Thursday, February 27, 2014

When did you know?

Someone recently sent me a message asking me when it was that I knew for sure that Eli truly identified as a girl. It’s both an easy and a difficult question to answer. The truth is that while there never was a moment where it hit me that he could be transgender, it is something that (once he was old enough to begin expressing himself) Adam and I just started to know. At first, we thought it was possible that he could be going through a phase, or just simply liked playing with traditional girls’ toys, but day after day, he showed us more and more clearly the beautiful girl he feels like on the inside. If I had to put Eli’s journey on a timeline, I’d say it began when he was two and requested pink cupcakes at his birthday. Where the timeline ends, I just don’t know but, with the support of his family, friends and school, the outlook is exceptionally good for him to have a bright, happy, healthy future that will last far, far into the future. But in between this beginning of pink cupcakes and a far-reaching future, there have been oh so many events that have punctuated his journey and have served as turning points for him, for his dad and I, for his family, for his peers and for his school community. Sometimes we are able to recognize them as turning points as they occur, sometimes we aren’t able to understand their significance until time passes.

Something we heard often early on in Eli’s transition was the suggestion to just give him boys’ toys and stop giving him dolls, tea sets and princess stuff. While I don’t really know what that would have looked like, I have an idea that it would probably would have gone as smoothly as the time that I attempted to ban Ethan from playing with toy guns. I never had bought him a toy gun, but he quickly learned to fashion them from bendy straws, from sticks, even from crayons. The toys we want to play with is built out of an innate desire. I can no more force Eli to play with cars and trucks as I could force Ethan to play with Barbies. Think about an activity that you really enjoy doing. Often. Now, if someone told you that you couldn’t do it anymore, would that make you stop liking it? Of course not. It would just make you feel frustrated and maybe, eventually, depressed. And here’s the catch. Eli had (and has) access to all sorts of boys’ toys because of his big brother. Guess what? He’s never been interested in any of them. Like, never.

The closest Eli has ever come to an affinity for anything remotely “boy” was during his (short but meaningful) love affair with Thomas the Train. He loved those darn trains. We had tracks and stations and all kinds of Thomas paraphanalia. Want to know his favorite train car? Rosie. And guess what color Rosie was? Yep. PINK.

To our collection of pink cupcakes and a pink train, we added a baby doll dressed from head to toe in pink, affectionately named “Bubba” and countless Barbies, Disney princesses and Bratz dolls. And now, I couldn't possibly come up with an inventory of Eli's pink playthings.

But those are all things to play with. Eventually, Eli’s identity as a girl became so strong that he needed a way to express it, other than through play. He needed to look like a girl, too. The first interest he showed in wearing a girls’ outfit, was when he picked out some adorable little girls’ pajamas. He saw them on the rack and begged me to buy them. I complied. After all, if Ethan saw a pair of pajamas that HE loved, I would’ve bought them for him, too. Eventually, I was washing those pink pajamas on an almost daily basis because they were the only pair that Eli was interested in wearing. And eventually, without my really even noticing, I’d purchased enough “girl pajamas” to have a full week or two’s worth and unceremoniously, Eli’s “boy pajamas” were phased out of the rotation. 

And then came the day that I realized wearing pajamasjust wasn’t enough, that it would have be regular clothes, too.

People often want to know “why”. Why do we let Eli dress like a girl? Why don’t we just tell him he can’t? I used to say “It’s because it makes him happy.” But that’s not true. I have since learned that it goes MUCH deeper than making him happy. Dressing like a girl makes him feel comfortable. It makes him feel equipped to deal with the world. The closest I think I can come to understanding it is this: think of how you feel when you show up to an event completely underdressed. Doesn’t it affect the way you hold yourself? At least, it does for me. If I showed up at a black tie party in jeans, all I would be thinking about was how much I wanted to go home. I wouldn’t feel confident talking to anyone. I would feel….obvious, uncomfortably conspicuous. Imagine how cruel that would be if I forced my child to feel that way everyday by refusing to let them wear what he felt like themselves in.  One day, when Ethan was asking me why Eli “had to wear girls’ clothes ALL the time”, I asked him, “How would you feel if I made you wear your craziest pair of pajamas to school (in this case, it was a pair of blue pajamas with sock monkeys wearing Santa hats).” His eyes grew wide and he said, “That would be awful! I’d feel awkward.”

Awkward. That’s how Eli feels in boys’ clothes. And when I explained it that way to Ethan, he got it.

Now, if only I could figure out a way to make everybody else get it.