I’ve been hesitant to post this, but I’m floundering and need some input and support.
Background: My 13 year old daughter has identified as a lesbian since she was 10 or so, as I’ve noted on the board before. Her brothers and I are extremely supportive; Dad is so-so (she lives with me); school admin is extremely supportive and watches out for her rights. She attends a support group for LGBTQ kids at least once every week and sees a therapist for support and guidance with her mild attention deficit, self-esteem issues, social relationships, etc. She’s a great kid…good attitude, sweet nature, mature for her age, a devoted and fearless social justice warrior, and almost scary smart.
6 weeks ago she decided to change her already-pretty-nongendered name to an even more nongendered one. She sent an email to her teachers and principal requesting they use her new name as well as using “they” when referring to her rather than using feminine or masculine pronouns. Principal met with teachers and they are doing their best to comply and be respectful of her change.
So: I can’t believe how heartbroken I feel about the name change. It’s been several weeks and it still makes me tearful to discuss it or think about it. I would never have predicted that I’d be so upset about something like this–she’s tossed a hell of a lot my way and nothing has ever thrown me like this. I know I’m grieving but can’t explain it adequately even to myself. Meanwhile, I use her new name when I can and have explained to her that it’s a very difficult change to make and I’m doing my best. She’s very loving and appreciates that I’m trying. But damn…she has no idea how bad I feel about it.
But wait! There’s more! Recently she said she would like to try binding her breasts. I took it under advisement, thought it over, and bought her a couple of good sports bras. I gave them to her and told her to try them, see if they de-emphasize her breasts enough, and we will go from there. I think she is looking for a less-feminine look rather than trying to look boyish, so she seems happy with the sports bra for now.
I don’t know, guys. I’m just so tired. I want to be supportive and never minimize her experience and at the same time my brain is not working with some of the new rules. The whole pronoun issue may never be resolved: my brain sends “My daughter is sick; they have a fever” right back to editing every time and I don’t think that will change. But the biggest fence right now, oddly enough, is the name change. How to deal?
I’ve been hesitant to post this, but I’m floundering and need some input and support.
It sounds like you’re doing the best you can and really that’s all you can do.
I really have no useful advice for you but just love her.
You’re right to support her … in general. But …
The world will laugh in her face about using “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun. Nobody outside of a small school will do that. Certainly not a college, and maybe not even a large high school. And once she graduates … fugeddaboudid.
And her breasts will grow to whatever size they want, regardless of her opinions on what size they should be.
At some point she’s going to have to experience the reality that she can’t bend the world to her specifications, regardless of how important they may be to her.
This might be about the time to have a non-emotional talk about that reality in general. And get her started on the road towards recognizing some battles *can’t *be won and some other potentially winnable battles *won’t *be won. So she will need to learn to choose the winnable ones and let the rest slide.
Her unusualness is, right now for her, a fascinating hobby. As all things sexual are for all 13 year olds. She can build this up into becoming the central guiding & defining principle of her entire psyche, or she can simply have it be part of her being.
If she was totally obsessed with music, or art, or self-mutilation, or football, or chess, or online gaming, you might well want to use your adult perspective and, if necessary your adult authority, to help her avoid falling down the rabbit hole of becoming a one-dimensional obsessive.
One’s sexual identification is legitimately a bigger deal than one’s football monomania. But it still makes for monomania. Which makes for a stunted person living a stunted life.
My bottom line: Support her, but do it smartly, with an eye to her larger self-interests. Which is different from simply agreeing with whatever is her demand du jour.
Well put, I think, and I agree that the world will only bend so far. In our small town, I think we’re seeing a remarkable level of support. And our surrounding college town is probably even more supportive.
This is what I always tell her: It’s entirely appropriate for you to make these requests if they are really the result of your journey. But you have to accept that it is ALSO entirely appropriate for the people you are making these requests to to respond with their own ideas, behaviors, and responses. So some people may say, “No, that name/pronoun change really doesn’t work for me” and you’ll have to decide how to deal with that, because we cannot control what other people do regardless of how we may want to.
