"I need to talk to you Mom. I have something to tell you, but I'm afraid you won't love me any more." My fifteen year old son lay down beside me on the bed in our usual family conference tradition. The children knew they had my undivided attention when I was already in bed. I assured him that no matter what he told me, I would still love him. He hemmed and hawed and I thought he might be going to tell me he was gay. I had suspected that he was gay for years and had hoped such a conversation would take place sometime so that we could get involved in the gay community support system. However, he had something entirely different on his mind.
He said, "I need to be a girl. I'm a girl inside. I like boys but as a woman would, not the gay way. I have felt this way for years, and you know how feminine I am."
I So this was what he had been upset about the last few months. At first I didn't know what to say. I hugged him and thought, "Oprah Winfrey, where are you?" I rarely watched television, and daytime talk shows even less, so I had not been exposed to this issue before. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. I felt my life was taking a definite turn; I knew it would never be the same again.
After a long silence he asked, "What are we going to do?"
"I honestly don't know what to do, but I'll find out," I answered.
After we laughed and cried together I asked, "Have you ever worn my clothes?"
His response was, "I would never wear your funky old clothes," and I believed him. Besides being bigger than him, I knew he did not approve of my non-fashions. He scolded me for my lack of interest in fashion or make up or hairstyles. He said, "You are a woman and can do all those things, and yet you don't. That's such a waste!"
We talked about his childhood. He admitted trying on his female cousin's clothes. He was happy when someone mistook him for a girl because of his feminine appearance although I had always assured him he looked otherwise. He always felt bad when I talked about how proud I was of my three sons. I had often added, "I'm glad I don't have any girls, because they're harder to raise." Sometimes I said, "The world is not yet ready for any girl I would have raised," Because I would have encouraged a girl to join little league or be a jet fighter pilot or president. How prophetic that turned out to be as I am now raising a girl that the world is not ready for. I had always told my children that they could be anything that they wanted to be when they grew up, but I never dreamed that one of my boys would want to grow up to be a woman.
"I just want to be normal, and normal is being a girl. I'm tired of not being myself I'm tired of being confused. I just want to be a girl. I have no future as a man. I wanted to run away from home so that I could be a girl where no one knew me, but I knew it would hurt you." I asked him if he wanted to move to a new school and go as a girl the next year. "I can muddle through high-school as a boy," he replied, "I don't think going to school as a girl will be a solution because I would just be hiding and pretending from another side." He wanted to BE a girl, not just dress-up as a girl.
He finally fell asleep beside me. Meanwhile, my mind was wide awake forming dozens of questions. What happens to these kids? Is this just a phase? Is this part of being gay? If I don't make a big deal about it, will it just go away? Is there a name for this condition? Does this usually happen to people so young, and can they change? Can they succeed in life? I wanted information and I wanted it now, in the middle of the night!
What does a mother do in this situation? When my boys came to me with a cut, I would put on a Band-Aid and a kiss to make it better, but I had no Band-Aids for this problem. I knew his life would be difficult and sad. How could a mother help, and would a mother's love be enough? Was I strong enough to handle this? I thought I knew my boys pretty well, yet I had no idea that Daniel's life was so troubled.
This was the beginning of just one more chapter in my unconventional life. I spent some of my childhood in Africa with my missionary parents, so I had been exposed to travel, adventure, and attempts to change the world. I was also the anti-establishment, back-to-nature type and had dropped out of college to volunteer my time and talents to a school in a small Mexican village. There I met Salvador, a man with beautiful Latin eyes, a man whose world was limited to a town so small it had only one paved road. His simple, self-sufficient life style seemed attractive to me. We grew our own food, owned a cow, and I made our clothes.
We lived in an old adobe house without water or electricity. After our first son David was born, we moved to California, the first of several moves between Mexico and the States. After Benjamin and Daniel were born in California, we moved back to Mexico into a new, modern home that we spent several years building. A few months later we were hit by a flash flood during extraordinarily heavy spring rains. The children and I were marooned for several hours on the top bunk bed while we watched the furniture float out the double doors and down the river. Fortunately we were rescued before the whole house washed away.
