Kills Me Every Time
Years ago, I was sick with a serious disease. Let’s call it cancer. People were uniformly kind in their concern but their attempts to say just the right thing could be misguided and sometimes downright comical. Some folks got it right—a look in the eye, a squeeze of the hand, an “I’m sending good thoughts your way”. That’s really what I needed. But others got it terribly wrong. Among those were stories of their friends or family members who had the same cancer as me and died or their description of the litany of horrible side-effects I could expect from chemo or, my favorite, “You’re going to need a miracle to beat this”. Really? Because I was kind of hoping that modern medicine would cure me. And, thankfully, it did. So now I can look back and laugh, especially since I know they did mean well.
Today I find myself a member of another sad community—parents of trans-identified kids. Mine is 23. A daughter. On Testosterone for four years. Now I have to contend with another collection of people’s reactions to (what I consider) a very unhappy turn of events. The comments run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. A sampling:
Would you mind if she was gay?
Me: Do you mean am I a homophobic bigot? Well, no. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind at all if she was a lesbian. I hear they are a disappearing breed. I honestly don’t care how she presents herself to the world or who she sleeps with as long as she doesn’t have to commit to lifelong medication with debilitating consequences to do so. But thanks for asking!
She signed an informed consent, right? So, she knew what she was getting into?
Me: You’d think so, but not really. She signed the informed consent when she was at university. She was 19 years old, in the throes of depression and anxiety and caught up in this social contagion. I don’t think she was in the right state of mind to get out of bed, let alone understand and agree to all that transitioning entails. What 19-year-old, in the best of mental health, can comprehend lifelong medication, possibly resulting in a hysterectomy and infertility? Did she really understand the dental complications? Or the baldness? Who thinks this is possible for a teenager?
You’re not going to believe this, but my neighbor’s cousin’s daughter just came out as trans!
Me: Yes. Yes, I am going to believe it. I told you it was a social contagion. Clearly, you didn’t believe me.
So, like Caitlyn Jenner?
Me: Nope. Not at all like Caitlin Jenner. Who was a mature adult when she made this decision. I wish her all the best.
How is [insert trans name] doing?
Me: Take a deep breath, smile and reply “Fine, thank you for asking”. But inside I’m thinking “If your kid was anorexic, I would not ask if they had achieved their target weight yet. But you know nothing about this topic other than what you read in the mainstream media, so I’ll let it slide”.
How is [daughter by her birth name] doing? She must have graduated by now, right?
Clearly this person has no idea what is going on and I envy their innocence on the topic. Not wanting to introduce tragedy to a friendly exchange I give my standard elevator pitch. “She left college and is taking some time off to ‘discover herself’. You know how kids can be”. They usually respond with a chuckle and an “Oh, do I!” and we go our separate ways.
But the worst, by far the hardest, reaction to deal with is when they say nothing. When they don’t ask about her by any name but ask about every other member of the family. Because then, I know they know. And they know that I know they know. And they feel terribly for my family and don’t know what to say. Then it feels like she really is gone. Like I never had a daughter. Like she didn’t exist. Like she’s dead. And that kills me every time.