What’s in a Name?
For my 14 year old daughter, on her birthday:
My sweet kid. It’s your 14th birthday but we can’t sing the song and watch you blow out the candles as we always have. We can’t even say your name—to utter the name I gave you—your given name—is forbidden. It’s what you like to call your “dead name”. It’s one of the many lies you have been told.
How did this happen? Your life was once so full of joy.
You loved to play soccer in the rain. I remember the last time I watched you on the muddy hill on the sidelines from my lawn chair. I didn’t know it would be the very last time. I was under my tiny umbrella, freezing cold. I can still see you running, with your face to the sky, laughing as the tears rained down from the clouds.
You were so strong and confident—fast and proud. You felt so sure of yourself until your body betrayed you. Your breasts made you cripplingly self-conscious and some extra weight around your hips and thighs just slowed you down.
You have somehow decided not only that it would be easier to be a boy but that you are a boy. Your own sister feeds into your delusion and encourages you. I’m powerless to stop her.
I am writing this trapped in a tear stained covid fever dream. I have never felt so alone in my isolation. It’s misery. When I think about the ways in which I have failed you I don’t want to live anymore. It is a low point and an embarrassment. I know that I need to fight not to let this destroy you and our family entirely. Sometimes I just get so tired and it feels like a losing battle. Now even the president I voted for wants me to take you to a gender clinic, inject you with testosterone, and agree to allow you to cut off your healthy breasts. He thinks it would be ok to do all of that before your first kiss and before have had your first date. How can you know who you feel attracted to if you have never even kissed anyone? Why do you want to categorize yourself? You think that gender and sex are not intertwined but they are undeniably so. It’s the twilight zone and there is no escaping. I can’t find a therapist for you and you desperately need to talk this through.
I am down the gender rabbit hole trying to claw my way back.
It’s hard to sleep because I find myself completely absorbed in all things “gender”. It’s not a belief system I subscribe to. It has become so important to you to have this new boy name and be a he/him. What is really in a name? I cannot bring myself to say it.
I won't say it and this infuriates you.
You truly believe this is all you want and all that will make you happy.
I have learned far too much these past few months to go along with that.
I know the meaning that is attached to the name “trans”. I can see the path before my eyes and you are so small and naive you cannot see it for yourself.
It starts with the baggy clothes and the boy name and pronouns. I watch you eating your waffle in the morning with a Nutella-stained smile, looking so very small, and my heart just cracks. You look like your 3 year old self.
We have already compromised on the binder and opted for some several sizes too small sports bras to crush your breasts. Those baggy clothes are swallowing you up. You try to talk in a deep voice and act like a “boy”. You love to watch anime with your non-binary identified sister (who doesn’t want to be referred to as a sister anymore) and talk about how “gay” everything is all the time. I know there is a connection between wanting to distance yourself from the objective reality of your female body and the fascination with all things being “gay”. It seems so obvious that there is a sense of safety in distancing yourself from the female and opting to become male. Is this a way to avoid being objectified? You become the one objectifying women and girls when I watch you on our vacation snickering with your sister about how “hot” a passing girl or woman is. It’s stunning to me. How can you be acting like a gender stereotype that, you tell me, is a social construct?
Your hair is shorter now but you would like it to completely cover your face and be even shorter. You want to hide. You want to disappear but yet this seems to draw more attention to you.
All of this is fine with me. You are free to dress and wear your hair however you like. Sometimes I think I might even be ok with the new name but I cannot bring myself to utter it. I sometimes try when I’m alone and I just can’t do it. You say that’s all you need to be happy in the whole world. You beg me to say it. I am always disappointing and “misgendering” you.
Your 9 year old brother misses his sisters and is confused by all of this. He hears the arguments and worries about us and you he knows that you are not and can not ever be a boy. You chastise him if he gets a pronoun wrong. He is afraid to talk to you.
I love you and will always and forever accept you and support you. It doesn’t matter to me how you choose to identify. How you identify isn’t what makes you a whole person. There is so much more to you than that. You are choosing to give up volleyball because there isn’t a “gender neutral” team. Loving volleyball is part of who you are but all things fall away and gender is all you can see. You are willing to sacrifice yourself, your interests and your lifelong friendships in favor of an intangible goal and the possibility of an unattainable metamorphosis. It’s an impossible dream.
I too was uncomfortable with my body just like most women are. I dreaded the daily taunts of this boy, Frank, in my 7th grade class and his relentless pleas to “squeeze my tits”. In hindsight I wish I had just kicked him in the balls really hard but honestly I almost let him do it just to shut him up.
In my 20s there was a married friend of mine sharing a tent on a camping trip who, in the early morning hours, reached over and groped my breasts while I pretended to be asleep. I was too embarrassed to confront him. I never told anyone.
It’s not easy being a girl or a woman or a teenager. It’s not supposed to be easy when we are pushing boundaries, growing and learning about ourselves.
You think that I don’t know anything. I think that you have somehow found it to be alluring to identify with a marginalized group and to be part of a “community”. You want to feel a sense of belonging as we all do. After all, you are just a white upper middle class kid from the suburbs. If you are straight that would be so basic but if you are trans you are so very brave. You’re an instant hero in need of saving and protecting.
I know that you will make decisions that I do not agree with in your life. Some you may regret.
I want you to know that you and your female body are perfect.
There is nothing “wrong” with you. Whoever is telling you that is a liar. I am your mom and I will never lie to you.
You don’t seem happier. The antidepressants that you so desperately wanted don’t seem to have much of an effect. I think this is because your body doesn’t really need them.
I hope that some day you will come to understand and appreciate how difficult this is and overcome your obstacles. I hope you will come to accept the reality of your physical body rather than buying into a lifetime of unhealthy medical treatments that will not alleviate your suffering. I do not know what the future holds for you but I do know that, whatever happens, I will always be your mom—and I will be here. I will love you always no matter what. You have so much to offer the world, and you are so much more than just a name.