What I’ve Learned This Year
Our daughter, now 27 years-old, dropped the bombshell letter of her “transition” to “manhood” on us last October. I visited her a few weeks later, and listened to what she had to say. The visit went okay, but I was dismayed to learn that she had recently begun taking testosterone. I knew that I had a small window of opportunity in which to exert any influence I might have left.
Over the next three months I sent her two letters. The third, I delivered in person. That visit did not go well. She did not like the relevant and probing questions I asked. About a month later she cut off all contact with us. My only ray of hope is that it appears she hasn’t blocked our texts. We try to keep the connection open, dropping a neutral note from time to time so that, if she decides to turn to us again, it will be easy for her to do so.
I have been pondering lately what I have learned in all this. This is what I’ve come up with:
I have realized that her estrangement from us began long before her proclamation of a trans identity. She had been withholding information about the depression she was experiencing post college graduation. She excluded us from her “questioning” period, turning instead to God-only-knows-who on the internet. This might be what hurts the most—that she trusted complete strangers more than us.
I have realized that my internal compass, which has guided me for my entire life, is still intact. I know that her trans-identification is a very bad decision. I have no doubt that she suffers from autism or some form of neurodiversity. (Although none of her counselors caught this.) I know that medical transition is not necessary. What she needs is to learn to accept and love herself.
I have realized that the movement to squelch free speech and scientific inquiry is alarming. So today I have begun a letter-writing campaign, targeting leaders of companies or publications that have let me down. My first letter—to the CEO of Springer Publishing, which is retracting a scientific survey about ROGD because of activists’ claims of “transphobia.” Will it do any good? It will do me good. Will you join me?
I have realized that my identity cannot be wrapped up in hers. I have a purpose in life and a meaningful job. I have another child whose relationship I value and a husband who loves and supports me. I cannot allow her to control my life. I turn again and again to Mary Oliver’s poem, “I Go Down to the Shore”: “I say, oh, I am miserable, what shall—what should I do? And the sea says in its lovely voice, ‘Excuse me, I have work to do.’” I refuse to dwell in misery; I have my life’s purpose to fulfill.
Remembering another Oliver poem, “Don’t Hesitate,” which ends “Joy is not made to be a crumb,” I began keeping a daily journal of “crumbs” of joy. And sometimes they are indeed no more than crumbs. But I have learned that I cannot always passively wait for joy. I must seek it in places where I know I can find it—John Rutter’s musical composition, Gloria, is another work of art I can turn to when I can’t find joy elsewhere.
I have realized that my daughter may not outlive me and my husband, that we may have to survive the death of a child. Despite the emotional terrorism perpetrated on parents, I know that it is unlikely that she will commit suicide. But heart attack, stroke, dangerous blood clot, early dementia…all of these are possible.
I am giving much thought to life’s true transitions. Everyone experiences loss—loss of innocence at some point in childhood; loss of loved ones or relationships and the pain that brings; loss of vitality or health in later life. Yet we can move beyond that loss to become someone new. I’m beginning to have a very different perspective on the notion of “resurrection.”
Whether my daughter will return or not, I don’t know. Even if she does, I will never be the same again. I am hoping and working to make the new me better.