For ten years I tried to prove to everyone that I could make this marriage work, but reality finally set in when I became resentful of Salvador's attempt to isolate us even from his own family. I finally decided to leave, taking the boys, ages three, five and nine, with me.
Their father said, "Since you are leaving and taking the kids, I expect you to be able to support them. If you want any help, you can come back and live with me." Salvador lived up to his word and never provided any support, and I never returned to him nor asked for his Life was not easy as a single mother receiving no child support. I was in a constant panic about money, always hoping the end of the month would arrive before the end of the money. We lived sometimes in the city, sometimes in the country with a variety of pets - a destructive dog, a bird, fish and a horse. There were paper routes, music lessons, and summer camps.
After four years on welfare, I started working full time as a file clerk in a hospital and Daniel started school.
I worked a second job which made it possible to keep a roof over our head and food on the table. However, it didn't allow me much time to be with the boys. They learned to take care of themselves and each other. There was always a fear in the back of my mind that the Child Protective Agency or other authorities would discover the boys at home alone and take them away. It almost happened when police came in response to a frivolous 91l call placed from our house by a neighbor girl. They found 12-year old Ben, and 10-year old Daniel alone. The law allowed a 12-year old to be alone, but not baby-sitting a younger child. Ben and Daniel offered the officers peanut butter sandwiches, and asked them for help with a computer game. The police concluded that they were well fed and were good kids. They left with the admonition that their mother find someone to watch them during the times when they had to be alone because of David's schedule.
David became my dependable helper and baby-sitter for his younger brothers - he even took a Red Cross baby-sitting course. My children were quite self-sufficient, for they had learned to grocery shop, feed themselves, wash clothes and handle money. I could give them $20 when that was all I had for food until the end of the week, and they would decide which necessities to buy. Ben could estimate the total amount of their purchases within pennies, so they would not be embarrassed at the check-out stand. They helped me write cheeks and balance my bank account. They understood that they needed to help me by staying out of trouble. I didn't want them to worry, but I needed the help and I believed in accepting reality.
We moved quite often because I had to live where I found work, or there was trouble with neighbors or house mates or the local school, or the apartment owner raised the rent. We even moved temporarily to the east coast, traveling both there and back by Greyhound Bus. We were a team so my children always helped with the decisions about moving. I didn't make any rules because I wasn't home to enforce them. I raised them using the theory that I expected them to be good, and they were. I let them learn from their mistakes. If they stayed up too late, it was hard to get up for work or school the next day. They set their own alarm clocks because I was often off to work before they were up.
My children were brought up without God even though I had no idea how to raise children without religion. I was raised in a conservative Christian home where sin, punishment and guilt seemed to be waiting around every corner. It is my belief that I am responsible for my actions. If there is a God, He does not need my adoration or my money. I don't believe that He is involved in the day to day happenings of every person's life. I did like to think there was a strong feminine force up there somewhere watching over my children when they were out of my sight, a heavenly grandmother.
David's great sense of humor and responsibility helped me to keep things in perspective. At sixteen he got his driver's license and my mother gave him a used car. I sat down with him and said, "Now that Grandma Clela has given you a car, we need to make rules about driving."
He asked, "Why?"
After thinking about it, I could come up with no reason that made sense since he had always demonstrated exceptional maturity. So together we decided no rules would be necessary as long as he was responsible and kept out of trouble. And there were never any problems. He would often come home from a date or school activity, wake me up and sit on the bed beside me while telling me all about his evening. Even when I was very tired, I was glad he wanted to talk to me because I loved being involved in his life.
