Six years ago my then 18 year old daughter stood awkwardly in the doorway of the family room and uttered words that would change the course of our lives. Kerri said that she thought she was transgender and actually identified as a boy, not a girl like we thought.
If you had asked me back then where I thought we would be in six years, I would have probably done some quick math….. shocked to realize that my kids would be 27, 24 and 21. My youngest, Andrew, would be entering his last year of college! I wouldn’t be able to guess what Kerri would be doing but hopefully something in Anthropology, since that was her major entering her freshman year of college. And Michael, the oldest, would be full swing in his emergency services career, having completed his training.
I’m sure I would have felt a quick pang of panic, wondering where the time had gone and how had my kids gone and grown up on me! I know I would have gulped, unsure what my life looked like without the kids around for me to raise. Maybe I would be looking forward to an empty nest and some time to focus on myself.
But life has a funny way of taking twists and turns that you can’t anticipate and sometimes you find that you’ve wound up in a completely different place than you expected. Even more surprising is that this place holds a sense of familiarity despite all of the differences.
Last week, Kerri, now Kris, came home to prepare to leave for school. And because our time together is fleeting, I had to take advantage of the quiet time we had to touch base on where things stood regarding Kris and gender identity. If you’ve been with us on this journey, then you know that this is a valid question when it comes to Kris. And just to remind you, last time I checked in with Kris although they preferred they/them/their pronouns, their gender expression had been primarily feminine and they were not bothered when mistaken for a young woman. After confirming that they preferred that we (my husband, myself and the brothers) use they/them/their, when asked about grandparents or other unsuspecting folks using the wrong pronouns, Kris shrugged and said they did not care.
Mixed signals? Most definitely. But it was (and will always be) important to me that we are respecting Kris’s feelings and gender identity.
I opened the discussion by sharing a recent conversation Kris’s dad and I had with Kris’s grandparents regarding them being non-binary. As I described the blank looks on their faces (the grandparents’- not Kris’s) and lack of comprehension, their struggle to wrap their brains around this idea, I asked Kris (as I always have since the beginning), “What would you like us to do? We can keep trying to help them understand. And what do we do about pronouns? Should we work with them about using they/them their?”
I should clarify that all grandparents involved have always been fully supportive of Kris throughout this entire time. They accepted Kris- lock, stock and barrel- and we have never doubted their love for their grandchild for a single second.
After some thought, Kris shook their head and said, “No, it’s okay.”
Next I asked the question that I’ve only asked twice before (and it has only been twice because deep down, I already knew what the answer was). I asked which pronouns Kris wanted us (family) to use moving forward.
And for the first time in six years, I got the answer that had seemed so important at one time. Can you guess?
“She, her, hers.”
Back when it was all I wanted to hear, I imagined how I would feel if I could just use those pronouns again. But time goes on and priorities shift and perspective changes or maybe it just becomes more clear.
The truth is, I don’t feel anything like I thought I would. I’m afraid. And sad. And afraid again. And for the first time in six years, that’s all I feel. For the first time, I wasn’t feeling so many different emotions that they were difficult to sort out and identify. I spent years with piles of feelings that were a tangled mess and that glorious mess became familiar to me. I have shared some of my thoughts on this in posts- the most recent being- The Return of the Dress and Yesterday I Cried.
I have yet to take the leap into using the new pronouns. I slipped once while talking to my friend, John, the other day. In the middle of a monologue, I referred to Kris as “she” and without missing a beat in the mid-sentence, I exclaimed, “Oh my god, I called Kris “she” and continued on.
My husband talked extensively about Kris when he arrived home from moving them into their apartment at school. He used “she, her, hers” the entire time. In my head, I was screaming, ‘Stop saying that! It’s too much! Too many shes!’
Today I’m having lunch with my best friend, Steph, who was the first person I texted when Kris gave me the answer to the pronoun question. Steph has been steadfast and committed throughout the years and her use of the preferred pronouns has been priceless. And today, at lunch with Steph, I’m going to switch. It’s going to be hard. I feel panicky at the thought of it. I’m scared. But I can do this!!!
As I look at my life now, I see that life is almost as I thought it would be, but different in an awesome way. Andrew is starting is senior year of college, as expected, and he has worked hard to reach this place. Kris took a detour for a few years but is also beginning senior year as an Anthropology major so we aren’t too far off track there. Michael has been working full-time in his chosen EMS carerr and he has a beautiful family with two boys, who have brought the joy and happiness of youth back into our lives. And me? For the time being, it appears that I’m needed in a few places so I will be learning how to take advantage of the time that I do have to focus on writing and “me” time.
Thank you for remaining part of this incredible journey!