Why (And for Whom) I Am Defensive

Note: I wrote this specifically for Huffington Post…it may appear on there at which point I will be slayed again, but I know I have support here. xo  jr

 

Over the past several months I have been venturesome (or perhaps stupid?) enough to publicly share my interpretation and personal feelings from my front row seat as the parent of a child who has identified as transgender.  I have been equally supported and vilified by readers far and wide.  I have been told that I am an “incredible parent” only to be corrected by a different reader that I am actually a horrible parent and that G-d does not make mistakes, just I do.  Compliments for my honesty and style of writing are usurped by bashing for “rambling” and being a “horrible writer”.  I have been called “wonderful” and ”self-centered” in the same thread written (sometimes viciously) from the comfort of computers around the world that I will neither find nor seek to find.  And it all makes me wonder.

My child’s decision (yes, it was her decision) to socially transition from male to female is not one which my family and I approached lightly or with nonchalance.  It was years in the making and included working closely with therapists, teachers and school administrators.  Once she was finally able to “share her secret” with my us, my husband and I did what came naturally and seemed right; we would support her in any way she needed.  That is what parents are supposed to do.  The look of indisputable relief on her face spoke volumes as to just how tortured she had been.  Who am I to deny another living person the opportunity to seek out a situation which feels more tenable just because it is going to be hard on me, her father, brother and extended family?  And to those who argue that I am being bamboozled by a ten year old, perhaps you can explain why said child would opt to “bully” me (yes, that has been suggested, too) into submission over something so socially and emotionally difficult?  Believe me; there are plenty of other things that the average kid will choose to badger their parents over which are a hell of a lot easier for everyone involved.  All that said, I avow to be equally supportive should she decide at any point that living as a girl is not the solution to her fundamental discomfort; it could happen and it won’t be easy, either.

In (foolishly) reading the extensive commentary (note: written mostly anonymously) I am amazed at the breadth of readers who made the decision to read my story but then, consciously (or not) opted to not dig further in an attempt to ascertain what might have lead to our decision to allow her (yes, I refer to my male born child as “her”) to live as she saw fit and how she felt comfortable in this world.  It begs the question: why on earth would a child do this unless she felt like she absolutely had to?  And, further, why does anyone object to her decision?  I am not so naïve as to think that there are not grand implications in this world to presenting oneself as a gender other than that for which you are ascribed particular body parts, but I am equally cognizant of the power of one’s feelings.

Do you think this has been easy for her or, for that matter, the rest of our family which includes my older son, grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins who all live in the immediate vicinity? Imagine the strength it took to share her deepest secret with us and then to present to her peers in the sex opposite of the one they had known for nearly five years.  Can you think of anything in your life that propelled you to undertake such a frightening endeavor?  I cannot.  The stalwartness with which she dove into this shallow pool is staggering and deserving of commendation, not judgment or opinion, particularly by people, myself included, who are unqualified to even begin to know how she feels.

I know this sounds defensive.  That is my intention. I do not, however, feel compelled to defend myself in any way; I know that I am doing right by my child.  I hope that I am doing right by both my children, actually.  No, this is about defending and protecting my child from the big bad world out there that simply does not understand, or, I’d be so bold as to suggest, doesn’t want to understand, an identification that is different from their own.  And, yes, despite what you may think, being vocal and writing about it is indeed protecting my child from those who are unwilling to educate themselves and appreciate that the fact that someone feels and presents differently from them is not a threat against them, rather it is an assertion of great import to someone else.  It is not an easy lesson even for the most evolved, but perhaps this can start a discussion that doesn’t disintegrate into name calling, finger pointing and criticizing one solitary person who is only trying to feel less alone in the world.

All the best,

Jessie’s mom

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Really?!

I’ve been known to laugh out loud about stupid, random things long after they have occurred.  Like the time Rich and I were out to dinner with our friend the brain surgeon who, out of the corner of my eye,  I could see was struggling to close the oversized tri-fold menu from which we were ordering.  We were sitting next to one another so my view was purely peripheral and it was not until he became exasperated and mumbled, “I can’t close this fucking menu” that I cracked up.  That happened months ago, yet I have, on many more than one occasion, been reminded of it (like, oh, I don’t know, when I see a menu?) and proceeded to crack up all over again.  And there was the incident during which my coffee date, who had just shared the bizarre oddities he has noticed about himself as he has gotten older (he just turned 50) began frantically darting his head around the room as though there was something chiming or chirping or buzzing or ringing only to be told (by me) that it was utterly silent.  Granted, that just happened two days ago, but I am still laughing about it.  Similarly, I believe I will be laughing for a while over the time I received the first negative comments to my blog.

In my admission that I was struggling to come up with anything truly blog worthy, I had the audacity to post (on my blog) a silly rant about my curls and a (likely temporary) decision to embrace them.  The entry was fluffy, did not touch on the specifics of any real issue surrounding my child who has identified as transgender, or my frighteningly close to eighteen year old’s travails, or my marriage or my sanity yet it was, apparently, the most offensive of all the posts I have ever written.

Here is the first comment, which, I must admit, initially (like for a nanosecond) saddened me and made me second guess my egregious decision to post what was on my mind:

I found your blog when I learned that a friend’s child was dealing with transgender issues. I was hoping that your blog would give me more insight into what the family faces in order to provide support where it is appropriate. In general you are not sharing much information and your blog posts are vague and uninformative…should I keep reading or are you now reconsidering your original intentions?

