Social entrepreneur. Engagement consultant.
ONE day, toward the end of my transition from father to mother, I came home to find my 6-year-old son looking thoughtful. “Are you all right?” I asked.
“Yes,” Sean said quietly. He was playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. His favorite engine was No. 5, red James. That had also been my name, back before it became Jenny.
“What are you thinking?”
“It’s just it used to be you and me and Zach, the three boys on one side,” he said, “and Mommy and Lucy-dog on the other.”
“I know,” I said, feeling my heart clench.
“Now it’s Zach and me on one side, and you and Mommy and Lucy-dog over there.”
“I’m sorry, Sean,” I said. My voice was barely a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s O.K.,” said Sean. “The boys are just outnumbered.”
I have been a dad for 6 years, a mom for 12, and for a time in between I was both, or neither, like some parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo.
When I was their father, I showed my boys how to make a good tomato sauce; as their mother I showed them how to split wood with a maul. As a father, I was more playful. I used to, for instance, cover my sons’ feet with peanut butter and let the dogs lick it off, as the boys screamed with laughter.
I don’t do things like that anymore, although I know that there are times my sons wish I would.
On the whole, though, what has stayed the same about me is much more powerful than what has changed.
I hope my sons, in growing up with a transsexual parent, have learned to be more flexible and openhearted. I would like to think that this has been a gift to them and not a curse. But, as my sons like to say: it’s complicated.
People have pointed out to me that, despite calling myself a mother, I didn’t give birth to my sons. They’re right, of course. But there is a lot more to parenting than birthing, just as there is a lot more to a novel than its opening sentence. After this long journey from an opposite-sex couple to a same-sex one, my wife and I can say it’s what comes after that counts.
I understand the reluctance many people have to play down the importance of gender, or for that matter, biology, in parenting; a world in which male and female are not fixed poles but points in a spectrum is a world that feels unstable, unreal. And yet to accept the wondrous scope of gender is to affirm the potential of life, in all its messy beauty. Motherhood and fatherhood are not binaries. And that, I’d argue, is a good thing.
Only a small percentage of American households now consist of married couples with children in which only the father works. The biggest outliers in our culture are not same-sex couples, or transgender people, or adoptive parents, or single fathers, but the so-called traditional American families themselves.
What does it even mean, at this hour, to call anybody traditional? Surely it is not the ways in which we conform that define us, but the manner in which we each seek our own perilous truth.
All of this gives me great hope for the future of the American family, for our open-mindedness and the great potential of our sons and daughters. But just as I begin to become overly optimistic, I remember seeing some television show featuring transsexual women and their children, back in the 1970s.
My grandmother was watching it. “Oh for God’s sake,” she said, sucking on her Kent filter king, “those people aren’t women.”
“They’re not?” I said. She had no idea that I was a woman like the ones she was dismissing. How could she have known? I was just a boy then.
“Of course not,” said Gammie.
“They have children,” I pointed out. “And breasts. And — you know. Vaginas.”
She shot me a look. Ladies of her generation didn’t say vagina or vote for Democrats.
“That’s not what makes someone a mother,” she said.
“Really? What does?”
Gammie took a long drag on her cigarette.
“Suffering,” she said.
For mothers and fathers alike, there are times when the line between suffering and joy can be as vague as the line, for transgender people, between masculine and feminine. But surely it is those moments we feel everything at once — maleness, femaleness, melancholy, ecstasy — that make us most human.
On this Mother’s Day, I remember the words my own mother said to me, after she learned of my transition from son to daughter.
“Sometimes having children is nothing but grief,” she said. “It makes me wish I’d had more of them.”
– Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of “Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders.”
Source: NY Times