And There She Was

When I found out that my child was transgender and not my daughter but actually my son, it took some time to wrap my head around it. I went through a sort of letting go process. Although so much of my child’s true being remained, as testosterone, a new name and pronouns and appearances took over, I was forced to let go of the idea of having a daughter. And I had to let go of my daughter.

Each person’s journey is unique to them and their circumstances. Some parents of transgender children adapt easily. Some resist the process, embrace denial, hold onto the child they thought they had. And then some fall somewhere in the middle. I like to think that many of us fall in that middle place- transitioning as parents while our children transition to reflect their true selves. I love my son but I missed my daughter. On a good day, I was torn. Feeling guilty for missing the daughter that never was, as if it took away from my feelings for my son. It took me some time to get to the point where I accepted that it was okay for me to feel this way. I had spent over 18 years building a relationship with Kerri and in the blink of an eye, it was all gone. What I had not realized was that underneath the mother-daughter bonding that we were so busy doing, there was also the basic mother-child relationship that remains regardless of what name my child goes by. Somewhere along the way, I came to accept that Kerri was gone and I let myself miss her.

When I first began getting “feelings” of Kerri being around, I was confused and did not mention it to anyone. I knew what they would think- that I wanted my daughter back or that I was wishing Kris was Kerri again or something along that line which would require me to explain (summoning up my patience with every fiber of my being) that Kerri wasn’t real….that she existed only in the context that Kris needed her to in order for him to survive. I didn’t want to place doubt in anyone’s minds regarding who Kris is. In some respect, it had been an uphill battle getting people to accept Kris as a boy. As it is, we still have people who refer to Kris by his birth name and feminine pronouns.

So as flashes of Kerri appeared, I shoved them into the background and carried on until I found out that Kris was no longer on testosterone and those flashes were not my imagination at all. As the last few months have unfolded and I learned more about what it meant for Kris to be genderqueer, non-binary, gender nonconforming (any or all of these) I grew used to those fleeting glimpses of Kerri and they didn’t sting quite so much. I was the only one who saw those subtle changes and rare sightings, probably because I’m the mom, right? That was fine with me. No need to give anyone cause for further use of wrong name/pronouns.

And then the other evening I was out with Diane, one of my best friends. I was in the middle of sharing some Baby Beej story when my phone screen lit up indicating a text from Kris. I continued talking while I opened the text but the words died instantly at the picture filling my phone screen. He had sent me a picture of himself in his Halloween costume. He had dressed up as an okapi- because hey, why wouldn’t a person want to be an okapi? The reddish-brown body of a deer with striped zebra legs and cute ears……

AND THERE SHE WAS.

Not the daughter I had let go of at 18. No, this was Kerri 4 years older- almost 23 years old. The only part that was Kris was his glasses. The rest was the daughter I had not seen in over 4 years. Not a glimpse. Not fleeting. Just pure Kerri looking back at me. I closed the text and continued to Beej story. My dear friend graciously ignored my misstep and let it pass.

That picture marked a turning point for me. It helped me pass a milestone in my acceptance of Kris as genderqueer. It made me realize that I might see more of Kerri and that was also okay, that Kerri is still part of Kris and this is what makes my kid so freaking unique and awesome and brave and wonderful! Whether he is dressed as an okapi or so non-binary that a person can’t gender or misgender him, he is one step closer to expressing his true self.

And as for me and those “Kerri” days, I can feel a little sad and a lot happy that he’s here and he’s my kid. I am truly blessed to have been given the gift of knowing my child WAY better than most people know theirs. His true spirit and nature and essence and being just radiate from him. How cool is that!!!!!

From Kerri to Kristoffer to Kris

Genderqueer (GQ; alternatively non-binary) is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.

Source- Wikipedia- Genderqueer

My child is transgender, specifically (or as specifically as one can be) genderqueer. Born Kerri, transitioned to Kristoffer at 18 years and blossoming as Kris at 22, it has been a wild ride. Recently, he posted a new selfie, later adopting it as his profile picture. It’s a great picture of him. His hair is in a good place. His acne is under control. He looks relaxed and calm and might I venture to say—happy? I know this isn’t entirely true, being the receiver of some very emotional texts, but he looks good.

Since telling us that he is genderqueer and not identifying strictly as male, he has made some changes. His appearance is definitely more non-binary. In the post Gender Bender, I have a drawing with two circles- the pink representing female and the blue representing male with a mass of squiggles in between. At the time that I wrote the post, Kris was identifying more on the outer edge of maleness and the arrow points to where he landed.

In the 6 weeks since I wrote that post, things have progressed. He identifies in the center of the squiggles now, not more male or female. While he is okay with male pronouns and has said that male is his “default” I’ve noticed that he changed his name on Facebook from his full name to a more gender neutral, Kris. He has stopped taking testosterone completely and as a result some of the more feminine qualities have returned, including the hormonal fluctuations that accompanies PMS.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before but months before I realized that he wasn’t on T anymore, I kept getting flashes of a sense of Kerri. I felt like I was going crazy because I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was causing the feeling. Then I found out about him being off T and it made sense. At that point, it was hard for me to simply accept and move on. My friend, Steph, asked me if it gave me comfort to know that Kerri was still there somewhere but the truth is that no, it didn’t. I had mourned the loss of a daughter that I never really had. It had taken me a long time to let Kerri go and accept that my daughter was actually my son, and had been my son all along. I had to come to terms with the feeling I had that I had let my child down. Although some parents of trans kids make easy transitions from one child to another, I did not. Part of me will miss Kerri for the rest of my life.

