The first time I heard the word “gay,” it was hurled at me as an insult in the 5th grade. It was 1997, and Ellen DeGeneres had come out, but I was in Catholic school, so that wasn’t exactly a headline we looked at. Gay wasn’t something that was discussed in any sort of loving way. It was mean, and insulting; a demeaning word.
Things have changed.
In the last 20 years, things have become immeasurably more inclusive. Gay isn’t an insult; it is part of a rainbow that includes so many amazing people. If my life had followed the path I had imagined it would way back in those elementary school days, this would have been more than enough for me to casually move on with my life. I would sit with old copies of Time Magazine to sort through, giving a warm grin at old headlines about Ellen blazing the trail on TV, before adding to the pile in the recycling bin.
Except that’s not how life played out. My journey took a sharp detour that introduced me to that beautiful rainbow of people, and I found my place in it. I married into it, too. The man I married helped me build a family, and we brought Bug into the world; a brilliant and kind little girl with her heart on her sleeve. Then that man told me HER truth.
Madeline told me she was trans when our daughter was just over a year old. We sat and talked, and cried, and then looked at our child. Whatever the world was like for us, we couldn’t begin to guess how it would impact her. However, we both agreed that one of the early lessons we wanted to teach was that, no matter what, living true to yourself is paramount. So transition began.
Eventually, Madeline and I parted ways, but worked damn hard to build a functioning co-parent relationship. It took time, and we have become amazing friends. It has helped being a team because we now are seeing that Bug’s world is complicated.
In preschool, the kids were amazing. They were unflappable. Of course, Bug had two moms, it didn’t matter as long as she could still play. Then Bug got invited to a birthday and when Madeline tried to call to RSVP, she never got a response.
When I called, I was greeted warmly. “I was waiting for her real Mom to call.” My heart sank. It was my first glimpse into what society needs to work on. Gay may not be a worry, but trans isn’t exactly on the up and up.
Yeah, the shows like Transparent, Sense 8, and Orange is the New Black feature amazing trans actors, but the subject of being trans is still being developed in the mainstream. Let alone being trans with a small child. This is new. This is terrifying.
It means we call summer camps to ask what their anti-bullying policies are. It means that we show a united front at events with other parents, to somehow make things seem…normal (the very notion of “normal” weirds me out). It means we sit at parent-teacher meetings to hear about how Bug is head strong but sensitive and, God forbid anyone asks about her Mama Madeline. Bug doesn’t want to lie, but she has seen people be rude to her mama when they find out that she was born a man. She has seen cops surround her Mama because she was filling the car with gas and someone called the police on her (for the reasons we can all clearly assume).
“She gets scared when people ask. She doesn’t want to answer.” I am forever grateful for her kindergarten teacher, who worked with Bug tirelessly to remind her that her family is just as perfect as anyone else’s.
When I was 9 years old, I came home in tears because someone called me gay.
At 6-years-old, Bug has come home in tears because her friends don’t know how it’s possible that she doesn’t have a dad, but used to until he became a she.
So Madeline and I talk and try to find ways for her to feel secure in her peculiar normal. And as much as we can, we try to put a layer of bubble wrap around her as long as she still believes that bruises can be healed with a kiss, cats can wear people clothes, and that everyone must have a good heart.
I know that there will be some who read this and scoff. We’ve heard most of it at this point, nonsense about how Madeline had the choice. To that, I say that after the second hospital trip due to a depression-induced breakdown, the pressure of presenting as a man would have led Madeline to suicide. I would rather Bug grow up with two moms and some confusion, rather than one mom and the gaping hole left behind by a Mama who couldn’t handle living a lie anymore.