Last week during dinner, my son put his face down on the table, covered his head with his hands and said with a moan:
“Jesus, why did you give me a penis?”
As you can imagine, I was shocked. Not so much by the idea — he often declares he wants to be a girl, usually very loudly in places very public — but I had never heard him so sad. In a moment of sheer stupidity, I focused on the one thing that didn’t really matter.
“Where did you learn that word?” I demanded.
He looked up at me blearily.
I shook my head impatiently.
He couldn’t answer that, of course. We live in the South, so Jesus is as much a part of daily life as cockroaches and good barbecue. And it’s no big deal if he knows who Jesus is or wants to pray to him. I just hated to see him so unhappy.
It’s possible my son is transgender. It wouldn’t upset me if he is, not that he needs my permission but he would certainly have my support.
But it breaks my heart to think of him hating the way he is now. He’s perfect to me, the little s–thead. No parent wants to see their child in pain. At least not till they become teenagers and turn into smart-mouthed a-holes.
And in my Lifetime-movie-esque haste to be understanding, I don’t want to overlook the very real possibility that he simply likes things that are traditionally feminine and believes he needs to be a girl to enjoy them.
Pink rocks. Glitter is awesome. Tulle is fun. I like these things, so why wouldn’t he?
When toy makers began rolling out pastel and princess versions of everything, it didn’t bother me. It seemed to me they were responding more to demand than creating it. What I find interesting is how my son — and many other boys, if my mom friends are to be believed — are lapping it up too.
It seems improbable to me that every boy who picks up a Barbie or plays dress-up is transgender or gay. As improbable as every girl who likes trucks and superheroes being transgender or lesbian.
Maybe they just like what they like.
But if he is transgender I don’t want to deny those feelings. (I also don’t want him to think that pink and makeup are the sum total of womanhood, but that’s a rant for another day.)
My strategy thus far has been to ask him, whenever he brings it up, why he wants to be a girl. The answer is usually, “Because girls can be princesses.”
Ugh. The *&%@ing princess thing.
When I ask why he wants to be a princess, he responds:
“Because they are strong and brave and go on big adventures.”
Here’s where Disney comes in. In response to criticisms of princesses and fairy tales being sexist, the entertainment giant came out with a host of princesses who do exciting things and don’t need help from dudes. That they are still totally bang-able is, um, not important right now.
Of course he wants to be a princess. I want to be a Disney princess, too.
This isn’t an indictment of Disney for presenting my son with strong(ish) female characters, or the feminist movement for demanding it do so. As far as I’m concerned, Disney has one job and that’s certainly not to raise my kids. It’s to keep them occupied for a few minutes at a time so I can get liquored up. (Heh, heh. I’m kidding. Seriously.)
And I love me some feminism. Every time I see an episode of Mad Men I want to kiss the feet of every feminist who ever lived.
I’m just saying that because his idols are women, I don’t want him to think there is anything wrong with having man junk.
He’s only six. I have to balance what he can comprehend now with what he will know some day. I almost crossed that line once when he asked if he could become a girl some day and I — in a moment of distraction — said yes.
He looked surprised.
“Like, there’s a magician who can do that?”
“Doctors, actually. You used to have to go Scandinavia — ” at that point I realized what I was saying. “You know what? Just stop talking and eat your mac and cheese.”
Annnnd, because the sands of childhood are constantly shifting, this may not be an issue for long. One minute he’s sad he’s not a girl, the next he’s furious he isn’t a popsicle.
In the most recent development of this saga, he came home from camp the other day and declared:
“Girls are boring. I’m so glad I’m not a girl.”
Trying not to look too excited — and making a mental note to correct him — I asked why.
“My friend Emily says that. She hates being a girl. It’s so great I am a boy.”
It took every ounce of restraint for me not to shout:
“Thank you, Jesus!”
It’s great that your child may be spared the pain and trouble of being gender-different.
If I were asked — it’s not really my business, I know, and I cringe at the thought that I’m being nosy — but, if I were asked, I would advise you to consult a professional if you see or feel any further indication of gender-dilemma. Not to be overly dramatic, but if your child is truly gender-dysphoric, but is now learning to cover that up, you can spare him/her a lifetime of confusion and pain.
Your son reminds me of myself at that age.
Anyway … not to be nosy. 🙂
Paige, thank you so much! I am trying to be as helpful to him as I can and I appreciate any advice I can get, especially from someone who knows what they are talking about!
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hi – i’m happy to help if i can. 🙂
just based on the little i’ve heard, your child sounds much like me at that age. but, i was a child in the early 1970s, so even though transition and surgery were technically possible — i even discussed it with a friend at the ripe old age of 7 — , these things were just not any part of normal reality back then; and besides, my father was very, *very* disapproving of my girlishness. i grew up believing i’d have to give up on being myself and learn to be something else instead.
i tried very hard, and i learned to put up a good front, but, eventually i just couldn’t go on with all the self-denial. with the help of my best friend, i began moving towards transition in my late 20s, and i’d absolutely never go back because … well, because i’m finally able to be myself. 🙂
your child may or may not be gender dysphoric. however, if s/he continues to say and do things such as you’ve written about in this post, s/he might really benefit from working with a professional. there’s no commitment in doing so, and the whole thrust of the effort is towards delaying puberty until the child is clear on which direction s/he wants to go. hormones wouldn’t even come into the picture until the mid-teens, and surgery for those who complete the transition isn’t possible until the child is a legal adult.
so, you see, there’s no commitment – it would only be an exploration to help the child clarify what s/he feels she is and wants to be. if i were the parent, at this point, i would watch my child for further signs, and maybe do a bit of googling to find a reputable professional in my area. if i were in the South, i would probably search in one of the larger cities, like Atlanta.
you might even want to make an appointment for just yourself, alone, or with the father as well, to discuss your observations and feelings with the psychologist to help determine if you should make an appointment for your child.
anyway, i hope i’m not rambling too much here. i hope this is helpful. your child is lucky to live in this day and age, and to have an open-minded mother, too.
good luck with whatever you decide!
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Paige, it breaks my heart to hear of the difficulties you have faced. As a mom, I want to spare my child as much anguish as I can — which may or may not be healthy in itself — and so I will follow your advice. It’s so hard to tell with him because he blows so hot and cold about the issue, although sometimes even this worries me because I’m afraid he might be repressing his feelings. As you suggested, for now I am keeping an eye on things and trying to convey to him that he can be open and honest about how he feels.
It’s interesting because other moms of boys have told me they are having the same experience with their sons. We’re all trying to figure out if it’s gender dysphoria or if they are simply more comfortable than previous generations of boys at expressing appreciation of traditionally feminine things.
Aaah, the joys of parenthood!