Ben, who is four years younger than David, and very bright, was not being challenged in school, even in the classes for gifted students. He had a keen interest in money and showed signs of being an entrepreneur at an early age. He sometimes offered to clean out my purse for the loose change, or clip coupons for items that we regularly used, and I was glad to give him the savings. When we had a garage sale, it was Ben that priced the items and handled the money. In third grade he chose the baritone horn and played in the band. The horn was almost as big as he was, but he trudged off to school every day hauling it behind him on a trash can carrier. He became very proficient as he played that huge horn through high school while learning other brass instruments as well. He easily picked up computer skills, and was a good athlete excelling in anything he tried. As the middle child only two years older than Daniel, I probably neglected him somewhat, but he did well on his own.
Then there was Daniel! He was a loving and cuddly child, but he was a handful! He didn't hit his terrible two's until he was five, and then I thought he would never get over them. He always tested me to the limit. If I said, "No," to touching one trinket on a shelf, he tried each one to see if I would say "No."
Brushing and arranging my long, curly hair was a favorite pastime for Daniel when he was about three years old. During his early teen years he could arrange my thick curls into a spectacular hairdo for a special occasion. He was very fashion conscious and always aware of the current styles. He most often chose unisex styles for himself in bright colors, and then washed them by hand so they would not fade. When I went shopping for clothes for myself, he enjoyed going along to advise me. In retrospect, I think he was living vicariously through me because he could not wear feminine fashions himself.
Ben and David tried unsuccessfully to get Daniel involved in some of the more rough-and-tumble games. However, he became quite skilled in the art of self-defense when his brothers teased or made fun of him. Once I came home to find the two older boys in a corner while Daniel wielded a broom stick that he used very effectively if they tried to escape.
Most sports held no interest for Daniel, but he enjoyed roller skating and took classes in tap dancing and gymnastics. Because he had few successes in school, I encouraged him in these other interests to boost his self-confidence. He was especially talented in gymnastics, and his brothers heaped praise on him when he did hand stands, one-handed somersaults, and other tricks beyond what they were able to do.
Daniel always preferred playing with girls rather than boys. In the toy box at Grandma Clela's house, the old doll was his favorite. Daniel liked to sew, cook, and clean house. Since I spent little time on these traditional female activities, he was not following my example. He rearranged the furniture to his taste, and looked for pictures and other items to decorate the walls.
After much hard work, I started my own business doing cancer statistics. Self employment fit my personality because I like to control my own life. It also allowed me to have a flexible work schedule. The pay was adequate so that we no longer had to count pennies, and we were able to get out of debt. I was proud that I was the bread-winner; I was providing for my family, and doing it better than many families with two parents. Women in our society seldom have such an opportunity. Many single mothers I knew were playing the role of victim, dependent on the whim of the father to provide child support. For many years I dreamed of someone to share the responsibility and the joys of watching my children grow up. However, most of the men with whom I formed relationships added to my responsibilities, and did not enjoy the boys as much as I had hoped. Being single suited me fine, for the boys were the focus of my attention and concern.
As Daniel finished the eighth grade, I saw signs of increasing tension. He seemed to enjoy school and socializing with the other students, but something was bothering him. He was not able to fall asleep at night, and when he did, he did not sleep well. He knew he had to get some sleep to feel well for school the next day, so we tried warm milk, watched boring television, sang lullabies, told stories, and did the mental exercise "walking through a dark friendly forest, you are getting tired." We also talked about a great variety of topics.
Once he said, "I don't know who I am."
I responded, "Most teenagers feel that way. Most of the kids at your school probably feel the same way."
"When my teen years are over, I won't feel this way anymore?" he asked.
"That's right. You just have to get through your teen years." Little did I know just how difficult getting through those next few years was going to be for him.
[Illustration - 'I don't know who I am']
During Ben's sophomore year in high school, he went to live with David, who was attending college in Phoenix. It wasn't easy to let Ben leave home when he was still young, but it solved several problems. Daniel, Ben and I were living in the country: an hour's bus ride from the nearest high school. My work schedule prevented me from driving him to and from school so he felt pretty isolated. He was unhappy because the transportation problem kept him from participating in after-school band or sports activities. David was living in an apartment but had trouble finding responsible roommates. David suggested that Ben could live with him and attend the nearby high school.
