When our children were small, we had a tradition of going through all the toys in the house shortly before the holidays began. We would put together missing parts; drag in toys hidden in the sandbox from a summer of mistreatment; and wash, clean, purge, toss and donate until the play room sparkled, all in joyous anticipation of Santa's additions. That year, however, things were more intense than usual. Several months earlier, our team of doctors and therapists had determined that our child was transgender, and we were in the process of transitioning to her affirmed gender. As we prepared for our annual purge, she requested that we get rid of the horrible "boy" things that had plagued her all of her young life. That year, she worked with a joyful, fevered intensity as she yanked down every single item in the house that hinted "boy" to her and dropped them with relief into the front room. The room quickly filled with books, clothes and toys that were to be shared with friends and family or donated to charity.
Our first giveaway came on Thanksgiving Day, when the family gathered at our house, including Jason, our 4-year-old great-nephew. Jason's eyes lit up the minute he walked in our house when he saw all the treasures we had laid out for him to peruse. Dinnertime came, and we could barely drag him away from the room long enough for him to eat a few bites before he excused himself and bolted back to his newfound Wonderland. Relaxed and chatting with my niece, glass of wine in my hand, we wandered into the room to watch his joyous play. In the midst of cars, trains and plastic roadways, he had constructed his private world. For each car that moved, Jason created a new, distinct noise, until they all crashed together in a cacophony of sound. As I watched, an intense realization suddenly hit me. Out of the blue, I bust into tears. I turned to my niece and sniffled, "Oh my God! I never had a boy!" My newly affirmed daughter had never, not once, made car noises or engaged in that type of play. Quickly my mind raced through the catalog of her interests, behaviors and clothing choices, and I saw how many clues I had missed. I saw my new daughter for the first time, through the actions of my nephew.
Nearly seven years later, my 14-year-old daughter is confident and thriving. She has friends, is doing well in school and is fully engaged in developing her performing-arts talents. In a rare moment of quiet last week, we sat down to watch Piers Morgan's second interview with Janet Mock, where he insisted that she had been a man before she became a woman, implying that only her genital surgery made her a man. In unison we screamed at the television, "She never was a man!" My beautiful teenage daughter, with her flowing hair, strong sense of style and love of gossip, has not changed her body; she has changed the world around her to reflect her true identity. We certainly can't speak for the experience of any other transgender person, but if Janet is anything like my daughter, she was always a girl; it's just that no one truly saw her for a very long time.
Note: Looking back on my "aha!" moment, I now know that my daughter's "catalog" was only filled with the expressions of gender. Expression does not equal identity. It wasn't until she was able to tell me she was a girl that we were able to understand what she needed. (For more information on identity and expression, I recommend reading The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook: A Guide to Gender by Sam Killermann.)