I also emphasize that she is not her sexuality and that’s why it’s okay for some people–say, Grandma–to not be entirely in the loop on some issues. And as she is more than her sexuality, so other people are more than their responses to her sexuality, so she must exhibit the same tolerance toward others that she wants to see.
“Her unusualness is…a fascinating hobby.” I like that, because yes, it is. As, I suppose, it is for most teens in one way or another. And I do want to help her grow and become whole while at the same time respecting her journey.
It’s a hard line to walk sometimes.
You said your daughter is seeing a therapist. Maybe you could use some professional counseling also? You probably wouldn’t want the same one your daughter sees, but maybe you could get a referral or recommendation?
I have a therapist as well, and as luck would have it, she’s a lesbian, so she has a great deal of personal experience with some of the thing my daughter’s going through. She’s been a great help in just hearing me and helping me understand the larger picture of the gender issues–the social norms, politics, etc.
I will say for my daughter that she does not do anything lightly or on a whim. When she declared her sexuality, I never thought she was going through a phase or doing the cool thing of the moment. And while I (and I’m sure many others) will probably never get the whole pronoun issue “right”, it does seem to be standard in the genderqueer community. It doesn’t sit right with me because of the grammatical issue, but who knows what the future will bring? 20 years ago, same-sex marriage was a “never gonna happen” reality to most people.
I’m confused (of course). She’s a lesbian, and it’s cool that everyone is cool with it, not least of all her. But what’s with the binding thing. I don’t mean this to be crass or disrespectful, but is this sort of the mirror of a drag queen?
And yeah, I agree the only guidance she really needs is to focus on the rest of her life as much as she is on this. Otherwise she becomes “dyke” as opposed to “person who skates, knits, boxes, feeds stray cats, is a dyke, races cars, writes really terrible poetry, etc.”
Hi Papergirl, I absolutely wish you and your child the best.
LSLGuy, you have always been kind to me, and I am still using the computer utility you wrote for me (right clicking on a file lets me select “Copy full path to clipboard”). But I just have to disagree with some of the things you said.
I’m in the engineering department of an industrial company, and it’s rural and south of the Mason-Dixon line. One of us in the department is trans, and a few of us make a good faith effort with the use of “they”. Nobody laughs at this, at least not where I can hear them. Some of our locations are installing gender neutral rest rooms primarily to guarantee easy rest room access to trans employees.
I have a few trans friends, and had the best time this past summer when I spent two days at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. And I do a lot of LGBT advocacy work and belong to a couple organizations. I think a bit over half of my friends these days are LGBT.
This is an exciting place to be. More and more battles are being won, and lots of things are getting better. This has made it easier for young people to come out, to themselves, to family, to the workplace or school, and on and on.
“Hobby” is really not a good word to bring up in this context. I understand the idea of being obsessed, and one dimensional. It is not trivially easy for adults to manage many of these issues without becoming really wrapped up in it – and I’m not sure it would be best for the rest of us if people did avoid being obsessed. Progress is created by unreasonable people, because reasonable people just manage without making a big deal about things, and don’t fuss about it to force a change. All the big social movements of the past were won by obsessed, one-track-mind troublemakers, after all.
It’s not that hard to learn to refer to a person as they want you to. Lots of the things people want are not that hard to do. It’s more like cooperating than giving a gift or making a sacrifice.
Well, I think I am coming off a bit preachy if not worse, and I really don’t mean to. We have two kids, 38 and 42, and have certainly had our trials. It’s hard to think of a better example of an imperfect thing that could never be made perfect, than parenthood. And I am so sorry about all the things I didn’t do right. Being a parent is more hard than it is anything else. Papergirl, at least I can be deeply sympathetic about that.
