Bathroom Buddies

Right now, things are pretty breezy. I consider us a lucky family. The ones who get to make this social transition while their child is young.

But sometimes I see stories, and I can’t help but think about how hard life can be. I see how hard life is for parents of transgender youth. The teenage years are hard enough regardless of genitalia not being what your peers expect… not that it is anybody’s business what is in your pants.

I recently read a post in a Facebook group I am a part of. And really, it brought me to tears. A family’s daughter had made a friend at summer camp. She went to use the bathroom one day, just like everybody else.. And someone decided to be an asshat, and peek under the stall. And then she was outted, to everyone, at summer camp.. Which brought on many mixed reactions, a few feelings of betrayal, confusion, and a little embarrassment too.

How would you feel if you found out that a friend of yours actually had a vagina, where you thought a penis would be? Does it even matter? Has anything changed about your friend. No.

For most transgender children and youth, the details of their genitalia are not a secret. But this information is certainly private. We live in a world where their lives and livelihood still depend on these private details being kept private. And most transgender children and youth will share these intimate details with only a select few people whom have earned their trust. Cisgender youth also don’t just walk around regularly talking or showing off their genitals. At least I don’t think so, anyway…

But we don’t get to control other people’s emotions. We don’t always know what our new friends experiences have been to this point. Their upbringing. Have they been taught that transgender people are weird, and scary? Have they been taught that they are deviants? Have they been taught that they are worthy of love and support? My hope is for the latter.

Our world has a LOT of catching up to do. We are likely decades away from people seeing gender identity as a completely separate entity from one’s genitalia at birth. And in the meantime, there are going to be some pretty awkward transitions and experiences for those who befriend our transgender children. Hopefully ones that provoke love for human existence, empathy, and kindness.

But at 5… The bathroom conversations are still pretty simple. And, I am going to share one of those with you now.

See my 5 year old has no shame over people seeing his genitalia (yet). So, when his three year old friend wanted to see him use the bathroom yesterday, he let him. This little kid is fresh off of potty training, and so there is a heightened interest in penises and vaginas.

“Do you have a penis Z?”

Mom anxiously awaiting a response, forcibly trying not to interject and see how Z handles this one.

“Yes”.

“Where is your penis, I can’t see it?”

“It’s just a very small penis. It is in there. You just can’t see it. It’s a micro-penis.”

“Oh. Okay.”

I think to myself, alright… That was handled, for now. Three year olds don’t ask too many questions. And, it is actually kind of true. Small penis. A micro-penis I suppose is pretty accurate at this point. And he certainly has fulfilled this small child’s curiosity.

But what will we do when he is 14, at summer camp.. And a nosy kid peeks under the bathroom stall and sees my kid sitting to pee, when most other 14 year olds would be standing at the urinals?

And this is why we need to be having conversations with our children about gender being exclusive of genitalia. And this is why we need to be talking to our children about friendship being exclusive of hanging with whoever is male, and whoever is female. And why we need to talk to our children about PRIVACY in the bathroom.

Because I dream of a day where our transgender youth can use the bathroom without fear of being “outted” by the nosy kid at summer camp. Because really, there is nothing to out. Penises are penises.. And vaginas are vaginas. Cool.

-- Ruby

More on bathrooms, summer camp, and how we see bathrooms differently now in Episode 3 of the Podcast.

The Process of Coming Out

I thought the phrase “coming-out” felt weird for my child. I guess because that phrase is so synonymous with the experiences and stories of people coming out as teenagers or adults. It felt like a grown up experience that just didn’t apply to my child and our family situation. We were simply learning who he was at the same time he was, and moving forward as a family with correct pronouns and name.

But as we lived it, I started to see how it fit for us too. Specifically, how I identified with the phrase. Since my son is so young, he still doesn’t understand the phrase “coming-out” and he certainly doesn’t identify with the act of telling others who he is as some revelation that could be taken in many different ways. At least he didn’t at just 7 years old. J was just J and needed everyone around him to simply understand that.

However, the feeling that I needed to come-out for my child did come. And it came on suddenly. I felt the rush … the all-encompassing and overwhelming feeling that I needed to explain my child to everyone we have ever met AND everyone we will ever meet. These words don’t even accurately describe that feeling. It was debilitating. I shut off a lot of parts of myself as we sorted through this part.

