I remember being in the grocery store and overhearing someone speak to a friend who looked to be pretty far along in her pregnancy.
“You look great! Do you know what you’re having, or will it be a surprise?”
A child, I thought. The pregnancy will result in a child.
“We’re going to be surprised,” she responded. “But I am kind of hoping for a boy.”
Why does it matter? Studies show that our brains are not that different based on gender. It’s how we raise our kids that feeds their behavior and expectation of self.
“Boys are easier for sure! But you already have the girl stuff.”
Girl stuff? UGH. Things don’t have a gender, nor do they determine or influence the user’s gender.
“Our fingers are crossed for you!”
Cross them all you want! I promise you will not know the gender of your baby until they confirm or deny the label they were assigned at birth. Sigh. Instead of feeling happy for the very pregnant woman and grateful she had support in her life, all I could think was Ugh. You just don’t get it.
I’m very aware that society’s default way of thinking does not consider folks like me or my daughter. I am nonbinary, and I don’t identify as either male or female. My daughter is transgender, and her gender identity is female. I was assigned female at birth based on my body parts (biological sex) and my daughter was assigned male based on hers.
I lived almost 40 years as a female, but that label never felt right or like the whole story. I have always presented as masculine based on society’s expectations of masculinity and femininity, and for a time I wondered if I was male. I spent years trying to decide if I would be happy socially and medically transitioning from female to male. But that didn’t feel right either. It wasn’t until I heard the words genderqueer, nonbinary, and gender fluid that my identity at last made sense.
Most often, I don’t feel like I have any gender. I am just me. Other times, I feel a mix of being both male and female. But being forced to choose one gender has always made me cringe. I finally got to the place where being referred to as a woman with female pronouns and gendered language made me feel small, irritable, and sad. I switched to they/them pronouns and plan to have gender affirming top surgery, but my name is feminine, I have hips, and I still have breasts (which cause the bulk of my body dysphoria), so people not only assume I am female but that I have to be one of only two genders. Even after science and peoples’ lived experiences have told us otherwise, the majority of folks still believe that biological sex is the same as gender.
The proof of this ignorance is in millions of dollars being spent on gender reveal parties and even more millions spent on damages caused by them. Forest fires, car explosions, and fist fights have dominated news headlines after people tried to go viral in their one-upmanship in the use of pink and blue props.
I and other transgender folks who don’t align with the gender we were so eagerly assigned at birth, with our labels tossed around as party games, do not feel celebrated. We feel misunderstood and frustrated that we are viewed as different because we don’t fit the heteronormative idea that all people fall into the gender binary of either male or female. It’s the assumption that people follow stereotypical gender roles and maintain stereotypical masculine and feminine appearances. Heteronormativity is the belief that all people are heterosexual and cisgender, that binary, straight, and gender roles are the norm, and that anything outside of this narrative is abnormal.
It took me coming out of addiction and coming out as transgender to finally see that there is nothing wrong with me.
There is nothing wrong with my daughter either. I was not anticipating having a transgender child, nor was I motivated to raise a gender neutral child, but I certainly did not throw a party to celebrate the penis between her legs. A baby shower was held to celebrate her life, but I wasn’t about to celebrate the biases that accompany gender. Most people’s gender identity does align with their biological sex (that is called cisgender), so I was comfortable calling her my son and using male pronouns (before we knew her true identity), but when she started to be insistent, consistent, and persistent that she was a girl, my former partner and I realized we were wrong.
My daughter’s transition was not one we took lightly. We followed her lead, consulted with transgender friends, and met with her pediatrician. My daughter has been very involved in each part of her transition, from hair, clothes, and pronouns to legal gender markers on her social security card and birth certificate. I am not forcing anything but affirmation onto my daughter.
Before she started kindergarten, I told her I wanted to correct her birth certificate. I told her that when she was born we had to put an M on it to indicate she was male, a boy. When she asked why, I explained that it was because she had a penis.
She was confused and agitated. “But girls can have penises too!” She lives this truth every day and knows better than anyone that gender and biological sex are not one in the same.
I agreed and asked her if it was okay to fix her birth certificate. The answer was an emphatic yes. She was annoyed that it hadn’t already been changed, and I apologized for the mistake. She carried a copy of the corrected form for several days; it was validation, but it was also a frustrating display of needing to prove yourself because someone else decided your identity for you.
I am thankful I was able to help my child transition relatively easily to be the person she wanted and needed to be right when she showed signs of needing that change. I am thankful I finally found ways to be true to myself, in part through advocating for my daughter. We all deserve to live an authentic life, and by watching my daughter live hers, I was able to find the strength to live mine.
The biggest difference between my journey and my daughter’s was a lack of expectation. I never placed any definitive opinions or anticipation on my child about who she would become. I had some guidelines to work with, but her sense of self was always hers to discover without my forceful hand of what should be based on her body parts. Because of this space to safely and confidently be herself, she has had the opportunity to live her truth at a much earlier age. While transgender kids will still experience more depression, anxiety, and discrimination than their cisgender peers, my hope is that with my support and the community of support we have around us, she will never know the pain of having to hide—from not only herself, but from those she loves.
Someone asked me recently if I had been supported as a kid, would my life have been free or freer from depression and addiction. Would I have come out sooner? Would my life have been easier?
But with pain comes purpose, and my purpose is to help the next generation of folks, as well as those my age and older still struggling, to live outside of the box they were assigned at birth.
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