How do I know I’m a boy?

Colin used to ask me this so often and it left me confused and a bit bewildered. How didn’t he know he was a boy? It’s something you just know. So I’d answer the question as best I could.

“You’re a boy because you have a penis and when you grow up you’ll be a man. Nothing’s going to change that.”

He’d calmly accept that answer and skip off, while I wondered if he was being bullied again and just wasn’t telling me. He’d already complained about being called a he-she on the playground, which is what I’d chalked the questions up to.

Fast forward through a lot of years, right up to the Q&A we did a few days ago, where Colin answered the question of “How long have you known you were trans” with…

“I honestly don’t know. Looking back, like when I was younger, I wanted to be a girl but I never knew why.”

All the time I thought he was asking because of being teased, he was asking because he felt like a girl. And that just breaks my heart.

But, at the same time, I had no real idea what transgender was. My only examples were Klinger on MASH, who is definitely not trans and a person in our town who was horribly nicknamed Terry the Fairy who paired a dress with hairy legs. I have no idea how he identified.

Our doctor wasn’t very trans friendly, something we discovered last year, and he’d have been sent to see Dr. Zucker, who is known for being transphobic when it comes to children. He felt that teens and adults knew their gender but that kids were flexible and responded “well” to conversion therapy.

I also would have needed to deal with my ex husband, who’d claim the sky was green if he thought it would hurt me. He’d have fought me long and hard and had someone in the background willing to pay for a lawyer.

So, in reality, it wouldn’t have made a difference, other than giving my ex some more ammunition and possibly traumatizing Colin, but I can’t help thinking of how I tried to help and cringing at my words. And I can’t help looking at Colin’s answer and wishing he’d had a better way and better choices.

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Colin playing in our backyard with our friends’ pick up truck

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Colin’s answers…

 

Colin, I would like to know what is your passion, something you always love doing and talking about, or do you have more than one?

I have a few. Computers, video games, and technology in general. On Steam alone I have 170 video games and then I have twelve computers and out of those eight work.

I was wondering, have you gotten more than one medical opinion on the possibility of being able to have biological children if you medically transition? I have read lots of articles about trans women choosing to stop hormones temporarily in order to provide viable sperm. Though there does come a time when it gets past the point of that working. Which could be a worry if you are are really set on having a biological child.
So I know your main reason for not medically transitioning at this time, but I’m curious as to why you have chosen to not continue transitioning socially? Are you truly happy going by male pronouns and using the name Collin? Have you ever considered continuing to transition on a social level while starting to save up money to have your sperm banked? (Maybe one of the online fundraising sites would be useful). Then once you’ve had that done you’d be able to start medically transitioning if you so choose without having that worry. I’m just curious as to what the thought process has been?

It’s more than just that I’m dealing with, more than the fact of having kids. Transitioning, I don’t know how I’d look afterwards. I really don’t have the time while I’m in school so adding transitioning into it really wouldn’t help. I honestly don’t know if I’m happy going by Colin. I’ve seen a few medical doctors and statistics. Statistically there’s been a few trans people who have been able to stop hormones to have a child but it isn’t the majority.

Colin, I am confused why you put so much trust in one doctor that knows a lot less than those in your community (the trans community), in choosing not to transition. I just want to understand where your coming from, as someone who chose not to at a young age, and regretted it in the harshest way later.

The doctor really was helping me out a lot. It also wasn’t just him but others in the transitioning world. It’s not just the fact I can’t have kids which is the problem, I’m having other problems as well. The fear of the unknown strikes again. I don’t know how I’d look. And there’s school, I have a lot of school stuff to do and, once I get into college I won’t have enough time to transition.

Colin, how long have you known you are trans?

I honestly don’t know. Looking back, like when I was younger, I wanted to be a girl but I never knew why.

Would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or one-hundred duck sized horses?

One hundred duck sized horses because then I could just kick them all [vegan Mom: why not just adopt them out]

If you ran the zoo.. which animals would be in it?

If I ran the zoo, I’d definitely have to have, like, a few polar bears, a few lions, a few tigers, and a few bears. Oh and a few horses [Mom: but sadly no duck sized ones], and a t-rex.

Okay cuz I have one… How does a person help support someone who is either going through the changes of becoming another gender is thinking about it? Okay, two questions what kind of advice or thoughts would you like to offer people in general who are either ignorant (by choice) or just don’t know?

