Utterly delightful conversations aside, sometimes combining transition and parenthood is really hard.
Leigh is so clear in her thinking, so vocal with her opinions and thoughts, and she demands absolute clarity from the adults around her. She’s also at an age when her understanding of gender is extremely rigid. I knew heading in that she and I were going to have some big stuff to work out, and we have. Leigh has settled so completely into our new form that I easily forget her initial strong protests, how it tore me up to hear her begging me not to “change.”
Ira was a bit more of a mystery. He’s only three. He’s a bit more easygoing about some things (and definitely not about others…). I think both Gail and I thought he’d just get kind of swept along, that we wouldn’t have much explaining to do. After all, he’s the one who started the debate that opened the gender conversation with our kids, by insisting very firmly that “Mama is a man.”
But it has become clear lately that he’s definitely having some feelings of his own. We have to listen more carefully, both because he is younger, and because he is a bit more reserved than his sister.
Several weeks ago, he told Gail that he did not think we should tell his daycare that I am Aba now, that I have a new name. Gail talked to him about it a bit, and wasn’t really able to pick apart why, but a few days later, out of the blue, he said, “It’s OK for you to talk to M & M (daycare people) now — about Mama’s new name.” So we’ve been waiting and watching a bit, looking for openings into what’s actually going on in his head.
A couple nights ago, he said “Mama, are you a boy or a girl?” I said, “I’m a boy.” He said, “Mama, I wish you would stay a girl.” Then he turned away and ran off to do something else. So later that night, I got him all snuggled up, and asked if he wanted to talk some more. I can’t completely reconstruct the conversation but he did say he was sad, that he thought I should stay the same. I told him I’m still the same person, that I’m always his parent that he’s always my kid, that I will always love him so much. He listened, he said “I know” but he was still reserved.
It then dawned on me that even though our friend J is one of his absolute favorite grown-ups, Ira doesn’t know J is trans, he doesn’t know he is friends with kids in a family like ours. We have standing clearance from J for him to be out to our kids, so I reminded Ira how much he likes J (Ira has always absolutely lit up for him, since he was a tiny baby, even when he would barely acknowledge other grown-ups. For his part, J claims Ira is largely responsible for his willingness to have a second kid…so the feeling is mutual).
We talked about why he likes J so much (“J is so silly and he always does fun things”). Ira giggled and smiled and re-engaged in the conversation, and then I said, “Did you know that J is like me? That he had a girl body when he was little?” Ira responded “No, I didn’t know that.” He got quiet. He was thinking. He said “I feel a little sad about that.” I reminded him that he can talk to J, he can ask J’s older kid about it if he wants. Ira listed off all our other friends easily, agreeing he can talk to any of them, maybe relaxing a bit, but it’s clear he’s processing this deeply, and isn’t quite able to say all that he is thinking and feeling.
Gail thinks he needs more reassurance that I’m not really changing very much, that I’m not going away, that our relationship is still solid, what it has always been. In a way, the only way he can really understand that is with time. Sometimes I wish I just had a bit more of a glimpse of what he’s thinking, that I knew more what he needed right now. I know in my head it wouldn’t help him, or anyone in our family, for me to just decide to go backwards, to try to un-know what I know now, but of course it’s excruciating to hear him say “Please don’t change.” I know that there is no way out but through, and all I can do is keep listening, keep talking, and keep showing him that I’m still here and I’m still me. I know I am asking a lot of my kids, but part of me also believes these particular kids are in our particular family for a reason, that they wouldn’t be here, with us, unless they could do this.