The moment I knew J was transgender was on a camping trip to Vancouver Island. It is a special place that I spent annually with my family growing up, and now my husband and I take our two children every year to camp, search for crabs, and make summer memories. It is certainly my happy place, and I hope it will be the same for my kiddos when they look back years from now.
That summer, J was six years old and had just finished Kindergarten. It was what I can only call a terrible first year of real school. J struggled with anxiety that school year and when the summer came, we could tell, he was so much happier and freer.
J had been gender creative ever since he could express himself clearly around three years old. As a new parent, I was always pretty clear that I would raise my children from birth in a way that they wouldn’t feel the pressure to fit into a gender box. At least not from me. So the line between how much was coming from inside him and how much was my influence as a parent was very blurry.
Up until that camping trip, I thought I was raising a super-awesome future Feminist. And I guess I was, but he isn’t my Feminist daughter, he is my Feminist son.
As is usually the way, my kiddos made fast-friends with a couple kiddos in the neighbouring campsite. It is something I love about camping, the fast-friendships that are formed while running through the forest. And just as J experienced in Kindergarten, when he meets new kids, there is always the same question.
“Are you a girl or a boy?”
J was a kid with a feminine name and a masculine expression, so for young children who love to categorize the box was blurry and that just doesn’t fly with 4-7 year olds. Ha! J liked to fly under the radar, avoiding answering the question. But his brother piped in,
“J is a girl,” he said.
Poor J was noticeably upset with this and his behaviour started getting what I call “goofy”. He became uncomfortable in his skin. He started to make funny noises, play in over-the-top ways, and react very sensitively to the ups and downs of regular play.
I have seen this over and over. The spike in anxiety, behaviour and emotions that comes when J is not comfortable in who he is or how others see him. But that day was the first time I connected his anxiety with his gender non-conformity. I always thought his behaviour and worry was separation anxiety and distinct from his gender expression. I was wrong.
That night in the tent, emotions ran high. J could not settle down to go to sleep. All of us were frustrated. Any and every tiny thing would set him off in a fit of anger and sadness so intense, we were beside ourselves. This had happened before for sure ... everything is harder at bedtime … anxiety is high at bedtime.
But tonight we were in a tent, with thin tent walls that didn’t hide anything from neighbouring campsites. I was embarrassed and impatient, and that only heightened the emotions for him until he finally blurted out,
“Why can’t I just be a BOY?”
I froze as it hit me like a truck. I wasn’t frustrated or impatient anymore. It was clear, clear as day. I heard him, I saw him. I calmed my body and voice and looked him in the eye and said,
“Oh honey, you can be whoever you want to be. You can be a boy.”
The next day we went for lunch to an Italian restaurant. It was fancier than we would normally bring the kiddos to, but we needed good food and maybe a glass of sangria. J and R were colouring the supplied colouring pages, and when J finished he asked if he could write his name on it. I said “of course”, confused because he knew how to write his name. I wasn’t sure why he was asking permission. Then he says,
“How do you spell JACK?”
I looked at my hubby, looked back at J, and spelled it out. Just like that. It was that complicated and that simple all at the same time.
Want to hear Ruby’s story? Check out Episode 1 of the Gender Diaries Podcast.