I was sad to have Ben leave and a little apprehensive about the arrangement, but they wanted to try it. Besides he could always come home if it didn't work out well. I paid Ben's share of the apartment rent, but otherwise they were mostly supporting themselves. David and Ben had a credit card on my account to be used when they needed money unexpectedly. They never used it without telling me, and never used it unwisely. I was proud of them as they responsibly went to school, worked, paid their bills, and kept track of each other.
Whenever possible I've allowed my children to shape their own lives, and tried not to curb their adventurous endeavors because of my anxiety. I was proud of David and Ben as they proved to me that they understood the meaning of responsibility. My friends were amazed at this unusual arrangement. Parents are often unable to manage their teenagers living at home let alone trust a couple of brothers to take complete control of their lives 400 miles away from any family.
With my child-rearing days were almost over, there was light at the end of the tunnel. I just didn't realize how long the tunnel was.
After his revelation, Daniel was peaceful and calm, but I was a basket case. I tried to maintain an outward appearance of composure, but my mind would not work well due to stress and lack of sleep.
The next morning Daniel spent hours in front of the mirror in my room. He styled his hair, put on make-up, shaved his legs, and created short-shorts from a pair of long pants. When he tied a T-shirt up tight above his waist, he did look like a girl. It was amazing to watch the transformation. However, he still adopted the unisex look in front of others, and he did not want me to tell his brothers yet.
When we went shopping later that day, Daniel said he needed underwear, and I wondered whether he was thinking about panties. I didn't ask, but just told him to get what he needed because I wanted to avoid the whole subject. He chose his usual jockey shorts, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I kept watching for signs of something - I'm not sure what.
I asked one of my friends to meet me at the mall because I really need to talk to someone. He hazarded several guesses as to the cause of my problem, but I knew he would never guess. When my friend learned the cause of my dismay, he agreed he never would have guessed. He thought the condition was called gender dysphoria or transsexualism. He advised me to research the subject at the medical library of our local university hospital.
Another friend who knew my children well expressed his support but did not know much about gender problems either. However, a few days later he called with some troubling information. A gay friend of his had told him that transsexuals have an even a harder life than gays for they are at the far end of the spectrum when it comes to acceptance in the community. He also expressed sympathy for us because he knew we had a hard road ahead and suggested that I go to the Gay and Lesbian Center to seek information.
Daniel had gone to visit his brothers as soon as school was out. Ben brought him back and was visiting from Arizona for the Fourth of July holidays. I was close to tears all day. Contrary to Daniel's wishes, I told Ben the reason for my distress because I needed to share it with someone. Ben said, "It's no big deal. Daniel probably just needs more attention." When Ben was ready to return to Phoenix, Daniel wanted to go back with him. He wanted to be able to go out shopping at the mall as a girl without the fear of running into his friends. David and Ben approved the plan as they liked to have him cook and keep their apartment clean while they worked or attended school. Daniel had played with several feminine names, such as Jasmine or Danny, but seemed to be settling on Danielle.
My instincts told me that momentous events would take place during Danielle's second visit to Arizona, and I talked to my children there almost every day so as to be a part of it.
Danielle told me about Denise, who was a good friend and neighbor to Ben and David. Denise had known a transsexual, and recognized the signs in Danielle, so she took her under her wing. While the older boys were away, she and Danielle experimented with hair and make-up, and did all the things that girlfriends do - the things that Danielle had always longed to do. Danielle confessed she took some of my make-up with her - make-up that she encouraged me to buy a year before when she saw it on television. I didn't mind because I seldom used it. Danielle kept me informed about all the new things she was doing, and told me everything she bought during her mall trips with Denise. David used my credit card to get cash advances for Danielle's use, and she told me how much she paid for each item because she was concerned about my having to spend money on her. It was Denise who told David about transsexuals and what was happening to Danielle. When David told me he knew, I cried with gratitude for Denise. Bless her dear, dear spirit - I just wanted to hug her. David was quite stressed by all the new developments. He was doing his best to hide his feelings from Danielle - he began to work out at the gym more than usual. Ben persisted in his opinion that Danielle just needed more attention. He bought her a computer art program and was trying to teach her how to use it. It was clever of Ben to find a way to give her more attention that involved his beloved computer.
