By Del Thatcher (also published at her blog rainbowdestiny.com)
I never wanted a son. I only wanted daughters. Is it poetic justice? Irony, maybe? Call it whatever you like. All I know is that I miss my son. I find myself crying over it as if he really died, as though I actually experienced a loss. Suddenly, it just hits me…I miss my boy; my beautiful, musical, brainiac, compassionate, golden-brown eyed, sometimes gross, boy.
When I was 21 I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my first child. All was right in my world despite it being an unplanned pregnancy. After all, I was married to my best friend. We were young and poor (college students) but we had so much love there was a sense of being able to conquer the world with that love. In my naïve little brain, I thought it would just be the icing on the cake if I could have a little girl. That this pregnancy which came earlier than we planned, would at least produce the child of my dreams. Only a girl would suffice. One I could mold into my own idealized version of every heroine I’d ever read about. And believe me, that list was long. Despite having known nothing close to love from my own mother, I was sure that I could love that girl and do for her all the things my mother wasn’t capable of doing for me. This little girl would know what it was like to be cherished by her mother. Of course, it goes without saying that I planned on our doing all sorts of girly things together. We’d do every cliché in the book…and then we’d break them all too! After all, she couldn’t become any kind of heroine if she was only taught and exposed to things that would make her a proper lady. I had bigger plans in mind for her. What a ninny I was.
Given all that, I’m sure you can imagine the disappointment I felt when my ninny headed self was told that the child I was carrying was actually a boy. Yes, I said disappointment. Did you not just read about all my plans for a daughter? Did I not just confess to being a ninny? I did not want a boy. What would I do with a boy? I had bought into all that stereotypical nonsense about boys being messy, rough, only interested in sports. I wasn’t interested in any of those things. I had no idea what it really took to be a mother. Or that each child is a huge mix of stereotypical behaviors. For someone who was so intelligent and fancied herself as open minded, in actuality I was an addlepated twit.
As it does, life carried on as normal. I resigned myself to having a boy. And yes, he fulfilled a good number of those stereotypical behaviors.
Messy? Check. Oh the messes that boy would make. He loved his dumpster and imagined himself a construction site worker long before Bob the Builder came along. He fell into rapturous delights anytime he was close to a puddle. And walking through said puddle was never enough. He had to jump in them to attain full heights of glee.
Rough? Check. When daddy pulled up outside he would hide. As soon as Dad was in the door for a few seconds he would pop out and shout ‘Come on and fight me like a man.’ (Thanks Snoopy and Lucy of Peanuts fame.) Then a rough and tumble wrestling match would ensue. At almost three years old he chewed his toast into the shape of a gun and ‘shot’ me repeatedly after I told him I wouldn’t be buying him a toy gun like so-and-so had.
Sports obsessed? This was where he broke the mold. My boy was more interested in chasing the grasshoppers than a soccer ball. He was compelled to draw in the sand around the bases rather than watch for a baseball or runner to come near. No, sports obsessed he was not. Rather, he loved art, music and anything creative. As a stay at home mom, and former artist, it was sheer joy to set him up with paint and paper. To buy him the box with a gazillion crayons because I knew he’d use every single one in a work of art guaranteed to astound. At four years old he preferred to make books by stacking printer paper and stapling it down the side. He would draw the book cover with crayons and then write a lovely story inside…usually featuring the Land Before Time characters. Over the years he grew into a phenomenal anime artist. We have stacks of his artwork. He was even featured in a few local district wide art exhibitions. More recently, his art was chosen by several organizations for various t-shirt needs.
Starting at age eight we put him in piano lessons. From there his interest in music became an obsession. He dabbled in everything from piano to ukulele to digital. It seems digital is where he felt most at home and happy as it has continued to be an obsession. He began marching band his freshman year. They didn’t need another trombone player so they asked if he could play euphonium. He’d never touched one, yet according to the band teacher, within weeks, he was ‘out euphoniuming’ kids who’d played for years. Sophomore year he was back to the trombone and picked up drums during the after school hard rock club he spearheaded. To say music is like breath to this child would not be an understatement.
The point is, I was wrong. I was so very wrong. From a young age I expressed to him how glad I was to have a son. How I felt that he had been sent to prove just how foolish I could be with my preconceived notions. I was in love with that boy from the moment I held him. When the nurse placed him in my arms I whispered ‘Oh my, you are so beautiful.’ Of course, the nurse couldn’t let that go; she responded as though speaking as my new baby, ‘Oh mom, I’m handsome not beautiful.’ I felt a bit of mama-bearness come on and retorted back ‘NO. This child is beautiful!’ It’s interesting to have this memory be so vivid for me. Only Shakespeare himself could have planned this bit of literary foreshadowing.
You see, when my baby boy was 15, just five short months ago at the time of this writing, he invited Dad and I into his room. He told us he thought he might be gender fluid. Having a degree in sociology, that is a few years old to put it nicely, I was vaguely aware of what gender fluid might mean. Dad and I both expressed love and acceptance and acted like it was no big deal to us. In fact, when we talked about it that night we really did feel like it wasn’t something to be overly concerned about. We figured he’d experiment with girl’s clothing a bit, maybe. We’d keep an eye on it and take it day by day.
Over the next few days I immersed myself in online reading. I bombarded Dad’s inbox with emails about the genderbread person, relative statistics, and applicable headlining news events. Day by day as we talked to our child it became clear that what he really meant by gender fluid is that he is transgender. Accordingly, from here out, I’ll be referring to our child as she.
