“…your children are not your children.
they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
they come through you but not from you,
and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
you may give them you love but not your thoughts,
for they have their own thoughts.
you may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams. ..”
yesterday i participated in a study being done through the UCSF child and adolescent gender clinic. the interview, which lasted well over the hour to which it was allotted, consisted partly of ‘our story’ ,
since we don’t live in san francisco, the interview was conducted via skype. it felt as tho the interviewer was sitting in our living room. and ziona was there, to keep me honest.
i say to keep me honest because really this is her story. it is her needs that guide me in making choices that only a parent of a child so young (she’s only 10 years old) is allowed to make. it is her tomorrows that are in my hands, her future course begins with the decisions and actions i pursue in the now.
of course, this is truly the case with all parents. yet often we forget that we are only the soil into which the seed of their lives has been planted.
any gardens i dig and seed, tend and fuss over require me to amend the soil, provide water when their is no rain, pluck the weeds that find their way into it. but with respect to a child and especially a transgender child, how can i know with what to amend the soil? how much water is needed? and most importantly, how can recognise what is a weed that must be pulled? it is all ground-breakingly new to me! (pardon the pun)
this one question that posed by the interviewer was especially relevant to the above parable, because it seems to me that most of the other parents in the study would answer it the same way. it was: “what is my process, as parent of a transgender child, in making decisions about treatment options.”
the obvious answer, that i do extensive research into the matters, could really only partly answer that question, beginning in the middle as it does. because the most important consideration in the process is turning to the one whose own experienced reality informs me. i listen to my daughter and try to hear, not only what she says but what she can’t say.
seems an easy and obvious thing, right? and yet i was particularly slow to manage this task, which is weird, given my history within the gay community, and the fact of my friendships and even relationships with trans-women over the years. still, i heard.. but didn’t listen. i listened… but didn’t hear.
i listened when my child told me that he wanted a ‘boy doll’ for his 3rd birthday. i knew it was to compare genitalia against. it’s normal, i thought, and a good thing for a child this age to identify with its gender. i listened, and zion(a) got the requested doll, but wasn’t happy with it. i listened, but i didn’t hear. i didn’t rightly understand the cool response, the expression that crossed that face when he hurriedly undressed the doll and saw genitalia just like his own.
when my after this birthday gift, my child would say to me “you have a penis.” to which i answered “no, i don’t. i’m a girl. girls don’t have penises” and he countered with ” but you used to have one” i heard his confusion, but i didn’t listen to what was being revealed beneath what i perceived as a light-hearted joke.
when zion(a) told me, at a cousin’s birthday party, where everyone noticed what a ‘big girl’ lexi was getting to be, that “someday i’m gonna be a big girl”, i once again only heard confusion. i didn’t listen to what he was trying to say. i didn’t notice the disappointment on his face when i told him “no, you will grow up to be a ‘big boy’ someday”.
over the next few months, as i ‘busted’ my beautiful boy trying to cut off the penis on more than one occasion, when he told me that he was really a girl, that god had made a big mistake, i knew i had to pay way more attention to what i was being told! listening to the pain in ziona’s voice i heard, finally, not the sound of a confused child, but the anguish of a little girl suffering what must be a most horrible nightmare.
every step along the way since then has been one in which i listen, and try to hear not only what ziona, my beautiful and brave daughter says, but also what she cannot say.
a garden speaks in subtle ways at times: the turn of a leaf that hides a worm, the paling of green that begs fertilizer, the wilt of a stem that asks for water . so too, our children speak in subtleties. sometimes they haven’t even words for what is going on with them. but if we pay attention, listen and really hear, we can begin to understand what things are necessary for us to provide for them, or to pursue fearlessly on their behalf.
the realisation hit me eventually, once i began to buy ziona the clothing she preferred, once i let her grow out her hair, and insisted everyone honor her transition with the appropriate pronouns and acceptance, that i never really did have a son. ziona was a daughter all along. the external anatomical evidence and societal conclusions were merely an illusion that clouded my seeing….like the proverbial rope mistaken for a snake.
i started this piece with a quote from a great book; (which, by the way, you should read immediately if you haven’t) “the prophet”. his chapter , ‘of children’ seems even more important to me now, as i raise a transgender girl. many parents whose children have been allowed to transition feel as tho they have lost the son or daughter they thought they had, some even grieve. but truly, our children are not our children.