My daughter went to Costco with her other mama a couple of weeks ago. They came home with the usual overstock of fruit, cereal, and toilet paper. They also came home with bathing suits. It’s barely warm enough where we live to go outside without a jacket, but Costco is ready for summer with goggles, pool toys, and bathing suits. The styles are cute. The quality is good. The prices are great. But there is no suit good enough to eliminate the fear I have for my daughter each summer when we are at the public pool or local beaches.
My daughter is transgender, and the suit she came home with forced me to talk to her about what it will mean to wear that particular suit all summer. No—the suit itself had nothing to do with it. Society forced me to have this conversation.
I want to insert a quick lesson here before I continue: When humans are born, gender is assigned to them based on biological sex. When a person has a penis, they are given a male gender marker. When a person has a vagina, they are given a female gender marker. If a person is born with ambiguous genitalia, they are intersex and may be given a gender marker of male or female. But there is the understanding that the child will let people know their gender identity when they are old enough to express that. This is because gender is NOT the same as biological sex. When the gender assignment at birth matches one’s identity, they are called cisgender.
When one’s gender identity does not match their assignment at birth, they are considered transgender. My daughter was assigned male at birth because of her biological sex, but at a very early age (18 months) she was telling us she is a girl. We love her unconditionally, so we listened and learned. We followed her lead. We didn’t just let her be who she wanted to be. My daughter didn’t want to be a girl. She wanted us to know she is a girl. We provided and continue to provide the safety and encouragement for our daughter to live her most authentic life.
But when my daughter came home clutching her one piece Speedo, my heart dropped. She was so excited, and I knew I was about to take away some, if not all, of that excitement. She’s almost six, and, while she has always had big opinions and is not afraid to share them, she now has a sense of being steered in a direction away from the one she wants to go. She questions the diversion and understandably wants an explanation or better choice if we tell her no to something. In summers past, we have gently steered our transgender daughter to bathing suits with skirts, ruffles, or shorts. These features are used to hide her penis, particularly when her suit is wet.
This is never done to shame her, but I always feel shame for telling my daughter to be who she is and then adding a caveat or white lie. I would never tell my daughters to avoid wearing certain clothes to avoid unwanted attention or assault—clothes do not cause rape, horrible people do. Yet I shield one of my daughters from emotional hurt and the potential for physical pain by not letting her wear suits that highlight a piece of her body. Her body is perfect. It’s healthy and strong and beautiful. No matter what her parts, she should be able to wear age appropriate clothing regardless of the gender labels on them.
My transgender daughter is not the problem. Her body is not the problem. Society is the problem.
The notion that gender and sex are the same is the problem. People who don’t believe in “transgenderism” are the problem. People who think parents “let” their kids be transgender or force them to be transgender are the problem. And all of the people who choose to judge, “not get it,” and tell me they have a right to their opinion about transgender issues even though it strips my and my daughter’s existence and self-worth are the problem.
In reality my daughter can wear any fucking bathing suit she wants. The problem is that anticipation of people treating her with a range of accidental insensitivity to deliberate hatred creates shame, disappointment, and fear that NO ONE should have to experience when they put on any article of clothing.
When my daughter showed me her new purchase, I gave her other mama a look that was part What were you thinking? and part Ugh, of course you had to buy it, she is allowed to wear that suit as much as her sister. I would have done the same thing. She caught my look and quickly told me that she tried to explain to our daughter that people with penises usually don’t wear tight bathing suits. It’s best to keep our skin and our body parts protected, and shorts or extra layers help do that.
I agreed. We also joked that we don’t want anything to fall out, because no one wants that. And that goes for breasts too. We want to protect our skin from the sun with suits that cover most of our torso, and we want suits to keep our private parts in check.
All of my kids had a good laugh over boobs falling out of bathing suits, and my son reminded his sister that he wears shorts to keep his penis from falling out.
We didn’t tell her she couldn’t wear the bathing suit, but she knew. I could tell by the way her excitement went down. I could tell by the way she looked down at herself as she wore her new purchase. And when she suggested she only wear this bathing suit when she is “with my family,” I knew she knew.
She knew I didn’t want her to wear that bathing suit because the outline of her penis would be very visible.
My heart broke and while I knew it was best, I hated that such an innocent thing like picking out a new suit for the summer became a preemptive rallying cry to protect her self-esteem.
We all thought that she had suggested a great plan and we reminded her that the two-piece suits she has, with a rash guard that hangs partially over her bottoms, would be so much easier during her days at summer camp. Putting a wet one-piece bathing suit on is the worst we told her. And in my head I just imagined her getting stuck and stumbling out of a bathroom stall, half naked, in the girls’ room and having someone say or do something that would crush her spirit and make her feel anything less than the perfectly-made human she is.
Right now she doesn’t know how awful the world can be, and I really hope she never finds out. But because people can be awful, because adults at the pool who shouldn’t be looking at her that closely may misgender her, or a friend of hers may say something to point out her penis, I need to protect her heart.
She is proud of who she is. She is a happy kid. But she knows she is transgender and she knows this makes her different. I need her to always know that different is amazing. I need to build layers and layers of this knowledge, because there will come a day when she experiences her first transphobic comment. One negative comment will tear down 10 positive. One asshole will make her forget the people who love her unconditionally.
My heart still hurts from having this conversation with my daughter, but we have a plan and she seems to have moved on. As she gets older and has a better understanding of her choices and how society sees them, she can make her own decisions on what to wear and when.
But for now, because she is so young and I am able to protect her a bit longer, I censor the world by censoring her clothes. But I promise you this: My daughter should not have to change. Society needs to do that. My daughter is not the problem, nor is her suit. People need to expand their understanding of gender and gender expression. People need to look beyond what is “normal” and start looking for ways to be accepting. Take some time for self-reflection, folks, because you are missing out on a whole lot of beautiful.