I don’t know if this post has turned you off, but I do wish I could help out in some way. I am a sort of a safe contact in the sense that you don’t have to deal with me if you don’t want to, and I’d be happy to try if you did want to. Are there things you think might be helpful that you can ask for?
Hoping for the best, Napier
She says she doesn’t feel masculine OR feminine. (Don’t ask me; I don’t believe I have ever in my life considered whether I feel masculine or feminine, and most days I’d say I don’t really feel either.) But she has an extremely feminine figure and has always worn very feminine clothing–skirts, underwire bras, etc.
We haven’t talked in depth about it yet, but I did establish that she’s looking for a less-gendered, more androgynous style–not that she wants to appear to be a male, but that she’d like to look less girly and busty. That’s why I decided to try to sports bra first–it’ll minimize the boobage without going full-on “boy”.
We’ve looked at various styles and I’d categorize the look she likes as sort of that nerdy college type that both men and women wear–flannel shirts, glasses, skinny jeans, etc. Hipster, maybe?
So I guess the binding was more an effort to appear less girly, and she didn’t really know there might be other options such as sports bra or minimizer. That’s my take on it at the moment, anyway.
I’ve had the experience of talking with someone who asked (very politely, I might add) to be called “they”, and it was a very strange experience. Although it’s not comparable to sexual orientation, people’s language is a natural part of how they define themselves, and using “they” feels wrong.
One thing to keep in mind is that pretty much everyone at that age tries to redefine himself/herself-- to be something they imagine they should be or want to be instead of who they have been. Your daughter is just further out on the spectrum than most of the other kids. As a parent, your job is to allow her to make the decisions for herself that she is mature enough to make. Frankly, I think changing one’s name is not something a minor should be doing, but you’ll have to decide yourself about that.
As for making people use “they/them” instead of “she/her”, well it’s probably a good idea for to learn ASAP that the world is not going to revolve around her no matter how precious a snowflake she might think she is. If her friends and family want to indulge her, that’s up to them. But everyone else? Puh-leeese.
At any rate, ain’t teenagers just a ton of fun!!
All of that makes sense to me. When I was a teenager, I secretly wanted to do away with my breasts (I kinda still do). They didn’t seem as alien as they probably would have if I were a transman. But to me, they didn’t fit with who I was as a person without a strong gender identity And I was only an A cup! I don’t know what I would have done if my body had been more feminine. So I know how your daughter feels.
You sound like a great mom to me. I shudder to think what my mother would have said if I had told her I wanted to hide my breasts.
Napier, thank you. That was a lovely and encouraging post. I’m trying hard to think of what I need right now, and I guess the problem is I just feel sort of lost. My kids have thrown a lot at me over the years–we’ve had sexuality issues (with my older son), unexpected parenting, a few legal problems, etc–and I can usually just roll with it.
I can’t say I understand the gender stuff. I’m trying, and my therapist was able to shed a lot of light on it for me, but at the end of the day I don’t really get it. At the same time, I know that I don’t have to “get” it in order for it to be valid. I know how important it is for kids to know themselves; I always tell her (and her siblings), I’d rather you struggle with the world than to struggle with yourself. She has taken that to heart, I guess.
Mostly I guess I feel like I’m overreacting to the name change. I’m trying so hard to not take it personally, but it is HARD. I gave her that name and it was (and is), to me, the most beautiful name ever. I need to see this not as a rejection but as…something else, I guess.
This has to be tough for you, papergirl. It sounds like you’re being wonderfully supportive.
On the name thing, does it help to think of this as just an extension of a very common teenage process? If her name was Katherine Anne and she’d always been called Kathy, at some point in her teens she would almost definitely want to be called Kat or Katherine or Katie or Anne or Annie, just because that’s what teenagers do: they experiment with identities to see which one feels right on them, and a name is a big part of identity, so it’s a very natural place to try out different possibilities. This is just a more pronounced version of that same thing.