Danielle told me her brothers were treating her nicely, and she thought they were glad to find out that she was not gay. She told me she saw an 18-year old transsexual on a television talk show and said, "I think I could have done better at expressing how it feels inside."
Denise thought Danielle was passing very well as a girl - the guys were even checking her out at the malls. Denise had to remind Danielle not to scratch where her new bras made her itch. When Danielle started receiving phone calls, David was afraid he would use the wrong pronouns so he would use no pronouns at all. "Down by the pool," he would say, "Gone shopping," or 'Not home."
Danielle told me about a 21-year old man, a neighbor in the apartment complex, who took her to the store to get hair spray. "I told him that I have two big brothers who are very protective so I couldn't mess around much," she said. "He is cute, but kind of nerdy. He would make a good friend, but that's all."
I was sure my new daughter was going to get her heart broken, but Danielle was thrilled to meet boys who thought she was a girl. One night when I called, Danielle was out on a "date" with the neighbor. When he came for Danielle, Denise wrote down his address and phone number. The boys were still worried about her, and Ben waited up for her to get home. David decided that before he dated a girl, he would ask to see one of those cute, naked baby pictures. He wasn't sure he wanted to date a transsexual.
David and Ben discussed how to tell their father. They thought of a scheme to soften the blow. They would tell him that David was gay, Ben was a crossdresser, and Daniel was transsexual. Then when he learned the truth, that only Daniel was transsexual, he would be relieved that only one of them had a problem. They laughed and talked about what they thought their father's reaction would be. They never carried out the scheme, but I was thankful my kids could handle this unique situation with humor and common sense.
When Danielle had been in Arizona for only two weeks, David told me the situation was a little stressful, and he was ready for Danielle to return home. Grieving is part of the family's adjustment process when a child comes out as gay or transsexual, and David expressed that sentiment to me when he said, "I feel like my brother has died and I don't know who this new person is." David also felt that it was partly his fault because he had been there when his brother was growing up and he must have done something wrong.
Several times I thought, "I just want my Daniel back." I secretly hoped that Danielle would call and say that she had changed her mind and was going to be my little boy again. I wanted to walk away from all these new problems, and go on with life as it was before. However there were so many things to deal with that I did not have much time for grieving.
My greatest sorrow was in knowing the hardships that lay ahead for my new daughter. I could see it was going to be a long road, and we didn't have a map to follow. I wondered if I would be strong enough to handle this new situation. I asked myself again and again, "Is a mother's love enough?"
While all my children were in Phoenix, I set out to look for information, and my first stop was the Gay and Lesbian Center. Until the moment that Daniel revealed that he was a girl, I was resigned to the fact that he was gay so I expected that I would contact the Center sometime.
[Illustration - 'Is a mother's love enough?']
When I was young, my experiences with gays had always been positive. "Uncle Bob" was close to our family and was also the father of one of my best friends. We knew he was gay, but also knew he was a good, dependable person and an important adult in our lives.
A classmate and his twin sister were my best friends during high school. Phil came out to me years later when he explained that he left the church because Christians disapprove of gay people. When I visited him in San Francisco, he lived with two male friends in a beautifully decorated apartment where they all shared the homemaking responsibilities. I noticed the peaceful, caring and quiet atmosphere that pervaded their home, very different from the stressful, bitter and controlling relationships that I had seen in many heterosexual homes. A highly respected teacher in my parochial high school was gay, but we didn't know it at the time. He taught English and made it interesting and challenging. He was married and his children were part of our social circle. Years later I visited him when I learned that he was dying of AIDS, and found that he was still interested in new thoughts and projects. I shared with him my concern for my youngest son.
