The blue jellybeans were assembled in pint-sized mason jars on my kitchen table. My husband was about to head to the store to pick up the balloon bouquet while I put finishing touches on the decorations. The kids and I had made a batch of homemade chocolate ice cream, and the giant, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie was frosted in blue with our son’s new name: Max Grayson. “It’s A Boy!” read the banner across the wall and on the sign in the front yard. We were thrilled to welcome so many excited guests to our home for “Baby Shower 2.0.”
We had already thrown our child a baby shower back in 2008, back when we named him Mary Grace and thought he was our daughter. Our son is nine years old now and has been telling us he is a boy since he was two. Once we were able to finally recognize that he was transgender — a process that was neither fast nor easy — and then took the steps necessary to officially change his birth certificate from female to male and amend it with his new legal name, we felt it absolutely necessary to celebrate this milestone. We had finally arrived here together, and this moment deserved a party.
So we had a do-over. And, instead of pink decorations, everything was in blue. (And, yes, the irony of having a gender-bending kiddo and still insisting on blue decorations is not lost on me. I get it..)
It’s not easy, raising a transgender kid. Especially not here in Texas, which seems hell-bent on discriminating against my son with every new piece of legislation that’s proposed. There are no guidebooks on this, very few organized support groups and an awful lot of internet strangers who feel that they know what’s best for my “daughter” while threatening to call child protective services. There is some progress being made to educate parents and allies who need it most, but this progress is slow and there’s still not enough of it yet.
Seven years ago, when Max told me he was a boy, I didn’t even know what the word “transgender” meant, I insisted to him that he was actually a tomboy. I told him that there were lots of different ways to be a girl and that he could be anything he wanted to be when he grew up, but that he’d always be a girl so let’s try to find a comfortable way together to express that. We let him pick out his own clothes, trading sundresses for Spiderman t-shirts and let him cut his hair short (because honestly, he’d scream bloody murder whenever I tried combing out his thick, knotted pigtails). Over time, this child looked more and more like a boy, to the point where other people would compliment us on what a well-mannered and considerate young man he was.
“Actually,” I’d say, wanting to challenge their preconceived gender stereotypes, “that’s my daughter. Her name is Gracie.” And then I’d step back and watch their minds explode.
More often than not, though, what would happen is that the stranger would apologize and feel embarrassed for mis-gendering my child. “I’m so sorry,” they’d say. “She just looks so much like a boy, I assumed she was one. I feel awful.”
“It’s okay,” I’d reply. “It happens a lot, actually.”
Then I’d look at my child, who I realized also felt embarrassed in that moment. I started to wonder: Maybe the strangers weren’t the ones mis-gendering this child. Maybe I was.
When he was four years old, my child asked me, quite sincerely, if scientists could turn him into a boy. He dressed in nothing but superhero costumes from the age of two until he started kindergarten so that people would call him Batman or Spiderman instead of calling him by a girl’s name. He wore a hat to cover up his long hair and would cry every time I tried putting a clip in it just to get his bangs out of his face. And in 1st grade, he decided it would be better to hold his bladder all day at school instead of use the girl’s bathroom that he felt uncomfortable in. Almost overnight, my sweet, goofy, helpful, athletic, popular, precious child lost his buck-toothed, freckled smile and became gloomy, moody and quick to lose his temper. His grades were slipping. He was losing weight from the stress of it all.
I couldn’t put this off any longer. It was time to talk about that elephant in the room. My child wasn’t a tomboy.— he was actually a boy. And the longer we took to accept this fact, the more he was going to suffer.
That night, Max and I talked about names, pronouns and unconditional love. And as he and I had this (what I now realize was a totally inevitable) conversation, I looked at this precious miracle right in front of me and remembered that he was truly no different now than he was yesterday. Or the day before that. Or the day before that. I would love him no differently because of this, and I needed him to know that.
You’d think that I’d have a hard time with admitting that my son is transgender, but honestly, I don’t. “My transition” wasn’t exceptionally difficult (and I say my transition because Max has always known who he is) — it just took a while for me to come around. Maybe if there had been more readily available resource for parents of trans kids back then, I might not have made Max suffer for as long as I did. Who knows? But once I finally understood, I can’t say I’ve ever cried myself to sleep, wondering what the future would hold for my child. I don’t often worry about puberty or dating or whether or not I’ll ever have any grandchildren. I know every parent of a transgender child has their own trials in all of this, but those trials have just never really been my personal experience. It’s not like I don’t know that there are significant challenges ahead for my family, but if helping my transgender son navigate puberty (which pretty much sucks no matter how you identify) is the hardest thing my family has to face, I consider us blessed. Max is hardworking, polite, healthy, happy, compassionate, intelligent and kind. We got this, y’all.
Max is hardworking, polite, healthy, happy, compassionate, intelligent and kind. We got this, y’all.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though. The fact of the matter is that 41 percent of transgender kids have attempted suicide at least once, thanks to the way our society treats them. It’s still legal in 32 states to discriminate against someone in the LGBTQ community, and far too many trans kids are disowned by their families or are bullied at school. This suicide statistic keeps me up at night, and I wonder: Does Max know how much I love him? Did I tell him enough today? How many hugs did I give him before he left for school? When I’m not with him, can he feel me in his heart? Does he know he can talk to me about anything? He’s the most popular kid in his 3rd grade class, but what happens in a couple of years when he goes to middle school? Will things be different then?
He’s so sensitive, y’all. I worry that his little heart might break the first time someone intentionally mis-genders him or bullies him for being transgender. What happens then? Will he be another statistic?
And this is why I fight so hard for him every day. Every. Single. Day. I wake up, put on my marching boots and try to make his life a little bit better, a little more equal and a lot more awesome. Because I absolutely refuse to change my beautiful son, who is just as perfect and miraculous today as he was on the day he was born.
When I was pregnant with Max, I literally gave zero fucks if I was having a boy or a girl — so why would any of that change today? Who cares if I dressed him in pink pigtails as a toddler and basketball shorts and buzz cuts as a kid? He has always been the same child on the inside, and the only thing that’s changed are the words that we use to describe him. I want to teach him that it’s more important to define yourself from the inside out, instead of the outside in.
And that is why I refuse to change my son. He’s perfect just the way he is. It’s going to be easier and a hell of a lot more fulfilling to change the entire world than to change this perfect human of mine. You see, Max doesn’t have a political agenda. He’s just a kid. A kid about to have a baby shower with jars full of jellybeans and a giant cookie with his name on it. What’s not to love?
(Photo courtesy of the author: Amber with her son.)