My 8-year-old daughter had unbuttoned her new short sleeved shirt that will be used for her Halloween costume. Before taking it off, she left it open with her bare chest showing. I watched her check herself out in the mirror. Finally she said, “I’m like one of those pride boys.” It took me a few seconds to realize she was referring to the folks we see at Pride. To show off their chests, many of the teenage and younger gay men and trans masculine folks wear their button up shirts open with nothing underneath except maybe a Pride flag wrapped around breasts. Often scars from gender affirming top surgery are visible. Pride comes with pride, and showing signs of transition can’t be celebrated in many other places. As a transgender parent, I know this well.
“Soon I will be able to do that too,” I told her.
“Mama! Won’t that be weird?” She wrinkled her nose a little, but I wasn’t hurt.
My journey of transition is mine and one I will do without needing the approval of anyone. But I do want the support of my kids. While it’s not their story, me being transgender is part of their narrative. As we take this path together in parallel and sometimes intersecting ways, there are times of learning and reframing. This was one of them.
“After I have my top surgery and don’t have breasts anymore, I can totally show off my chest.”
She was still unsure. I explained that I understood her worries. My scars after having a double incision mastectomy, even though done to create a masculine chest, will be new and will take some time to get used to. My daughter also knows it is taking some people time to see me as my nonbinary self. She knows people sometimes still see me as a girl. And she knows girls are not supposed to show their chests. I reminded her that breasts are nothing to be ashamed of and that notion of having to hide them comes from society’s crappy expectations of girls and women. Basically, I told her it was all bullshit.
She wasn’t totally comfortable with any of it, but she was accepting and willing to learn. She and my other two children were the same way when I came out as nonbinary. Because I was never comfortable living as a woman, I wondered if I was a transgender man. But that didn’t feel right either. It wasn’t until I learned the term nonbinary that I realized I am neither completely male nor female. I’m a mix of both. I ask my children and everyone else to use the gender neutral terms they/them when addressing and referring to me.
In terms of my gender identity, I came out late in life. Not too late though because it’s never too late to discover who you are so you can live an authentic life. But when I became self-aware enough to know I am nonbinary and that I need to live my life as an out transgender person, I was 39. Compared to coming out as gay when I was a teenager, I felt old coming out as a trans person at 39. I was known by colleagues, family members, friends, and community members as a woman. I had established almost 40 years of being seen as and labeled female and had almost as many years feeling like that was never right. But I also had three kids who called me mama, so any changes I made would be felt by them too.
They have been amazing about all of it. But I am very aware that by having an out transgender parent, specifically one who uses pronouns most are not comfortable using, they have to be out about it too. Their teachers and friends are expected to use my accurate pronouns and my kids will either correct them or ignore others when they misgender me. I don’t expect them to be advocating on my behalf by doing heavy emotional labor too. But I do ask for respect and remind them to not slip back into using female pronouns when referring to me even when they are around friends.
Getting my pronouns right has taken practice, but they are good at self-correcting and correcting each other. When I made this first transition in my identity, my kids wanted to know if they could still call me Mama. As much as I needed them to accept me, I needed them to know they still had me as a mom.
Much like my name being feminine, the word Mama is thought to be a feminine label too. But even with a name like Amber, I am still a masculine presenting nonbinary person. And hearing my kids call me Mama is a term of endearment to the incredible role I get to play as their parent. I feel love when I hear them call for me. Okay, fine. Sometimes I also feel irritation and a strong urge to run and hide when I hear one of my three kids scream Mama! But for the most part, having my kids see me as their mother does not take away from my identity.
“Tell me again when you are getting your boobs cut off?” My daughter asked.
“We should have a Boob Voyage party,” she said.
“That would be amazing.”
“Oh! And don’t forget that we want your boobs made into little pillows!”
“Noted,” I said.
There is no one way to transition, and transgender people don’t have to do anything socially or medically to be “transgender enough.” But my transition has social and medical changes. These changes affect my kids too, so I spend a lot of time thinking about conversations around pronouns, labels, and surgery. But as overwhelming as I worry it will be for all of us at times, it hasn’t been. Yes, there are adjustments, but there is so much normalcy and celebratory talk too. I mean, come on: Who doesn’t want a boob pillow?
The kids are fine, and so am I. Because transitioning to a happier me benefits us all.
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