These three men, as well as all the other gays and lesbians I knew, seemed to be exceptionally fine people. When I believed that Daniel was gay, I hoped he would be a wonderful human being also. I did not blame myself for I had raised all three boys the same way. As early as age five, I recognized Daniel was effeminate and different from other boys, but I knew he did not choose to be that way. It is my belief that some people are born gay just as I was born with curly hair and poor eyesight. I did not feel Daniel was influenced by an outside source, nor did I believe he was sinning.
Fortunately I had read that the gender of the unborn fetus is determined by the hormones to which it is exposed in utero. All babies start out as female. An infinitesimal amount of male hormone at exactly the right time is necessary for the normal development of male sex organs, and the male pattern of thinking. On rare occasions something goes wrong. There may be enough male hormone to produce male sex organs, but it may not be in sufficient quantity to push the brain into the male pattern of behavior. Although I was surprised and a little shocked to learn that Daniel was transsexual, I think it was easier for me to accept because I knew he was born that way.
[Illustration ' How to raise a perfect transsexual']
I was on the verge of tears on that first visit to the Gay and Lesbian Center, and was thankful to meet a friendly and sympathetic female intern counselor. When I asked for guidance in helping a boy who wanted to be a girl, she could be of little assistance because she admitted she knew almost nothing about the subject. She praised me as a wonderful mother for wanting to help my child, and made a future appointment with a staff psychologist who had experience with transsexuals. She also gave me the phone number of a local support group for transsexuals and crossdressers, called Neutral Corner.
My next stop was the hospital library where I found articles about the use of hormones, and the actual mechanics of sex reassignment surgery. One study hypothesized that transsexuals tend to have more brothers than sisters, and are further down in the birth order. Another theorized that some deficiencies in the womb can result in the birth of a transsexual. One article told of following a group of transsexuals through a spiritual, body and mind transformation with rights of passage. There is little information about transsexuals after surgery because many blend into society and just get on with their lives - they seldom come back to report to the researchers. There were a few outdated psychological studies of children who had gender dysphoria, based on small research samples. But there was no advice for me. I needed A book with step by step instructions - How To Raise a Perfect Transsexual - that might say, "When your teenager tells you he is transsexual, you should do this, this, and this."
The local University hospital informed me that specialists charge $100 an hour, and it would probably take two hours to arrive at a diagnosis. Children's Hospital essentially told me the same, and the local state mental health agency had no specialists. I soon understood that the financial arrangements were of utmost importance, for the first question at all the medical facilities was, "What kind of insurance do you have?" I felt I was all on my own. No one knew what to do, but they would try to figure it out for an outrageous price.
At that time, I was newly connected to the computer world, but even if I had surfed the web there would have been little information available about teens with gender dysphoria. Although my friends and relatives knew no more than I did, it was comforting to talk to them. My mother and my older sister were supportive and reassuring. My mother's reaction when she heard was, "Aha! Of course! That explains so many things."
My Mexican friend and "commadre" Chula (Daniel's godmother), was not surprised about Daniel for she recognized that he walked like a girl when he was only two years old. She had no problem understanding and accepting the situation, and had even read articles in Mexican magazines about transsexuals. She expected trouble with Daniel's father because of his macho attitude. "Since he has never helped with the children," she said, "he better be nice or not say anything at all."
The first breakthrough came with my counseling appointment at the Gay and Lesbian Center. The experienced counselor looked like a hippie with his earring, a beard, a pipe in the pocket of a his Hawaiian shirt, and sandals. He knew of only a few teen transsexuals and even fewer who had gone through sex reassignment surgery, but he answered many of my questions: he doubted that it was just a phase that Daniel was going through; it would not be easy to get hormones from a medical doctor or endocrinologist for a minor; street hormones are dangerous although some have resorted to them to save money; hormones would stop some of the hair growth and electrolysis would also help; most of the effects of taking hormones would disappear when they were discontinued. The success of the transsexual depends somewhat on how well he passes as a female, and the counselor thought he could tell by looking at a picture of Daniel whether he would pass well or not. He asked about Daniel's build and his father's height. I was not worried about him passing because I had already seen Daniel as a girl, and knew that he looked incredibly feminine.