I can only speak to my story. That of a mother of a young child. My child did not know when, why, or how he may need or want to share who he is -- the weight of the responsibility, the weight of the advocacy, fell directly on mine and my partner’s shoulders. We needed to immediately become advocate, teacher and navigator on the who, why, and when we would share. It was not a 7-year-old’s job and we needed all the adults in our life up to speed and 100% onboard quickly so that our son could live happily without having to field questions for himself. He had already done enough of that.

I felt like I was keeping a secret I didn’t want to keep, so I decided we should reach out to extended family and friends. I found some great resources on the GenderSpectrum website on writing a letter and sending it out in an email, and decided this would be the best way to go about it. I’d like to share it with you all here:

Hello to our dear friends and family,

We are writing today to fill you in on some changes in our family, and to ask for your support and unconditional love in the coming days. As many of you know, and others may have observed, J has been gender-fluid for some time now. To most, this simply looks like J dresses and expresses herself as a boy. To our family, this has been a time of exploration. And for J it has been a much stronger internal struggle causing more anxiety than a small child should ever have to face. As parents, we have worked very hard to support J and recently this meant reaching out to professional help with our family doctor, a psychologist, and Trans Care BC.

With the support of these professionals, J revealed, in her own words – “My brain was confused before, but he has made up his mind now, and he is a boy”.   

J now identifies as a Boy (or Trans Boy), we have switched pronouns to he/him/his, and we are using the name J as opposed to his birth name. This may sound quick to some, but for J and our family, it has been a steady and consistent process taking one step at a time. We have learned a lot from the medical help we have received and I would like to share a few points here in hopes that it answers some of your initial questions/concerns

> Studies have shown that most children realize their “true gender” between 3 and 5 years of age, as has been the case with other transgender men I have had the privilege to speak in very open terms with.  

> We have also learned that our child’s transgender identity is not a result of our parenting style, family structure, or environmental factors, and that there is nothing anyone can do to change a child’s gender identity.

> Gender identity is different than gender expression or sexual orientation. I will attach a PDF document to this email for anyone who would like a quick read on the differences … it helps!

> And lastly, that this is not just a phase for J or something that he will outgrow. Children who are so clear at such a young age rarely “change their mind”.

We would also like to share the amazing differences we have seen in J since changing pronouns and fully accepting J for who he is inside. J does not struggle with sleep as he used to and falls asleep quicker and stays asleep the whole night (yay sleep!), he is more social at home and at school, more affectionate with us, and happier! The difference is clear for us, and we couldn’t be prouder of who he is.

Statistically, transgender children and youth have a 48% greater risk of self-harm, suicide and mental illness. BUT, if they have full support from their parents, family and friends, that risk drops to just 4%, which is the same chance as any other child/youth. So we ask you from the bottom of our hearts, for your full support of J and our family by changing pronouns to he/him, using his chosen name J, and identifying him as a boy/brother to R.

We know this will take some time, and we will all make mistakes as we navigate the new pronouns/name together. As long as you are making an effort, we know J will feel so seen, heard, and loved for who he is. It will really make a difference in his life. Some of you have young children, and you may find it difficult or confusing to share this with them. Please reach out to us. We are happy to help you with the best language to use. And we don’t expect this to happen overnight. Take your time. If at our next gathering, your kids do not know, or understand yet, there will be no hard feelings.

One thing to note, please do not bring this up with J. And when you do share this information with your children, please request that they do not ask questions of J unless he brings it up with them. It is a sensitive time for him and he is not quite ready to face the questions. Don’t worry! We are working on that as well. But if the adults in his life can make the switch, it will help a great deal. Any supportive questions or comments you do have can come directly to RJ or myself.

To put all of this simply … Seven years ago a little girl was born, but do you know what?! We were mistaken. J is a boy and we are so happy to have two boys in our family. Please join us.

Lucy and RJ

I sent this to about 45 people one night and waited for the responses … and drank some wine. Hear all the details on Episode 2 of The Gender Diaries Podcast!

— Lucy

I am Parenting a Transgender Child

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.

-- Lucy

Want to hear Ruby’s story? Check out Episode 1 of the Gender Diaries Podcast.