second to the doctor’s exclamation of “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”. What gall some of us have to challenge the authority of not only our parents, but the doctor, as well! 😉

    I have already admitted that my name isn’t Constance, nor is it legally Connie – although more people call me that now than those who still call me by my legal name. More than 99% of the time it matters not that the name I use most often is not legal (it’s not illegal, either). Transition requires a bit of dual identity for the transgender person, and it is much more for the sake of others than of her (or him) self. Even if a name has significant relevance to ones identity of self, to me, it is more symbolic than anything else. There will be many greater hurdles to overcome, and some of them will also relate to transgender issues, as well. Your decision on the name issue is just fine right now. 🙂

    By the way, just to show that – even when choosing a name for oneself – there can be pitfalls. Without divulging my real surname, I will tell you that by adding “Connie” to it, I recently discovered that saying them together too fast sounds way too close to “Cunnilingus”! Oh, what teasing I would have had to endure at school!!!!

  5. Wow. Unlike some life events, that you get stunned with and then adjust, this one is on-going, in real time. That’s tough. On the other hand, you can still pick and choose your battles (decisions) and delay the more minor ones like school records for another day. I’m amazed by the 80% statistic, though. Is that kids who have thoughts about gender and think they might be transgender or kids who have the 100% embracing of a new public identity? It’s just hard to imagine a child who suddenly switchesto total endorsement of a gender change to change back. But I guess life is fluid in many ways.

    • That is just it…the fluidity and constant ambiguity, while admirable (on some levels) can be crazy making. I am unsure of the specifics of that statistic, but not sure it entirely matters…

  6. I ponder that statistic a lot (along with the 35%-40% self harm rate of gender non-conforming kids). My thought has always been, of that 80% that re-identify, how many of them were living as their identified gender (ie born male, but living/presenting as a female)? As you mentioned, there’s not a lot of detail behind that statistic.

    • I think that the only important statistic here is that Jessie feels as close to 100% comfortable with her identity, even if Julie has to weigh each challenge, initially, on a 50/50 basis. Just because 80% of trans-identifying children apparently go back to their original gender (contrived), it doesn’t necessarily translate to Jessie having only a 20% chance of growing up to be a transgender woman. Nor does this statistic explain what percentage of the “original” gender would be attained by “going back”. I’m afraid that a transgender person is always going to be a transgender person, and 100% ambiguity is all that will be certain. Take it from me, Constance Waverly, 61 years living in ambiguity.:)

  7. Nice piece that really hit home for me Julie. I struggle, physically and emotionally ever so often when I see the dismay as my daughter reminds me that her name is Bella, NOT Aron! I shudder at the thought that she would throw away such a beautiful name chosen by her Father and myself. I see myself holding onto those legal documents as some last measure of the little boy I fell in love with the moment I held him for the first time. But they are just pieces of paper and as you well know, the love you and your family and George share for each other is all that matters, even though the wrapping changed.

  8. Julie, Again I have such admiration for you and all of you who have 1st hand and/or have been impacted by TS. Not as a parent but as a woman who married a man (so I thought) who loved him deeply, who still loves her deeply – the challenges we face on this side will never compare the the challenges those who did not have what you are clearly giving/sharing for your child that of which is only a small part of being “LOVING SUPPORTIVE UNDERSTANDING COMPASSIONATE” parents. I can’t say that I understand from the perspective of a parent – but as a spouse the pain I have endured from my personal experience, witnessing 1st hand the pain that the man I loved was in for years, until she came out, the times when he just wanted to end it all but kept pushing through – has forever changed my life and has by far been one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. Just know that no matter how difficult this is for you now, you are making a HUGE difference in this world that will change how our society accepts and supports those who have been born into this world as you have mentioned w/a life full of “ambiguity”. You’re journey with Jessie is inspirational and has helped me through some very difficult days. Accepting my husband for who she really is, was the easy part, the ending of our life as husband and wife not so much. Although we are getting a divorce, I 1000% a support her transition, she is my best friend and my love for her has not lessened! My point is you are savings not only your child years of torture trying to be someone they don’t feel they are just to live up to society standards, but those who have been not knowly impacted by the hidden choices those children have had to make to survive in this world. It only take one to change the world, it’s like the commericial you tell 2 people so on and so on. Sending you hugs all around, watching the man you have shared a bed with change has not been easy but it has been enlightlening!!! I sincerely hope you never stop blogging about your journey,write a book, make an “inspirational” movie, because you are changing peoples lives! SO THANK YOU!!!!!

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