He informed me that several places in the United States perform reputable sex reassignment surgery at a cost of approximately $10,000, and hormone therapy would probably cost $100 a month. That information was important because I would have to find a way to handle the expenses.
The hormonal and surgical treatment of persons with gender dysphoria is strictly regulated by guidelines formulated by a group of psychiatrists, physicians and other care givers in 1979. These Standards of Care mandated by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA) specify that a licensed clinical behavioral scientist (psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker) with proven competence in the field must be closely involved before sex reassignment surgery may be permitted. These guidelines are not written in any law, but with only a few surgeons doing sex reassignment, all of whom agree to these guidelines, they might as well be law.
The first step requires one of the above professionals to evaluate the person with gender dysphoria over a period of three months before giving a referral for hormone therapy. A year of living full time as the opposite sex is required during which time the person must live and work or go to school in the new gender role before evaluation for surgery is made. Continued contact with the therapist should be maintained during that year because the authorization of two therapists is necessary before the sex reassignment surgery may be considered.
I wasn't ready to think about surgery. I had more urgent needs, such as finding the best way to help my teenager now. This first counselor seemed to be a caring person, and someone with whom I felt comfortable. He said he would be glad to talk to Daniel, but was not set up to write a letter recommending surgery. His services were on donation basis or were free through the Gay and Lesbian Center. A man from the Neutral Corner support group phoned me in response to my call. The group had no teen information on hand, and he knew of no other transsexual as young as my child. He invited me to attend their support meeting, and to look through their library. As a result of that contact, the wife of a crossdresser called me. She had found out her husband was crossdressing a year or so after their marriage, but with love and counseling they managed to deal with it. Even their two children knew about their father and seemed to be handling it well. A priest told her that crossdressing was not a sin if her husband was not hurting anyone. She was very supportive and encouraging, and although our situations were completely different, it was good to talk to a person with an appreciation for the problems we faced. It was comforting to know that real people had struggled through something similar and continued to live productive lives.
Most of the transsexual information that I found pertained to adults, so I felt I was reinventing the wheel. Parents who had dealt with the same situation could be very helpful. What had they found that worked? What mistakes did they make? What did they do about school? How can parents help?
I knew that I must accept this child as a girl even though I had no idea how to raise a girl, much less a transsexual girl, but I would do my very best to make a good life for her. A change in my thinking and speaking would be necessary to accommodate a teenage daughter. I vowed that by the time she came back from Arizona, I would be able to use her new name and female pronouns. To practice, I chanted to myself, "I have a new daughter. Her name is Danielle. She is really cute. I love her." The hardest word for me to feel comfortable with was "daughter," since I had always used masculine terms for my children - "Let's go guys. My boys. Hey, little man, none of that." I started using the terms "children and kids" instead of "sons and boys." During that time when I was struggling with gender issues, it gave me peace to think of my child as an angel - pure, innocent and lost, neither male nor female. I even wondered if there might be a reason in the bigger scheme of things, that I was given this child. The thought "Why me?" did occur, but the answer also came right away. "Because you can! "
It was my determination to allow Danielle to set the pace for her future - I would neither push her nor slow her down. It would be my responsibility to provide her with as much information as possible, to discuss options with her, and to pay the bills for any therapy or surgery. I also vowed that our home, wherever it was, would be her sanctuary from the world, a place where she would be safe with no stress or disapproval from me. She would be welcome to go everywhere with me, just as she had in the past: I would not hide her or be ashamed of her.
While Danielle was experimenting with new things in Phoenix, I attended a birthday party where the guest of honor knew of the recent developments concerning Danielle, but the rest of the group did not. When the other guests inquired about my boys I found it difficult to say anything. I made numerous trips to the powder room to dry my eyes.