Well it’s always different from person to person. The best thing to do is just ask them. Suggest things like PFLAG if they don’t know about it already but, yeah, just ask. If they don’t know, tell them that it’s their choice, they’re not harming anyone, it doesn’t matter, and that should suffice for most people. But if they really hate it and they’re saying it’s for religious reasons that we have freedom of religion. We don’t have to follow anyone’s religion if we don’t have to. You can also mention the high suicide rate for people who can’t transition even though they’re trans. [Mom: J, I have a resources page on my blog that you can share with your friend and, like Colin, I strongly recommend PFLAG both for you and your friend. They welcome allies with open arms and have lots of information, both in groups and one on one]

Colin wants to know if anyone would like him to do a blog post himself. He’s definitely willing.

Colin on the dock

Colin sitting at the dock waiting for the ferry to take us back to shore after our cliff climb

Dear Parents, love your children…

Not just your straight, cisgender children but your rainbow children too. My heart is breaking over little Anthony Avalos, who’d been abused for years alongside his siblings, but killed after he came out gay. He was young enough and innocent enough that he didn’t even come out as gay. He said that he “liked boys”.

He was failed in so many ways. People had called the Child Protective Services sixteen times over the years regarding multiple bruises on the children. He finally died of severe head injuries while covered in cigarette burns.

I remember reading a case a few years ago that was almost identical. A young, presumed to be gay boy, a history of abuse of all siblings, a final, fatal beating. The only difference was the boy was around kindergarten age.

And there’d been another case in 2013 where the son, Gabriel Fernandez had been assumed to be gay and was beaten to death while his siblings simply got ignored. Once again the calls about abuse were ignored and they continued with the beatings until he was dead.

That’s enough. Please let that be enough. It’s enough already that 40% of homeless youths are LGBTQIA, kicked out when they come out. It’s enough that 30% of all suicides are LGBTQIA, and it’s way too much that almost 65% of unsupported trans youths have contemplated suicide with 49% attempting.

There’s still conversion therapy with all it’s horrors. Not everywhere but it’s still lurking. The author of one article I read went to one such camp and was told, flat out, by the staff that half of them would be dead by the end. Soon, the youngest, had killed himself and, by the end, half the group was gone.

Little Anthony should be at the end of a month of celebrating being himself, the end of rainbows and confetti, and loud, happy parades. He should have strings of multi-coloured beads hanging off his bed and memories of being welcome. He should not be a tiny figure in a too large body bag.

Colin was six years old. I was taking a load of recycling over to the bins when he asked if he could marry one of his male classmates who he loved dearly. Another time he informed Kait that his heart was broken because he’d asked a boy out and got turned down. Within a year or two he was interested in girls but he certainly didn’t for a couple of years. My answer when I was asked about marriage was “yes you certainly can”, even though we were a few months away from equal marriage being legalized. He deserved the same love and attention as his sister and he got it.

Please, if you cannot handle raising an LGBTQ child, let them go. Call up CPS or CAS and tell them your child is gay or trans and their life is at risk under your care. I don’t care if you have to drop them off in front of the office and leave them there, just get them out of your care before you make them a statistic.

And, for the ones who are simply confused and unsure what to do, take a look into your local PFLAG. They will help you understand what’s going on and give you resources. If you have a local chapter, you can even meet up with other parents and talk about your questions and concerns.

But can we please have no more little rainbow children in body bags. Can we please let them grow?

Colin

When love listens…

It was another angry morning. Colin was upset about a video someone produced, wishing single Moms a happy Father’s Day. He ranted through the whole video then pointed out there was only one happy Mother’s Day for single Dads and it had been made in retaliation.

“For a young woman, you sure get awful shirty about feminist issues,” I commented and he exploded.

“I’m not a woman! I’ll never be a woman! I don’t want to hear you say that again!!!”

“Umm okay,” I replied. I mean what else could I say? And he went on ranting about the school system and how it lets down boys and young men.

Our day went by. He went to school, getting drenched on his way, and we went grocery shopping… thankfully between rainstorms. Finally we were home and the food was put away.

“I was reading an article today,” I commented as casually as I could. “Both parents are trans and they both stopped taking their hormones and he got pregnant.”

“That’s really rare,” Colin replied.

I shrugged, “I think it’s a lot less rare than the doctors say. They only hear about it if someone wants to study it. Meanwhile trans people are the ones out there having the babies. Besides, sperm is reproduced all the time so once the hormones die down the sperm will start up again.”

Then Colin threw a curve ball.

“Mom? I can’t transition. What if I end up ugly?” he said, his voice almost a plea.

“You’re not going to be ugly,” I assured him. “Look, I see lots of before and after pictures online and hormones do amazing things. I’ll see a picture of someone who looks like your average man and, wow, she turns into a beautiful woman.”

He just smiled and went off to play video games. Meanwhile I made dinner and thought.

It wasn’t until after dinner that I approached Colin.

“I have something I want to say to you,” I started.

Colin laughed. “And I might hate you for it.”

“Hate me for what?” I asked and he laughed again.