Being gender fluid we thought wasn’t that big of a deal. Being transgender? Well, to be honest, that rocked our world a bit. Regardless, we expressed our unconditional love for her. We admitted not knowing much but being committed to figuring it all out together. I immediately set about finding a counselor to help us. As parents, we knew we were way in over our heads. We agreed upon having a counselor who would guide us without suggesting we change our child. We knew we wanted only her happiness and if transitioning from a boy to a girl would bring her the happiness she deserved, then so be it. The truth is there are worse things to want to be than a girl, for Pete’s sake.
By mid-summer, it became apparent that my previously held ideas of what it would mean for me to have an LGBT child were a bit off. I didn’t grow up knowing anyone who was LGBT. As an adult I didn’t have any friends or family members who were LGBT. I only knew what I’d read and what I’d seen via television and the movies. I was aware of the struggles LGBT children and adults deal with. It having never touched me, it was easy for me to be the outsider looking in and say things like ‘Why couldn’t that gay teen have been my child?’ I just knew that if I were in that parent’s position, that I could handle it. That I could show that child the unconditional love and support we all deserve. I had decided long ago that my child being gay or trans or whatever, wouldn’t matter to me. My LGBT child would know nothing but love and acceptance. I knew it with every fiber of my being.
In reality, the acceptance part was harder than I thought it would be. Sure, the unconditional love part came easy. But the changes that have taken place have not been so easy to navigate. The hardest thing to accept was that so much of society would judge my child as deviant, evil, an abomination. Dealing with it, was a daily challenge. But that’s to be expected, right?
What I never expected was the feeling of loss I have experienced. Some would say I haven’t lost anything. After all, my child is alive and well. And she is still all the things that she has ever been: beautiful, musical, brainiac, compassionate, golden-brown eyed, and sometimes gross. But the fact is, it FEELS like I’ve lost something. I cannot deny that no matter how much I might want to. And that is the point of this confession. To put it out there. To own it. Sometimes, for no reason at all, I find myself crying over the loss of Boy. Yes, that was one of my favorite nicknames for him. How’s that for another bit of irony?
Today was one of those days. It’s been a few months now since he fully transitioned to she. Sure there’s still the legal name change and the estrogen to start. But for all intents and purposes, my boy has been gone for a good three months. And I still miss him. It hit me on Independence Day that I was experiencing this. At the time, I found it ludicrous that I would feel this way. I couldn’t make sense of it then and I can’t make sense of it now. I wish I could put my finger on what it is I miss so much. Maybe it’s just the idea of a boy that I miss most of all. Maybe it’s like phantom limb pain? It feels like he’s still here, but he isn’t really?
Writing about what has been is easy. Writing about what could be is more of a challenge. But writing about the abstract details of now, this very moment? Writing about feelings that don’t make sense? This is difficult-more difficult than I ever imagined.
How does one mourn for something like this? How do you get over the loss of something that isn’t really gone? I remember reading recently that time doesn’t actually heal all wounds. Rather, time provides us with distance from the wound. With new distractions that make the wound fade into the background. That feels right to me based on my past experiences with loss. Perhaps when the new normal has settled in this will ease up a bit. I’m hopeful for that.
But today, just for today, I am acknowledging my wound. I am owning my wound. I am soothing my wound. I have let the tears fall as I wrote this. It’s true what they say, sometimes you just have to cry it out before you can move on. I’ve done a poor job of that. I’ve told myself crying over this non-loss is silly. That it doesn’t make sense to feel this way. I’ve stifled my sobs and forced myself to think of other things. But I don’t want to have this wound creep out of hidden corners anymore. Sneaking up on me when I least expect it. So for today, just for today, I am letting it out. I am letting the sobs tumble from my shoulders in the hopes that I can truly be done with the bulk of the grieving portion of this journey I’m on.
So, there you have it-my confession. I write it as a method of letting go; as a cathartic activity. And now I share it with the world in the hopes that someone else out there may stumble across it and know they aren’t alone. It’s okay to feel what you feel, even if the feelings don’t make sense to you. It’s normal to have nonsensical ideas and thoughts about our experiences. We all experience this same phenomenon in different ways for different reasons. And the truth is, no one can ever prepare you for what big changes in life are really like. It’s best to take it day by day. And it’s always good to handle yourself a bit gently when going through something so life altering. Now…if I can just convince myself of all that.
In the meantime, I’ve come to recognize that at some point, every good parent has to face that they cannot control their children. It’s futile to even try. And frankly, it’s wrong to try. Every good parent eventually owns up to the realization that the ninny headed dreams they conjured in their youth were maybe not so realistic. That as a loving parent, it is our job to set aside our own dreams for our children. Set aside our overreaching expectations of who we want them to be and instead accept them for who and what they really are. Part of loving our children, unconditionally, is recognizing the beauty of who they are independent of our expectations. Unconditional love means we don’t push our dreams onto them. Rather, we work to help our children discover what their own dreams are and then we work to help them grow into adults capable of fulfilling those dreams for themselves. I’m sure I would have come to this realization had our path not taken quite so big a detour. Surely I would have! Right?
Looking back, in spite of our blindness, it seems possible that my family was always headed toward a rainbow destiny. Now that we’re here, we are determined to make the best of it. After all, as Shakespeare once wrote “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
OK, I admit it, there are still lots of things I want my daughter to be. I’m just not going to force them on her.
As a newcomer to LGBT issues, Del has come to recognize that talking about our expediencies in real, honest ways will help to bring normalcy and acceptance sooner than they might otherwise. She is the mother of a transitioning 16 year old transdaughter. She works in the website hosting industry and runs a nonprofit children’s theatre in her ‘spare’ time. She is married to her perfect match, Daniel, who converted her to the Mormon faith while they were dating.