There were several toddlers in the room, and I heard the mothers exchanging stories about their little boys. I wanted to say, "You think they are boys." When I saw a little boy with a pretty face, I wondered about his true identity. My perspective of the whole world had changed. My sister does ultrasound examinations of prenatal infants, and often tells the parents the gender based upon the genitalia that she sees. I thought to myself, "Every parent should be given a disclaimer saying that the fetus has male genitals, but the real gender may not be apparent for years to come."
The support group Neutral Corner has monthly meetings for people with gender issues. The first time I attended I sat in the parking lot for some time trying to build up enough courage to go inside. I was apprehensive about the people I would meet. Finally I went in motivated by the hope of finding answers to some of my questions. I admit that I was also curious to see what transsexuals looked like.
I could not tell which ones were crossdressers or transsexuals, or if those that appeared to be men were really males. It was very difficult to talk to anyone because I discovered that all my conversation starters were based on the person's gender. When meeting men in the past, I first tried to find out if they were single or otherwise eligible, and then talked about their work, sports, cars, or computers. When I met a woman, we talked clothes, kids, work, or men. When the gender was unknown, I struggled to make conversation. I had to rethink what I knew about gender, things that I had previously taken for granted.
After a few minutes, a person appearing to be a male introduced himself to me, said he was a crossdresser, but not dressed tonight, and inquired as to the reason I was there. It was soon evident to him that I could hardly talk without crying, so he changed the subject to politics, and then health-care and other gender neutral subjects. He was a good conversationalist, intelligent, and a very nice person from all appearances. He did not seem to be odd, or weird, or any of the other things that I had feared I would find at the meeting.
Then a male and female couple revealed to me that she was a male to female transsexual (MtoF) and he was a female to male transsexual (FtoM). Recently they had gone through the gender transition together. They did not know of any young transsexual, nor had they had experience with the schools, but they gave me names of counselors and endocrinologists, and expressed support as I endeavored to help my new daughter. I was happy to discover a nice group of people in attendance who talked about computers, families, and fashion, and I began friendships that night that were of great help to me as I journeyed through a new and unfamiliar territory.
As the evening progressed I was introduced to everyone, and I learned that many of them were successful business people with supportive spouses. Some were crossdressers in female garb, and some were in "drab" which meant they were not dressed as females that night. I learned to tell the difference. Others were MtoFs or FtoMs, but to my surprise and pleasure, most appeared to be happy and well adjusted. Some of the women were very fashionably attired, while I was dressed as usual without earrings, nail polish, or high-heels. They warmly included me in their friendly community, and gave me several books to read from their library. It was interesting to find books on ancient Greek mythological figures that were transsexual and were not treated as if they had a mental illness. The American Indians also had many transsexuals in their tribes who were treated with respect as leaders and teachers because they could see the world from both the feminine and masculine point of view. Traditional Indian society was also very accepting of children deciding which gender, or gender roles they wished to follow. Although the books pertained mostly to adults, I read them anyway. I wanted to learn everything I could on the subject. That experience with Neutral Corner gave me the first glimmer of hope that there might be a happy and successful future for Danielle.
On the way to the airport to pick up my new daughter when she returned from Phoenix, I wondered if I would recognize her. Would she really be a cute teenage girl? I needn't have worried, for she looked adorable to me - a little garish perhaps in the dress and make-up but definitely an attractive female. She was a little tentative about how I would accept her. When I hugged her and let her know that I loved tier, one of the first things she said to me was, "I can't go back to school as a boy. I am too happy as a girl to ever go back." I had already come to the same conclusion. She thanked me over and over for letting her be a girl, and told me how much she loved her brothers and Denise for helping her so much.
After a few weeks it became evident to all who knew Danielle that this change was a wonderful and happy process for her. She was bubbly, exuberant and optimistic about her new life, as the person who had been hidden inside began to emerge. She began letting go of the male role she had tried to maintain. She still had demons of the boy sitting on her shoulder always whispering that the male was still present, but they were becoming quieter. As she became more confident that others were seeing a girl, she let more of her beautiful character blossom and be exposed to the world. It was a celebration of life!