“You’ll find out,” he replied with yet another laugh. At least he was in a good mood.

“I love you,” I started, “and I just want you to know you’re gorgeous.”

He stilled.

hard to fly“You are gorgeous no matter what but even if you transition you still will be gorgeous. You don’t have to be gorgeous by cis standards. You will be an absolutely gorgeous trans woman.”

There was absolute silence for a moment then Colin leaned over for a hug.

“I love you,” he murmured.

“I love you too,” I replied.

Maybe he will never transition. Maybe. But everything I’ve ever read or heard says it gets harder and harder not to be your true self and chances are someday Colin will need to transition. And I want him to know, no matter what, that he’s gorgeous.

The pause…

I don’t know why I’m surprised each time it happens, but I am. I’ll be in a conversation with a stranger, like a cashier, and then it comes. The pause.

“… and is your… son vegan too?” the cashier asks as she scans my vegan margarine and packages of Gardein vegan “meat”, giving Colin a not so subtle second glance.

Colin smiling on his balconyThe pause is *just* long enough to be noticeable and happens often enough that I know it’s happening. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Colin’s been through puberty and now wears all his clothes from the mens section of clothing stores. He’s also horrible at shaving and usually has a tad more than a 5 o’clock shadow. I know he has long hair but so many men do these days, it shouldn’t warrant confusion. And, yet, people (multiple people) still pause and give him a second glance before choosing his pronoun. Some even start out referring to him as female, only to revert to male pronouns with no little amount of embarrassment.

These days everyone we know has settled back to Colin and him, as if he never was Emma and her. As if it’s not even been half a year since he detransitioned for fertility reasons. Everyone except for his doctor’s office, who he never informed otherwise. Maybe he just forgot? Maybe he gets some relief from hearing someone calling him by his real name? I don’t know. I haven’t asked.

Meanwhile, we’ll still continue to go out for walks and shopping and Colin will continue to get “the pause”.

My Invisible Daughter…

Colin on a spring walkThe picture showed up on my newsfeed via the “on this day” app. Colin was smiling for the camera in his usual fashion.

“You don’t show your teeth when you smile!” he exclaimed once when I commented on his shy, almost hesitant smile.

His bright blue hair was lightened by the sun and his clothes were almost blinding. Then I glanced over at today’s Colin, who was sitting on my bed and asked, “Do you miss your old bright clothes?”

“Well, yeah,” he admitted then we both fell silent. I don’t go into Superstore’s men’s department at all, which is where we bought the tops and pants, but I haven’t seen anyone wear anything similar recently. Meanwhile, all of Colin’s current clothes are various shades of grey, as if he wants to fade into the background.

I thought about my bubbly, outgoing teenager who stood up and stood out. Who was proudly out as trans, asking teachers and classmates to use his pronouns. Then I thought of all the people who refused because zie and zir were “too weird” and “too hard to remember”. The teachers who used he and him repeatedly in class, only to lie and say they used the right pronouns all the time. Pro tip, if you’re using the right pronouns “all the time” you won’t slip up 9 times out of 10 at a parent teacher conference.

I thought of all the people, especially older men, who blatantly stared at him, often turning in place to continue watching. Colin claimed he never saw them but they were so very obvious.

walking Lara at Cedar ValleyI remembered how shyly Colin came out as female and how relieved he was when I believed him. How we laughed and joked on that snowy trail, thinking up names for her and coming up with the most outrageous ones we could think of.

We sat on the news for a couple of weeks until Colin felt comfortable sharing the information. Then he got me to share the big news. He was scared of what people would say. So I explained he was now Emma and would be using she/her pronouns. My friends were awesome and immediately switched pronouns and name. My family was very supportive of him, continuing right on using Colin, he, and him. Every foray into feminine clothes brought about extreme anxiety for Colin. What were people going to say? What would they do? Would he get beaten up? Is this what would get him disowned.

Then summer rolled around and brought along Colin’s birthday, complete with a long, nasty post from his Dad that started with, “happy birthday son love you colin”. The whole fiasco ended up with Colin getting disowned by his Dad. Kait’s since been disowned and neither one of them speak to their father any more. No matter how much they know they’re better off not speaking to him, it’s bound to hurt.

Then it came time to try and start on hormones. Our family doctor was not optimistic. He admitted he had no real experience with hormones and said that one of his patients gave up and detransitioned because hormones were taking too long. Then he went on to make several questionable comments, all prefaced with “I’m not prejudiced but” and finally he explained the wait for hormone therapy would take years plus many bus trips into Toronto. Bus trips we couldn’t afford.

