Some time ago, my mother wrote a piece about what life is like living through the transition of her son to her daughter. This is the final part of the article. I want to thank all the people who have read what my mother wrote. Too often we hear from the gays, lesbians and transpeople in the Community, but we often do not hear the stories of the parents. That is changing too. Thank you.
A Mother’s Tale
Eighteen months ago, Bridget and my husband joined me in Vermont. It was more than coming home. It was like coming to paradise for Bridget. Self-identified gays and lesbians outnumber all other minorities combined in Vermont. There is a beautiful Gothic-Victorian bed-and-breakfast in the hills above Brandon called “The Birdcage” that specializes in civil unions. Contrary to the predictions of the anti-civil union crowd, Vermont has neither suffered economically nor been swallowed up into a giant sinkhole since the passage of civil unions. I had a customer one day at the supermarket where I work who was wearing women’s shorts and a tank top, loads of women’s jewelry and wedgies. He had chest hair, was balding and needed a shave. There are two transgender doctors in town who have not lost patients and are not subjected to hoards of ooglers as they go about their work. I have found it very easy to tell people at work about Bridget. A simple “I had a son and a daughter and now I have two daughters” suffices. Occasionally, I’ve been asked questions about transgenderism, but no one has said anything untoward about my child. My husband’s family has been completely accepting and Bridget’s uniqueness has actually been helpful to one of her cousins, who suffers from severe psychological problems.
This is Vermont. I know there are other places in this country where people are as accepting as they are here, but because Vermont is so small, it is more easily seen here…the mainstreamed mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped, the little people, the flamboyantly gay men who all live in the daylight as parts of our society. Vermont has a very progressive social services system that keeps people in their homes and in society where other places would opt to put them into institutions or let them disappear onto the streets. I’m not claiming that there are no prejudiced people in Vermont, but we have a tradition here of not getting into each other’s faces. My oldest friend is opposed to gay marriage, but we were able to discuss it rationally and realize that most of her opposition is in the vocabulary, not the union. She accepts civil unions, but her religious background makes her oppose the use of the word “marriage” in connection with gays and lesbians.
Our local television station ran a three-part piece on transgenders. Wonders never cease.
Vermont’s health insurance program for unemployed and under-employed adults is paying for a new endocrinologist and therapist for Bridget, though we have to buy her hormones out-of-pocket. That alone is a major step forward. The new endocrinologist is willing to treat Bridget’s transgenderism and weight issues simultaneously, which is doing wonders for her.
For Bridget and all transgenders the rest of America’s health care system infuriates me. I hate watching my child live half a life, denied what she wants most, because health insurance doesn’t cover sex-change surgery or even full testing and the idea of saving up tens of thousands of dollars for her surgery is unrealistic even if the economy were flourishing. I want Bridget to have a full life. Living between genders is a massive strain on anyone’s psyche. I want the medical community to acknowledge that transgenderism is a physical and medical condition that deserves insured treatment just as much as any congenital condition. How much sooner could Bridget have been properly treated if other state’s were as supportive or if the entire system were accepting of the realities of transgenderism?
I’m pleased that there are more transgender support groups now. We’ve read too many stories of men and women who transitioned in their fifties and sixties because their condition was so-little understood until the past 15 years or so. Now, transgenders are aware of their condition at younger ages and have a chance to live less of their lives in the shadows. There is still a long way to go. Young people who believe they are transgender need to understand the reason for the therapy protocol. Teenagers don’t necessarily know how to sort out being gay from being transgender. The therapy is necessary. Finding a therapist is still very hard. Bridget has had on-line friends who were trying to live in small towns or cities in the Midwest and South who were having a very hard time finding any kind of support system. We have frequently quoted a question raised by Hugo Weaving’s character in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, “Are the suburbs there to keep us in or to keep [bigoted straights] out?” Big cities are the best place for transitioning transgenders. The gay and lesbian community offers a certain measure of protection and there are more services available. Even here, we are traveling 75 miles in opposite directions for Bridgette’s therapist and endocrinologist.
I cannot and will not say that the last ten years have been easy. They have been a rollercoaster of worry, pain, joy, enlightenment and frustration. I’ve become an even more fervent advocate of nationalized health care than I was before. I’ve let go of my embarrassed hesitancies in dealing with handicapped people of all kinds. I think I’ve become a better person in some respects, but a less tolerant one in dealing with narrow-mindedness and bigotry. I’ve definitely moved further to the political left, though I am still more prone to counseling measured steps to change rather than beating heads and creating entrenchment.
I have a favorite photograph of my children, taken thirty years ago. My beautiful, red-headed son is sitting in a pile of autumn leaves holding his infant sister. I miss the potential of my son. I am acutely aware nearly every day that I will probably never be a biological grandmother and feel the burden of my ancestors. Paul’s passion connected me with the history of my tribe and Bridget will not continue that ancient line. I am happy that I can still hold on to cherished memories of my son. It is not necessary to erase his existence. I have learned to see Paul as part of Bridget’s evolution to adulthood, not as a separate person.
Maybe that’s the answer for all parents of transgenders. Your son or daughter does not die because he or she changes gender. Your child merely moves into another phase. I think Bridget is heartily sick of the number of pieces of butterfly jewelry I have bought her over the years, but the butterfly is the perfect metaphor for a transgender. Paul was a caterpillar. Bridget is a Monarch. In the end, it comes down to how much you love your child as opposed to how much you expect your child to fulfill your own ambitions. If you love your child, you want your child to be happy at almost any cost. I think the hardest thing transgenders face is the idea that if they are rejected by their parents, it is because their parents didn’t love them enough to accept them as they are. This is my child. I loved him when he was a socially inept, overweight geek who lived in his own tightly-wound world. I love her as she explores her new reality and achieves her own goals.
Postscript: Since I wrote this article, Chaz Bono has announced that he will undergo gender-reassignment surgery. If any of our readers are privileged enough to know Chaz’s mother, please pass on our thanks for her honesty in the past and our hopes that their transition will be a smooth and happy one. It is not easy to go from the mother of two opposite-gender children to the mother of two same-gender children, but with love and humor, it can be a fascinating journey.
First Photo is my own.
Second Photo is via Wikipedia
A Mother’s Tale: Life With An Adult Transsexual Child, pt 1
A Mother’s Tale: Life With An Adult Transsexual Child, pt 2
A Mother’s Tale: Life With An Adult Transsexual Child, pt 3
A Mother’s Tale: Life With An Adult Transsexual Child, pt 4