before i get into my thoughts on this matter, which will be decidedly heated, please read this and the links included therein.
so to those who have read this blog before, a lot of this will be old news. still i feel compelled to include a bit of our journey, as a way to refute the ‘haters’ that deem me a child abuser.
i adopted my grandson and raised him from birth. it was exciting for me to have the opportunity to raise a boy, being a bit of a tomboy myself and having only raised daughters. i was looking forward to sharing the interests i’ve had that are thought of as ‘less than feminine’ by our society, things my daughters were never quite ‘into’.
i bought all the usually considered ‘boy things’, which were toys i had lusted over as a child but had to hope my brothers would let me play with, since they got the hot wheels sets and stuff i wanted, while i got dolls and such. altho, when ziona (zion at the time) requested things usually considered ‘girl things’ i bought them for him. the clothes i shopped for of course didn’t include dresses, or frilly items. altho even had i been buying clothes for a girl child, it wouldn’t have had much of that type. for the first 3 years of life i assumed i was raising a boy child and acted accordingly.
just before birthday number 3 when ziona (again, at the time, zion) requested a baby doll for a gift, i didn’t blink. already there was one baby doll among the many toys in our house. but there was a caveat in the request, it had to be a boy doll (by request). i was happy that (he) wanted an anatomically correct boy doll. i thought it was a sign of (him) learning to differentiate between boy and girl, so as to identify with (his) gender, as a boy.
the day came, but when ziona opened the present with the doll, and undressed it, there was not happiness i saw register on that beautiful face…there was dread almost.
fast forward 6 months. we are at the birthday party for his cousin and friend Lexi. people were saying what a big girl she was getting to be. ziona (zion) told me “someday i’m gonna be a big girl too”. at first i just thought it was jealousy about the fuss being made over Lexi. so i said, “you’re already older and bigger than her,” a big hug, then continued, “but you’re a big boy”.
this was sooo not what ziona wanted to hear. you see, she already knew that the body she was in was called a ‘boy’ body, because of the anatomically correct boy doll she’d gotten for her last birthday. now i was imposing upon her the reality that she wouldn’t grow into a girl, but would only grow into a boy. the next six months saw all manner of turmoil around our house.
included in her reaction to this news were many attempts to rid herself of the penis that marked her something other than she knew herself to be. she tried using her pretend scissors from her doctor kit, to cut ‘it’ off. she tried to pull it off, but cried her heart out because this method only made it ‘stronger’. she told me god had made a ‘big mistake’, that she should’ve gotten a girl body. she begged me to ‘cut it off’ or take her to the doctor to have things made right.
so much pain, so many tears…there was nothing i could say to make her feel better.
i knew she understood that she was allowed ‘girl things’ even to dress up like a girl was allowed. so it was confusing to me that she wanted to be a girl. since being one wouldn’t mean there was something she could have or do that she wasn’t already allowed. but all that didn’t matter to her. she told me “god made a big mistake. i wish i could die so i could come back in the right body”
when your 4 year old child starts trying to maim their body, or seriously entertain suicidal thoughts, you can’t just keep hoping it’s a phase.
i had the primary physician refer us to an endocrinologist to assess hormone levels…to see if something there was off and was the cause of ziona’s confusion. (there wasn’t). a scan of her abdomen was done to see if perhaps she had residual ovaries, there were none. i tried getting her into dance, since she had professed an interest…but as soon as the instructor divided the class and assigned ziona to the ‘boy’s group’, she refused to go any more.
then on my birthday, 20/20 aired a special with barbara walters called “my secret self”. it was about kids like ziona, who identified with a gender beyond the binary and outside of the body’s anatomy. especially interesting to me was the story of Jazz, a transgender girl.
armed with a new focus, i began to research this thing called transgender kids. i have friends who are transgender, so it was only a matter of realising that this knowledge of who one is with regard to one’s gender starts at a very early age. i searched the internet for any and all scholarly research on the matter (there was little at first that directly applied to children) and found articles and interviews with Dr. Spack of Boston’s Children Hospital. i found books and ordered them, i found websites and chatrooms.
in the mean time i acknowledge ziona’s gender identity, but was reluctant for the next couple of years to allow what is called “social transition” to her perceived gender as a girl. that mattered little to ziona, who would introduce herself as a girl/boy and would correct people who wrongly identified her as a boy. she would often ask me whether she could ‘share her secret’ when she met a new friend at the park or something. i could see that it killed her not to be able to reveal her true self.
one day she took up a scissor’s again. and came to me saying she couldn’t wait for a doctor to ‘make it right’. tearfully and hysterical she begged me to help her ‘be a girl’. i grabbed the scissors (which were a relatively safe pair of kid’s craft scissors) and cried right along with her.
it was at this point, when she was 6 years old, a full 2 and 1/2 years after she had revealed to me her dilemma, that i knew that she must be allowed to live as the girl she knew herself to be. dresses and all. even tho she wouldn’t be able to lose ‘the spare part’ (her words) until she was much older, at least her true gender would be what the world saw. altho, she still can’t bear to see or have others (even me!) see that ‘spare part’, the difference in her self-esteem was almost immediate.
today know one who sees her would suspect that she isn’t all girl. my family have all finally learned to use the correct pronouns when referring to her, and to consider that she is a girl when gift-giving times come around.
child abuse? hardly! rather those who would deny a child’s pain, the trauma they suffer from being certain of their gender despite what their bodies and society insists, those are the abusers!
we parents, who have agonised with our children and seek to alleviate their pain, supporting them in their perceived gender know only too well how, despite the encouraging media and changes in attitudes surrounding transgender issues, their lives will never be easy…never a simple walk in the park…never without danger of oppression or outright attack. that our actions to help our children grow and thrive would be deemed abuse belies the fact that the real abuse comes from outside; from societal exclusion or prejudice, from religious judgments to physical assaults that are too often shrugged off as justified.
it isn’t the case that we parents of transgender kids simply acquiesce to some random phase our child is going through. it isn’t the case that we jump at the chance to find doctors to act on a child’s idle whims. we are instead the only voice a minor child has, their ‘gatekeeper’ to getting the intervention necessary to ensure that puberty as the ‘wrong’ gender doesn’t mark them forever with irreversible traits, many of which all the cross hormones and surgeries in the world won’t get rid of were they to wait until adulthood to transition.
far from child abusers, we are their foot in the door, their best hope, their champions and the ones who love and understand their needs better than anyone else in the world.