I searched and asked for help and finally got the number of a local clinic that does hormone therapy. Once again Colin (then Emma) was so happy. Soon she could be herself. The doctor informed Colin that he’d be rendered infertile as soon as he started hormone therapy and anyone I’d talked to who knew otherwise was anecdotal. We couldn’t afford a sperm bank.

And that was the final straw. Colin asked to go back to Colin again. Asked for me to use he and him. If he couldn’t have a baby while female, he wasn’t going to transition.

So now I have an invisible daughter. I know she’s there. I catch a glimpse of her sometimes in the way Colin fluffs back his hair. In the shape of a smile. But no one else sees her.

“Do you miss being female?” I asked and was surprised when Colin shook his head no. I thought for a moment.

“Do you still feel female?” I asked.

“Of course,” Colin replied instantly. “I just can’t be female because I want kids.”

“You’re going to need to tell your girlfriend you’re a woman,” I pointed out. It was Colin’s turn to look surprised.

“Why?” he asked.

“Aren’t you going to transition after having kids?”

“Well no,” he replied. “By the time I have kids it would be harder… well, anyways, I’m ugly enough already as it is.”

He left the room and my heart broke.

The comment section…

I remember my first exposure to the comment section. I was reading an article from the Toronto Star and noticed they had comments. I eagerly went to read, thinking it would be like the letters to the editor, heavily moderated and edited for brevity. They were no such thing. People were battling it out in the comments, complete with name calling. Later I realized that was the same for almost all sites. The comment section is where you tread carefully because trolls abound.

Then Emma came out as trans. I joined groups and made friends with both trans people and with parents of trans children. And, of course, articles about trans issues began flooding my newsfeed. And the trolls quickly followed. Once the transphobic trolls are weeded out, I find there’s five questions that surface again and again.

  1. The gender nonconforming girl and it’s always a girl. No men ever step up to talk about their gender nonconforming days *cough* toxic masculinity. She wanted to be a boy so badly when she was growing up. Boys had more freedom. So she wore boys clothes and had short hair. She might have even tried to pee standing up. Then she became a teenager and, voila, she because super girly. Loved lipstick and makeup and pretty dresses. Now she’s happily married to a man. If she was born today she would have been labelled trans. But, no, that’s not how it works. Trans children are almost always insistent and persistent. They know what sex they are and say it loud and clear. I’m a boy. I’m a brother. When will I grow a penis? They don’t just want to be a boy, they are a boy. If she was growing up now, she’d be labelled “gender nonconforming” just like countless other children today.
  2. There’s only two genders! Except there’s not. There are cultures all around the world who have more than one gender. Some have as much as five (the Bugis people in Indonesia for example). In North America, the indigenous people had a third gender known as two spirited. They were revered as wise people because they contained both male and female spirits. Our modern culture isn’t the only culture in the world.
  3. Tagging along with two genders comments are the people who say things like “my XX children are girls”. Maybe they think adding a bit of genetics into their argument will make them sound more intelligent. Pro tip, it’s not working. No one seriously thinks you took your children in for genetic testing just so you could rant on Facebook. There are well more than five genetic variants, with things like single X, XXY, XXX for example. If you haven’t tested your child, you don’t know what their chromosomes are. You could be in for a surprise.
  4. There’s always some who trots out the “My kid pretended to be a dog. Should I have changed his name to Rover and let him eat off the floor?” We all know kids love pretend play. They pretend to be cats and dogs and superheros and princesses… and sometimes an amalgamation of several of those. But there’s a huge difference between pretend play and being trans. Trans children are insistent and persistent. They often become withdrawn and confused because nobody else sees them as the gender they know they are. Some, as young as four or five, try to commit suicide. It’s not a game. Pretend play is fun and passes within a few weeks at the latest. Trans stays. The child might pretend to be cis if they’re met with extreme negativity, derision, or threats of or actual violence but they still know they’re trans and most eventually come out, whether it’s in their 20’s, 30’s, or even sometimes in their 80’s.
  5. Last, but not least, are the people who worry about the children changing their minds. How are they going to revert back? The answer is easy and should be obvious. They start using their birth name again and get a new wardrobe and haircut. Reverting back to their assigned gender isn’t very common however and often the child turns out to be non binary rather than being a cis male or female. The people who ask this question are usually quite uninformed and assume that transitioning to male or female in childhood somehow requires surgery. It doesn’t. No one is performing sexual affirmation surgery on children. That doesn’t happen until the late teens at the earliest.

I will sometimes wade into the comment section of articles and dispense answers, not because I think I’m going to get a bigot to think but because of all the people lurking. The people who know nothing about trans people and are willing to learn, the parents of trans kids, and trans people who are getting disheartened by all the transphobic comments. Besides, even if I only change one person’s mind, it could make a life time of difference to their child.

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Colin, when he was younger, in some of his favourite dress up clothes