I have to admit my gut reaction is that if one of my daughters wanted to be referred to as ‘they’, I would probably tell her to get lost. If she realised she was actually a boy, I would absolutely refer to him as ‘he’. But ‘they’, no. I’m not saying I’m right; just that that would be a real sticking point for me.
Also, it seems like you’re very reluctant to tell her how hard you’re finding this - you said ‘she has no idea how bad I feel about it’. Is there any reason why you can’t tell her? You’re encouraging her (rightly) to share how she feels, and to expect other people to be respectful of those feelings. Why shouldn’t she also be on the other end of the process - hearing other people’s feelings and taking them on board? It’s good for her to realise that she has an effect on other people, not just the other way around. And if you felt that the communication went both ways, that the two of you were working this out together rather than you simply acting as support and suffering in silence, it might be easier for you to go with the changes she needs.
You’re doing great. Really, you are. Name changes are the weirdly most difficult things too deal with sometimes. A couple if weeks ago, my daughter announced that she wanted too be known by her middle name instead of her first, and that been weird enough. I mean, I gave her that name (also) and its still fucking weird and causing me mental gymnastics and some actual grief. So, you’re not alone on that point. For what it’s worth.
You might want to get blunt with them about the sex thing, though. It’s one thing to feel androgynous or “butch.” Chest binding is good if that’s what they’re feeling. But if they studied they may actually be male, then their window of opportunity for the optimal hormonal management of that is quickly closing. A visit to the doctor for a consultation on the suitability of temporarily arresting puberty while they continue therapy to sort this out might night be a bad idea. It’s not quite as big a deal for a male to get rid of their breasts as a female to get rid if her expanded ribcage and Adam’s apple, but it’s still easier to shape a body that hasn’t competed puberty, from what I understand.
A friend of mine (who changed her first name after her divorce) talked to me about this, and it does help. I do understand the impulse, I am just taking it way more personally than I think I should. It really is sort of a grieving process for me.
Yes. If she wanted to be named Roger and called “he”, okay. “They” doesn’t work in my brain and I don’t see it happening, and I pretty much draw the line at that.
We have talked about it, and while I don’t think she is capable (not having named her beautiful baby girl with the most beautiful name ever) of empathizing, she does understand that it’s very hard for me and that it makes me really sad. At the same time, I feel like I’m disproportionately upset and need to understand that this name change is not about ME, so I do try to be more neutral when we talk about it.
I realized how serious she is when I used her new name and she burst into tears and told me how much it meant to her. That helped a little. In return, she is very accepting that I still often use her birth name in conversation, and she doesn’t correct me because I gave her a big nope the first time she tried.
Instead of “they” (which is awkward for me too), I wonder if you can compromise by avoiding the use of pronouns. That can be awkward too, but not as much.
I once read an article about a person who didn’t have a binary gender identity and chose to go by a creative pronoun. Instead of using it, though, the writer simply referred to the person by name. Perhaps he/she was just a really good writer, but I didn’t notice the absence of personal pronouns until after I’d finished reading.
(good gracious, all those typos in my post hurt my brain. Sorry, tapatalk isn’t great for typing, and usually I rely on the ability to edit on the more readable editing screen, but my phone died I apologize for that.)
Hang in there, papergirl, you’re doing great. I’m the mother of a transgender daughter and the name change kinda broke my heart. It’s just part of letting go of the kid you thought you had and accepting the kid you do have.
Gender ambiguity is harder than a more binary transgender identity. We seem to really want to know if someone is male or female, regardless if they are cis or trans. Natal female/maybe transboy/maybe agender/maybe androgynous lesbians seem a bit more fluid that your standard trans girl/natal male (trying to be clear here).
Anyhoo, I highly recommend The Transgender Child and Transgender 101. So great that the school and community are supportive. We’ve been lucky in that too.
Tons of online resources, by the way. GLAD and PFLAG are good places to start.