When Kris told me that he was genderqueer, and when we clarified how he identifies, I came to the realization that referring to Kris as my “son” did not feel right anymore. It’s ironic that a few short years ago I was sure that I would never easily call Kris my son and while I’m not sure exactly when it happened, I did. But now it’s not that easy. And what a laugh that is! If someone had told me that calling the child I formerly thought of as my daughter was really my son and that I would be calling him by a different name with different pronouns….. and that would be the EASY part?? I would have laughed…. and not believed them. But that was actually easy. This- not so much.

Loving and accepting my child is easy. I’m sure that if the opportunity arose, it would not be difficult to explain that he is genderqueer. What to call him? Son and daughter are easy. Unfortunately, in Kris’s case, neither is really accurate. And when the person in question is almost 23 years old, child just doesn’t feel right either.

Think about that for a minute, okay? We really do place everyone in their gender box- father, husband, son, brother, uncle, grandfather, grandson, nephew // mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, grandmother, granddaughter, niece . We don’t say parent, spouse, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild and is there even a gender neutral word for uncle, aunt, niece, nephew?

I am grateful that Kris has given us a default to use- I can refer to him as my son- but if I can share a quick story about what happened when I asked him if I should still refer to him as my son? The pause after I asked was too long for comfort. The silence grew. It was awkward. Then he said yes.

That silence said it all.

It’s taking some time for adjusting. Kris is figuring out which masculine/feminine qualities he will be left with as his body adapts to the change in hormones. I’m adapting to seeing glimpses of Kerri come through and I’m trying to embrace those moments. I believe that it is fair to say that it isn’t easy for either of us. Expressing his true gender identity is going to require more strength and courage than simply being a transguy did. Some people are uneasy with the idea of someone being non-binary. They like to place everyone in a neat little box- pink or blue. As for me, setting aside my mixed up emotions about finding the right name for my child and the re-emergence of Kerri traits,I worry about Kris. I hope that I’m supporting him in the right ways.

And I look at the mom sitting next to me in a committee meeting bemoaning the fact that her son’s school schedule does not allow for him to take the number of AP classes that she wants him to have, admitting that this is the biggest problem she faces with her child and I want to punch her in the face. (Hey, what do you want? I think I’m a good person. I never said I was nice!)

Added note– Upon closer thought, I feel like I need to clarify just a few things. When Kris came out as transgender, he said he had always felt like a boy, not a girl, which led to him changing his name, starting testosterone, therapy, social transition…. When he first introduced the idea that he was actually genderqueer and did not identify strictly as male, it was confusing to me. I was familiar with the terms- genderqueer and non-binary and gender non-conforming- but somehow I wasn’t able to apply those to Kris. I guess I wondered what happened to knowing he was a guy? He went on to explain that he had always known that he was non-binary but he had to completely separate himself from any female aspect of himself in order to not be seen as a girl and to have the confidence and freedom to show his true gender expression and be seen as such. As Kris’s mom, this feels right and it makes sense to me. I feel like Kris is still a work in progress, but then again, we all are in some way, aren’t we? 

Do You Fit the Mold?

Upon hearing my middle child’s admission that he identifies as non-binary or more so on the outer edges of maleness, I’ve been thinking a lot about gender identity and expression. I would like to share a few of my thoughts with you.

Gender identity is internal, deeply-rooted, and a central part of many people’s senses of self.*

Gender expression, on the other hand, is what everyone around us can see.*

Girls-

wear pink, dresses, make up

play house, with dolls

want to be moms, teachers, nurses

Timey Tell

Boys-

wear blue, jeans, baseball caps

play sports, cars, with Legos

want to be dads, lawyers, construction workers

IMG_1512

It looks silly when it’s laid out before you in print. While this might be something we grew up believing, or maybe we didn’t but we knew it was the expectation….. it went along with the idea that there were only two genders- male and female- and the molds were pretty straight forward. We know that even 20, 30, 40 years ago, these stereotypical descriptions just did not hold true. As more time passes, we are finding that outside of society influencing/dictating what is considered acceptable, the reality looks nothing like those two cookie cutter molds- one wearing a dress, one wearing pants.

I have never fit in the girl mold, even though I do not doubt for a second that I’m a girl. Dresses and I have had a love/hate relationship over the years. I’m not into make up. I hate cooking. My favorite clothing is my jeans, hoodies and gym shoes. I’m not a fan of bugs but have no problem beating them to death with my shoe or something else that’s nice and solid (sorry eco-system and circle of life and all that) but the sight of a mouse sends me screaming from the room like….well, a girl. But, here’s the thing about all of that. None of it makes a difference to me being a girl because that’s who I am.

Growing up in the 70’s, there was a definite girl mold out there and the expectations were very clear. There were times when I was expected to wear a dress whether I wanted to or not. My toys were dolls. The books I read all had female characters who, for the most part, fit that mold. The television shows I watched were filled with girls perpetuating that image. I wasn’t always comfortable with all of it but that’s the way it was.

As I reached adulthood and had my own daughter, I made a concentrated effort to not force her into that same mold. It’s probably a good thing, too, because my daughter ended up actually being my son. And my son ended up not being a boy who fit the boy mold.

Unfortunately, so many want to hold onto those molds- one in each hand- so neat and simple—- and so wrong. Hopefully as the idea of gender being something that is defined by a person’s innate sense of who they are and not what’s between their legs AND that every person has the right to express themselves in a way that feels right for them, we will bridge the gap between the old school boy/girl molds and the concept that there is more to a person than simpy boy or girl (and there always has been.)

I’m sharing this article on Gender Identity and Gender Expression. I think it does a good job of laying it out there for everyone to read. It is written with examples that we can relate to and understand.

*Separating Out Gender Identity from Gender Expression

What about you? Do you fit into your mold?

Happy Saturday!

-Kat