Raising a Transgender Child: When George Became Jessie
Two years ago, my nine year old son tearfully shared with me that "his whole life, he had wanted to be a girl". Pressed by the therapist (who, thank God, was in the room with us) to clarify whether he wants to be a girl or is a girl, George immediately replied that he is a girl. And so began a crazy-ass adventure of raising a transgendered child that I never, in a million years, expected to find my child or, frankly, myself, on.
To be clear, my husband Rich and I always knew that George (who is now Jessie) was different from not only our older son, but from other kids – male and female alike.
With sparkling eyes and a wildly observant and funny personality, he was known by everyone everywhere we went. Never one to shy away from a conversation or situation (particularly if it involved dolls, dresses, wigs or mermaid tails) he captured the attention of anyone he came into contact with. When behaviors that concerned us in preschool and kindergarten – including, but by no means limited to his self portraits (a frequent drawing assignment) consistently depicting a girl in a dress with long, flowing hair – continued with even greater vigor in first-, second- and third-grades we concluded that he was probably going to grow up to be gay, yet didn't quite buy it ourselves. He was a boy who greatly appreciated a beautiful girl and what she was wearing. He never met a doll, wig, dress or mermaid tail that he didn't feel a total compulsion to own – no matter how strongly he had to fight for it. And despite the fact that he was not even slightly effeminate, there were several occasions that he harassed and harangued me for hours on end requesting everything from hair extensions to wigs to dolls. It never added up. And then he asked for (and by "asked for" I mean "demanded") a pierced ear.
Our initial reaction to the earring request was that "little boys don't wear earrings", but he was having none of it. As he obsessively pursued this request it became increasingly clear that it was not a desire, but a need. Since growing out his traditional little boy haircut was going to take some serious time (we had agreed to allow him to grow his hair – anything to stop hearing about hair extensions or wigs) a single pierced ear seemed an easy enough allowance in hopes of placating him. Of significant note was, just prior (and I mean as the alcohol was being rubbed across his lobe) to the piercing, he implored the piercer to be sure to do it in the ear that doesn't mean "gay"…clearly he was building up the courage to tell us something, we just didn't know it yet.
It was not long after the newly pierced ear that our confusion was put to rest and we were told of George's truth. It took me about a minute and a half to absorb what he was saying and to give myself a virtual whack upside the head. It all started to make sense now, except for the part when I told myself that this happens to other families – not mine. Wrong.
We continued along with our "if-it-was-ever-normal-it-isn't-now" lives for a few weeks, noticing a huge change in our child's mood and temperament. Clearly an enormous weight had been lifted and a skin had been shed. And then there came what we refer to as "the article". It was a Sunday in December which also happened to be George's tenth birthday. On the front page of "The Boston Globe" there was an article about identical twin boys, one of whom had identified as transgender and was now living fully as a girl. I, not surprisingly, was raptly reading the story when George came up behind me, noticed the photo and asked who they were. Upon telling him he responded, with his mouth agape, "You mean I'm not the only one?" It was at that moment that Jessie was born, moved in and has since made herself comfortable in my house.
The following day, I dropped George off at school and told him to be cool; we would come up with a plan. He was cool. Until 11 a.m. (not bad considering the school day starts at 8 a.m.) when he simply could not keep the truth to himself and, without fanfare or drama, told one of his teachers about his "secret". The cat, ladies and gentlemen, was out of the bag.
The next day, as it happened, was pajama day and, after a hasty, late night trip to Target, I successfully outfitted my "son" in head-to-toe pink, purple and green polka dotted pajamas in which he ran (not walked) into school with zero hesitation and without so much as a glance over his shoulder for support. Jessie had been waiting her whole life for this day. I almost wonder if that was why she felt the need to share when she did…just to ensure the perfect little girl pajama ensemble for what will likely (hopefully) be her last school sanctioned pajama day ever.
Since those first crazy days, we have had her second ear pierced and have had countless meetings, discussions, questions, plans and concerns hurled in our direction. At times we have laid low: mostly at the beginning when we were nearly immobilized by the mere thought of what it meant to have a transgender child. Other times we have been "out there": when, for example, we announced on Facebook (with her encouragement) "George becoming Jessie", complete with a photo of her in her inaugural dress. This was a means of survival for us and done mainly so that we weren't forced to explain the situation to everyone, everywhere, every time we left the house. But no matter how people learned of Jessie having identified as transgender, the response has been consistent: total acceptance with a healthy and appropriate dose of trepidation: both for us and, frankly, themselves.
If only every family like ours could be so lucky.