This post is a little delayed and for a good reason. It was a post that I wanted to take my time with, not dash off in some hurried manner just to meet a deadline.
Over the past couple of years, there have been several stories that people shared with me about parents who accept and support their children from a very early age as it pertains to their sexual preference and/or gender identity. The most notable stories were the woman whose son was in love with Darren Criss, the family who raised their daughter as a boy and Brangelina’s willingness to call their daughter Shiloh by her preferred name: John. When people share these posts with me or my husband, they usually say something like, “I saw this and it made me think of you guys!” The reason why is because we have a daughter who shares similarities with each of the children in these stories and my husband and I share similarities with their parents. Every time someone shares one of these viral stories, I tell myself that I want to write about my daughter.
My husband and I have three girls, a fifteen-year-old and twelve-year-old fraternal twins who are as different as night and day. From a very early age, I’m guessing around four, one of my twin daughters began to show signs of gender noncomformity. One morning, as were getting ready for day care, Izzy peered at me from atop the toilet and asked, “When am I getting my peanuts?” Mind you, the male genitalia is not something we generally talked about at the dinner table. Assuming it was because of the shared bathroom experiences in her potty training years at day care, I went with it and said something snarky like, “Why would you want one of those? They cause nothing but trouble.” To which she responded, most assuredly, “Because then I could pull it and tug it like the boys!” She also wanted one because, like every other woman on Earth, she wanted to pee standing up.
In the few short years that followed, our daughter openly identified herself as being gay and would develop crushes on other girls in her elementary school classes. During that same time, she eschewed any feminine clothing, favored playing with her Nerf guns over dolls and eventually chopped off her long, blonde, curly locks in favor of a high and tight hairstyle. It was easy to support these choices for her because it made her happy. To the wait staff in the restaurants, she was always little buddy or dude. Initially, we would correct them but after she told us it didn’t bother her, we stopped.
The people that meet Izzy generally fall in love with her. She is energetic, funny, smart, kind and unique. She embraces who she is and so do the people that get to know her. Over the years, I’ve had conversations with people about Izzy and it is interesting what people will say. The most common thing I hear is that she is just a tomboy or probably going through a phase. Yes, it is entirely possible. We all go through phases in life. I have also been told that there is no way that an elementary school aged girl could possibly know whether or not she is gay. I’m sorry, when was it exactly that you knew you were attracted to the opposite sex? There have even been people who have suggested that because my husband and I allow her to make these choices we are encouraging her to be gay. Does that mean that I encouraged my other two girls to be straight?
When Izzy wanted to join scouting, she was disappointed that she couldn’t join the Boy Scouts. She didn’t want to do crafts and sell cookies, she wanted to play basketball and race cars in the Pinewood Derby. Fortunately, the scout leaders got wind of her disappointment and let her join as an honorary member. Those really were the best years for her because she was completely comfortable in her skin, got to do what she wanted to do and with friends who had been going to school with her for six years. They didn’t question her choices, they were just her friends. She got so comfortable that she even came out to a few close friends when she was in fifth grade.
As the middle school years approached, we were getting a little nervous and so was Izzy. Middle school, if you recall, is horrible. I know very few people who recollect their middle school/junior high years with great fondness. As Izzy’s elementary school career was ending, marriage equality and a string of teen suicides related to sexual identity were prominent in the media. Izzy developed a heightened sensitivity to issues related to bullying, diversity and acceptance. One afternoon in February, she created a Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues style video about the topic, in which she wrote:
I don’t have sound so I will write.
Don’t worry. Nothing will be sad.
People in my school are nice.
They would not if they found out if I was gay.
Get this. I’m a girl.
Thx for watching.
Six months later, Izzy was navigating the nasty terrain of middle school, the place where you desperately want to fit in but still want to be true to yourself. While she continues to remain true to herself, she is a little more quiet about it these days. She finds herself avoiding the bathroom so she doesn’t have to endure the eighth grade girls screaming at her to get out because she’s a boy. Thankfully there are understanding teachers that allow her to go during class time when the bathrooms aren’t filled with classmates asking her if she’s a girl or a boy. She even decided to wear a dress to the school dance after not wearing a dress for five years. This was followed by her requesting to go shopping for some more feminine clothes. Why? So she wouldn’t get questioned when she went to the girls’ room. Seriously, there should be some sort of universal law that mandates unisex bathroom in public places. Just ask Izzy. Or any woman who has stood in line at the theatre or a One Direction concert.
A couple of summers ago, my husband and I decided to give the girls the opportunity to go to sleepaway camp. Two of the girls opted to go to the more rustic 4H camp in Windham-Tolland while Izzy, due to an aversion to bugs and an affinity for basketball, when to an indoor Nike camp. Last year Izzy opted not to go to camp. We later discovered that the reason she didn’t want to go to camp was, once again, because of things like being split into boys vs. girls teams or having to decide where to go to the bathroom.
Last week I posted about Camp Aranu’tiq, the summer camp for transgender and gender variant youth located in beautiful New Hampshire. When my husband and I heard about it, we asked Izzy if she’d be interested. Right away she Googled it and soon thereafter gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up, proclaiming, “It’s a camp with people like me!” So now Izzy will get to fish, swim, kayak and play basketball without being concerned about having to dodge a million questions. As for the bugs, that’s another story.
If Izzy decides she would prefer to be called Zack, I’ll do it. If she asks us to switch to male pronouns, we will. If she someday desires to undergo hormone therapy, we will find the money to make it happen. As of today, she hasn’t asked for any of these things. And perhaps she never will. The thing that is most important to me is that my daughter is happy. I am no different from any other parent who strives to have children that are happy and healthy.
Now I don’t profess to be an expert on being transgender or gender variant. I have read a lot about gender variance in the last year or so and I still have much to learn. I can only imagine how it must feel to be in a body that you don’t feel comfortable inhabiting. But I don’t have to imagine what it is like to make every effort to ease any discomfort my daughter may experience by ensuring that she is loved, accepted and supported. Every day. No matter her choices.
And in the end, isn’t that what we all want? Well, that and more unisex bathrooms. And the ability to pee standing up.