When Your Child’s Gender Changes, So Do You
By our Guest Writer Anne Price
What do you do when someone you love goes through a gender transition? Well, you might be confused, you might do a lot of reading, you might ask a lot of questions and you might, like me, write about it. To give you a glimpse into my experience, here are some selections from the essays I have written over the last three years.
January 26, 2013. Going on an Outing
One of my children has outed me on Facebook. It was not exactly a secret, but at the same time I wasn’t quite yet ready for everyone in my world to know that I am the mother of a transgender adult.
The big story, of course, isn’t mine. If this were a movie, my part would quite rightly end up on the cutting room floor. All of the heavy lifting is being done by my child who has to face important daily conflicts. I’m mostly struggling with things like pronouns and what family members might think. Small potatoes, really.
Maybe I’m the reviewer of my child’s transgendering, and I don’t have a part to play in the main event at all. Kind of like a Shakespearian chorus. I’m somewhere off in the wings, just making observations and sharing them with the audience. Or, like Pam in The Office, I’m whispering into the microphone of the documentary film-makers.
That’s ok. I can do that. Now, if only I could remember to use the new name and the correct pronoun, this would be a breeze.
February 2, 2013. Pronouns and Prefixes
It would be easier to learn a complete new language than it is to learn to refer someone by a different pronoun. Calling Jamie “he” is turning out to be far more difficult than I would ever have thought possible.
It’s not that I object to the idea, but the word just won’t come out of my mouth. I still occasionally refer to him by his former name, and then I have to correct myself. Sometimes other people correct me. Even typing the word “him” in this paragraph required a kind of mental gymnastics for me. I am willing to learn, to understand, and to change, but dammit this is hard!
June 6, 2013. Ma’am or Sir?
I don’t blame store clerks and drinks servers for making a momentary choice in favor of good manners. They don’t have time to get to know us before moderating their customary speech. At the same time, it’s difficult for people whose gender identity is perceived as neither ma’am nor sir. They would prefer to have no gender recognition, rather than have the wrong one.
June 18, 2013. Embracing Change
Recently, I read an article about transgender change that included the precept that one should “Never tell a story from the past that requires you to bring up the [transgender] person’s former sex/gender.” I balked at this. As the mother of an adult transgender child, I have thirty years of memories and stories of his life and former gender. That history and my memories are not going to change.
At some point I may acquire the ability to tell a story without using a pronoun, but I somehow doubt it. More to the point, I don’t think it is either necessary or beneficial. My stories will include my child’s gender as it once was, and the changed gender now. That way, I am honoring her struggles and his courage, her frustrations and his integrity. I am also acknowledging the change. I accept that she is now he, and I love remembering all of our shared past experiences. As a female, he shared life’s experience with his friends and family. We all loved and appreciated him as a female, just as we love and appreciate him as a male now.
We cannot change the past by wishing it were different, or by rewriting it
November 4, 2015. Houston Has a Problem
Houston, you have a problem. You just voted to repeal an ordinance that would have banned discrimination on the basis of age, race, or sex, and I don’t think you know what you have done.
You bought into the propaganda that made you afraid. You were lead to believe that predatory men dressed as women would be able to go into women’s washrooms, even though there is no evidence to back it up. You thought women and girls would be at risk. This is so far-fetched as to be laughable, except that it isn’t funny. You believed a lie, and now lots of Houston’s citizens will have to continue to suffer discrimination and indignities. Well done. You sacrificed real people on the altar of an imaginary foe.
I really feel concerned for transgender people of Houston who will now find it even more difficult to use public washrooms. There are a lot of people there who were hoping they might get some relief from threats and discrimination, but who now realize that they will have more problems than they had before.
Despite having gone through a long and sometimes difficult period of transition, my son is still sometimes perceived as female. Even I, who know better, sometimes use the wrong pronouns. Both complete strangers and close relatives are equally guilty of getting the gender wrong sometimes, and that hurts him. When we were discussing this I asked why it matters, and that made him cry. Then he explained to me how much it diminishes his sense of self to be misperceived. It was heartbreaking.
I don’t have to go through any of the hurt that he experiences. I use public washrooms without fear of being excluded or even looked at with suspicion. It’s easy for me, and it ought to be easy for everyone. Instead of making it easier, Houston, you just made it harder for people like Jamie. Houston, I can apologize to my son for my shortcomings, but how are you going to apologize to the citizens you have hurt?
July 18, 2016. Finding My Laughing Place
I did something a little out of the ordinary this week. I went to see a hypnotherapist. Yes, really I did.
It relates to an ongoing dilemma that I have. Ever since my youngest child began the transition from female to male, I have found it really difficult to get the pronoun right.
It has been about three years now since he first discussed gender transition with me, and since then I have tried to consistently use the masculine pronoun. Unfortunately, I am only successful about half of the time. The rest of the time I correct myself and sometimes I apologize. This is driving me a little nuts. Why can’t I get this right?
I found a hypnotherapist who had good online reviews, and sent him an email asking if he could help me. We set up an appointment and I went to see him for the first time this week.
The hour-long session was mostly taken up with him asking questions about my immediate family, my extended family, what my marriage was like, and so on. Some of his questions were simply getting some context, but others were more penetrating. One in particular has stuck with me. He asked “Have you grieved the loss of your daughter?”
I was a little taken aback by this because we aren’t talking about a death. My child is the same character, with the same personality, skills, and humor as he always was. That hasn’t changed.
My session with the counselor ended with a ten-minute meditative period which was a gentle introduction to hypnosis. He said he would help me find my laughing place, and he did. I told him I liked the idea of having a laughing place and he smiled and said “Yes. I thought you would.”
September 4, 2016. A Singular Tale About Pluralities
Recently, when I was standing in line with Jamie’s partner and friends, waiting to see his musical show about gender transition, I said “Oh, here she comes,” and saw the amusement on their faces. I caught myself right away, and tried to make a joke out of it by saying “I think there’s a song about that” (which there is), but I could see that they were dismayed on Jamie’s behalf. If they could adapt, why couldn’t I?
Even when I tried to slow down my thoughts, I found it easier to rearrange the sentences and use his name instead of a pronoun. For example, I might say something like “I was talking with Jamie the other day and Jamie said that in Jamie’s experience, producing a play was complicated.” It’s clunky, but so far it has been the best I could do.
In talking with the therapist I recounted a story of something that happened when Jamie was an infant. The story was supposed to be amusing but it made me cry to talk about the day when we decided to take pictures of our baby in each of the new outfits we had been sent as gifts. We dressed and undressed that child in one pink dress after another so that we could show friends and relatives how lovely the clothes looked on the baby.
I cried in part because I felt a sense of loss for the little girl I once had, and in part because I felt I had to erase the memory of the silliness and happiness of that day. If I were to now accept Jamie as male, I had to deny my child as female, and that meant denying thirty years of memories.
There was a deep-seated resistance tied to some happy moments in the past that I didn’t want to let go of. My therapist said something then that has stayed with me ever since. He said “You are one of the few people in the world who holds that thread; the thread of Jamie’s entire life,” and those words were a turning point for me. Suddenly, my memories became necessary, not something to try to negate.
If you want to read more details, please visit my blog at www.snowbirdofparadise.com and look under the category LGBTQ. You will be very welcome to visit and to leave comments.
Anne Price is a retired college instructor who lives in Edmonton, Alberta and San Jose, California. She has two sons, one of whom is transgender, and both of whom are musicians. None of them likes shoveling snow.