Here is the first response I wrote:

Really?  Go fuck yourself.

And here is the one I posted:

I am sorry to disappoint. If you go back in the blogs you will see the adventure that is all part of living with a child who identifies as transgender and if you think a bit about each post you will see that they all do, in fact, shed light on what a family goes through during this process. Admittedly, some posts are more “vague” and “uninformative” than others, but so, too, is life with a child of any kind – transgender or not.
It is entirely up to you whether you want to continue reading or not. I would love to have you, but certainly don’t want to waste your time.

Not gonna lie: I kinda wish I had stuck with the first one.  But, alas, the day was young and I would have another opportunity soon enough.  Among the many positive and supportive comments yet another one popped up:

Hair care products? Really?

My first and final response:

Yeah, really. Sometimes life feels like a train wreck and something as ridiculous as a good hair product can make an otherwise shitty day just a little bit better. You are seriously offended? Wow…I file that under: your problem, not mine. That said, my hair looks spankin’ and my day was better as a result. That is all part of this whole parenting game: doing whatever it takes to make it just that much easier.

Which, in my mind, was as close to “Yeah, really.  Go fuck yourself” as I, being a classy lady, was willing to go.

Now to the part that makes me laugh.  I have written sixty posts, of varying levels of depth and intense honesty which have had well over 100,000 views and over 1,500 comments (and this number does not include the comment thread on HuffPo or The Boston Phoenix!) none of which were as offended (and offensive) as these two.  In fact, over dinner last night I was telling Rich about them and we literally started to laugh.

Really?  I have written of my “daughter with a penis” and my hysteria over finding an appropriate bathing suit (for her, not for me, although that could be a whole blog unto itself…), of my fears and concerns for her, and frankly our family’s, future and not one, but two readers took offense at my discussion of curly hair????  It was funny.

This is a kinda big deal, actually.  A few months ago, I would not have seen the humor in this.  (Oh, who am I kidding, I might not have seen the humor yesterday or, frankly, tomorrow, but whatevs.) The fact that I was able to this time, however, signaled to me a newfound strength that I have apparently built within my psyche.  At no point did I say to myself, “Bad Julie…you goof” rather I realized that it is actually these commenters who are the goofs and not I. I think I may need to thank my therapist for that.  (Note:  I have not identified either one, though I do have that power should I choose to exercise it.  Further, I had the choice to not approve the comments, yet I did.  One more point for me?)

So, thank you off-centered readers for providing  another tidbit that made me laugh which I am sure to revisit in my head (probably while sitting at a red light admiring my curls in the rearview mirror) and find funny.  I hope y’all deem this entry  acceptable.

The Defense Rests

Fact: I have been known to have a defensive side.  I was the kid who always said, “It wasn’t my fault” and I have a propensity to stick to my guns; sometimes well after I know in my heart that I screwed up.  There, I said it.

A few days ago, an article I wrote appeared in the parenting section of The Huffington Post in which I attempted to summarize the turn of events which brought me to where I am today: attempting to do right by my child who has identified as transgender.  Given the controversial nature of the subject matter, it is not surprising that there have been hundreds of comments (largely positive, I might add) ranging from accolades for the support my husband and I have tried to demonstrate to legitimate (and fair) concern over where my child will land to decisions among strangers that I am a mother who wanted a little girl.  One would think that the (marginal) vitriol would have me responding (read: defending myself) ferociously from my keyboard but, and this surprises me, I feel no need to.

My lack of need is due, in part, to the incredible online community (who knew?) that has come to my rescue.  Given the fact that many of the responders are themselves transgender, the validity of their statements far outweighs anything I could ever say.  Their states of transition vary from “long ago” to “in the midst”.  They each have a different story and have travelled a different road, but to a person they have confirmed that the feelings that my child has shared with me are precisely those that they experienced themselves.   Their unanimous agreement and comprehension of Jessie’s feelings are far more powerful than anything I could ever even attempt to convey.

That said, when I read the first comment (I believe there were three) which did not suggest, rather declared that this was a mommy-driven issue (one person accused me of acquiescing to a demanding child) it did feel like a quick blow to the esophagus and, truthfully, my initial reaction was to blast out a response which may not have been kindly worded.  That feeling lasted for about a nanosecond (defensiveness is so ingrained that I sometimes have gut reactions) before I smiled to myself armed with the knowledge that it was neither my encouragement (nor, for that matter, discouragement) that brought Jessie to her announcement.  In fact, the suggestion is so insane that I haven’t wasted time obsessing over it (which is something I have been known to do every so often: obsess).  I am so comfortable with the way in which this all happened that it actually surprises even me.

I will say, for the gazillionth time, that I take nothing for granted.  This may be Jessie’s permanent path.  She may change her mind next week, next month or years down the road.  She knows that whatever she decides, we’ve got her back.  At the risk of sounding, um, defensive, let me note that she does not have carte blanche to do whatever she pleases, but it is her life to live and I have enough respect for her, even at age 10, to honor what she feels she needs for now.    Do I think it is going to be easy?  Hell no, but for our family, the potential benefits trump the risks.

This is a lifelong adventure (yep, still hate the word journey) which we are taking not just a day at a time, but sometimes an hour at a time.  I do not profess to be an expert, know where we will land or how the story will play out.  I do, however, know that we are doing the right thing for our kid.  And to those who declared that I wanted a girl, all I can say is…seriously?