Giving Birth to a Unicorn: When Your Child Comes Out as Transgender

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Like I said, ironic. I promised my child that sexual orientation wouldn't matter, I promised I'd protect her from anyone hurting her, and I'm falling short on both commitments. She changed everything then, and she's changed everything again. I managed the change, then, just fine. I'm not managing nearly so well, now.

I've heard so many Coming Out stories, from heartwarming to heartbreaking, and when I'd hear of parents kicking children out, disowning them, putting them in re-orientation camps, I'd think to myself, never, I'd never do that, ever. It was settled, then. In my mind, I'd open my arms, my heart, my home to my gay child and their friends. My home would be safe, welcoming, above all, accepting. But I knew I'd never have that moment, because my daughters have been utterly crazy about boys from almost birth. My parental reaction to Coming Out would remain out of the game, so to speak, sideline support for my children's friends; cheering on the positive stories, giving them a reliable place to vent outrage and sorrow for the bad ones.

I'm in the game now. I'm kicking my cleats against the bench, trying to figure out the rules, itching in my ill-fitting uniform, watching some of the parents play gracefully, skillfully, joyfully. For myself, I'm a complete absence of grace, skill, and joy. I can no longer watch and admire as others do hard and important work. I'm sickeningly afraid but I have to step up. To say that I'm afraid of failing is laughable understatement. For this specific child, this matters almost more than anything I've ever done, as a mother and as a human being.

I'm trying to understand how a body might not fit a brain, how a soul can wander as lost as a ghost, wanting so terribly to fit in the right set of skin and bones but never succeeding, haunting themselves forever. I'm trying to imagine life as an endless, tragic Freaky Friday. I'm questioning why I can accept the most outlandish, fantastical combinations of hearts and minds and bodies in the scifi and fantasy novels I adore, and yet I can't stretch my mind enough to call a daughter a son. When she points to herself and says, this isn't me, my mind reels. Of course it's you, I want to say. I look at myself and try to imagine not fitting, not feeling right. It doesn't work, I identify too strongly as female. I've never been particularly delighted with the specific characteristics of my body, but never have I felt wrong. I keep coming up against my bigotry, my limitations, time and again, because I just cannot grab hold of my mind and stretch it enough to fit this new world of wrong bodies. How can you feel like a boy, if you're a girl? I try, and I fail. Idiot, I tell myself. The way you think and feel isn't The End All Be All Guidebook for How People Should Be. I try again. It doesn't work, again.

I ask myself if I would have been disappointed if I'd had a baby boy. My knee-jerk denial has a hollow ring to it. The fact is, I was thrilled that my first-born was a girl. Having a newborn felt like the most remarkable Christmas gift ever; having a girl felt like every holiday rolled into one. When my second child was a girl as well, I was equally thrilled. I have loved having daughters more than words can say. When I hear people complain about the difficulties of raising girls, I always keep my own counsel, because speaking for myself, I consider the pros to so far outweigh the cons that it isn't even worth the time listing them. But, I ask myself if I'm actually having a problem with the idea of loving a son, and it isn't that I have a problem with it, I don't think I do, I just have no experience with it. Especially a gay son. An incredibly feminine, sensitive, artistic, delicate gay son. It is completely beyond me, I have no context for this.

Lately I find myself feeling resentful toward families with "just gay" (I know) kids. Why the hell isn't my kid "just gay," I fume (I know, I know, it sounds terrible). I could deal with that so happily, so easily. No scary body modification, no new names, no different pronouns. Why can't I have that, I grieve. Why?

I finally started asking questions a couple of weeks ago, when I felt I could get the words out. I wobbled, but I didn't cry, thank goodness, and I asked about surgery, hormones, pronouns, whether to tell extended (extremely religious) family; I asked question after question after question.


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