Chronically Ambiguous

Recently I was asked (it is probably germane to the conversation to tell you that the questioner was a shrink) if I am able to “tolerate the ambiguity” inherent in trying to parent a gender variant child (which is what they are calling her now).  My initial, internal response was, ”hell, no” followed by an only slightly more appropriate “well, what if I am not?!”  While I am wise enough to know that such a retort is not an option, I sincerely wish it were.

As if the literal pain in my neck (not to mention the figurative one) weren’t enough of a nuisance and liability in my seemingly fruitless quest toward sanity, this conversation certainly was.  There were about one hundred thoughts, concepts and suggestions bandied about during the other 49 minutes of the meeting, yet this is the only moment that has become indelibly etched in my brain.  Is there an erase button nearby…because if there is, now would be a good time for someone to hand it over.

No, I cannot tolerate the ambiguity.  Further, I don’t particularly want to.  And, perhaps most troublesome:  I may just lose my mind in the sheer process of attempting to not only tolerate the ambiguity, but pretend that I am doing so successfully.

In a different conversation, with a different therapist earlier in the day (full disclosure: this was a conversation with a dear friend who, when she isn’t talking me off the ledge, makes a living as a social worker.  Our chat was off the clock…) I realized that so much of what is proving intolerable is the fact that I am surrounded by so many issues that are chronic and painful – some physically, some emotionally and some, you guessed it, both – that it seems completely improbable that between my back, my neck, my foot (I’ve spared you all the details of that one) and my gender variant child, there is any possibility of resolution of much of anything in the foreseeable future.   Add the reminder from the expert that there is a long road of ambiguity ahead and I find myself continuing my quest for that elusive erase button which, to the best of my knowledge, exists only in that happy place in the back of my head where nobody can reach it.

Chronic is perhaps even more difficult than ambiguous.  At least with ambiguous there is the suggestion (however inaccurate it may be) that sometime, somewhere, a conclusion will be met.  Chronic includes words like “habitual”, “constant” and “inveterate” in its very definition which, in turn, does not bode well for resolution, now does it?   I guess if I want to be little Miss Optimist, I will revel in the fact that the question posed to me was if I could tolerate the “ambiguity” as opposed to whether I am able to tolerate the “chronic” but, alas, I am not wearing my “I Am Optimistic” panties today.  In fact, I think they got lost in the wash along with a good portion of my sanity.

Here’s the bottom line as I see it: nobody can tell me what is going to happen an hour from now, let alone a week, a month, a year or even several years down the road.  It has very little to do with our particular brand of issue (gender variance) and everything to do with life as we all know it.  Sure, my “daughter with a penis” is an extreme situation, but is it really all that different from one’s effeminate son?  Their troubled marriage?  Their financial struggles?  Wouldn’t we all like to see all things ambiguous and chronic erased from our daily lives?  Well, maybe you wouldn’t, but at this point, I know that I would.


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.)