Shifting uncomfortably in my seat last night I tried to focus on our speaker, a well known endocrinologist, but I kept sticking on his sentences like fresh gum keeping a shoe from freely taking the next step. Earlier in the day I was thinking of how our family tries to blur the lines between what is traditionally thought of as “boy” or “girl” to break down the binary code. I take my son for his favorite treat- pedicures complete with painted toes. I applaud when my daughter builds the biggest space ship and she’s the superhero that saves the day. It’s all good.
So when our discussion last night, centered around transitioning bodies to appropriate genders, started to feel like the way people looked was more important than how they feel I started to feel like I had ants in my pants. Aren’t we trying to move past “passing” or as I like to refer to it “how people are reading us” or are we buying into it? Deep breath Jen.
Here’s my beef with “passing”, it puts the onus on the individual being read to satisfy some mystery requirements to register female or male. really Last night the specialist said that all a female needed to do to “pass” as a male was to cut their hair short, wear pants and a flannel. Really? (Immediately I turned to a friend to divulge that I had a quick 2 out of 3 tonight, but my DVF flannel was in the wash!) “Passing” feels like being thrust into a game against your will and then being told the rules were none of your business. It’s a losing affair.
“Being read” (turned on to this by S. Bear Bergman in The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You) however, puts the responsibility on the reader, not the person being read. Feels better. I know it’s just semantics, but it feels like this is where we get tripped up sometimes, our need to see ourselves through another person’s eyes while forgetting about our truth. And then I think… Wait! Shouldn’t we focus on trying to let go of judging altogether? Shouldn’t we dissolve the need to define and identify male/ female (or boy/ girl) all the time? Is it really that important? Could we even if we tried with concerted effort? I’m not sure. Maybe we are hardwired for judgment of this kind? Maybe not.
Huge alarms went off when the doctor explained that “90-95% of all trans females need breast implants.” Need? Apparently this specialist feels that because many trans females have broad shoulders and big breasts deter the eye away from the shoulders, as the shoulders are male identifiers, and bring the attention to where they should be. As in their chest? Yep! As he confidently shook his head up and down encouraging the rest of us to see the logic, my head cocked in disbelief. Here I am an very tall woman with crazy big shoulders and very small breasts. What does THAT mean? Forget my designer flannel, is he insinuating that women like me are often read as masculine? I guess the other masculine features fit me as well, angular features, lack of curves. I’ve got the whole package. Lots of people do.
As you can imagine my head was spinning by this time. I felt like I was running from side to side like a double agent in the War of Appearance. On one side I don’t want to give in to gender binaries and judgment and I want my child to just feel genuine inside her skin, whatever that means to her. On the other side I’m desperate not to miss the warning signs, the precursor to Tanner 2 where she would develop male secondary sexual characteristics. It’s not because of her being read as a female, it’s because of an oath I took. Years ago I started to own and cultivate this ever-increasing panic when my daughter made me promise that she could take hormone blockers and made me promise once again with tears in her eyes to “not forget”… it’s everything to her not to look like a man. Not to have a deeper voice, facial hair and an Adam’s apple and I’m charged with making sure that doesn’t happen.
Ominous task when no one can give me straight answers on exactly when Tanner 2 starts. “It’s a case by case basis,” the doctor said last night, and I believe him… but throw a Mom a bone! The doctors near us say she’s too young to be seen. Still, I want her to see a doctor who can help us. Sure, you won’t be administering anything, but take a baseline! Examine her Tanner 1 body so we don’t miss any warning signs. She dislikes her body so she’s definitely not monitoring her testicle size, which is exactly the red flag for Tanner 2 beginning. Breast buds are a sign for Tanner 2 starting in girls. “Peek into the shower when she is in there,” a friend suggested last night. “To stare at her genitals?” I quickly replied almost spitting my water. You can’t possibly understand how this would traumatize my daughter.
A professional stood right in front of me so why not ask how I was supposed to catch a miniscule increase in testicle size. Guess the answer? “It’s so individual, she needs a doctor that can notice the changes,” his answer bugged me, like passing the buck to someone else, anyone else. And if she did have a doctor that she trusted enough to allow him to repeatedly examine her testicles how often does that happen to catch Tanner 2 when it starts? “What’s my window of time in catching Tanner 2?” I asked. You know what he said, “Depends on the individual.” Uh-huh.
I’m confident in most every aspect of my life. Truth is my guide. But puberty, specifically the start of Tanner 2 because that is exactly when pediatric endocrinologists will take you seriously and actually see you in the office, feels like a runaway freight train full of newborn babies that’s both gaining speed and barreling off the tracks and my job is to catch it, stop it and redirect it. It’s up to me.
After some research I feel like I have a good plan on stopping it and getting it back on course. Whew! The glitch is that I live a hundred miles away from where the train is likely to show up, but I don’t know when it’s coming exactly or where. In the dark. Usually when I’m in this state of utter confusion I turn to books, and lots of them, but the books out today about puberty give me hives. They don’t say a single word about calculating when the freight train is rolling through town. And I need THAT info.
Walking out into the cool, wet night felt refreshing. I must have been sweating in my seat all evening. Nervous. Nervous still. But that’s how life happens. We sit in an uncomfortable place/s knowing that what we do is the right thing asking questions despite the answer being clearly out of view. That’s okay. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But standing in my truth, knowing I’m searching, I’m drawing the way closer to us every day. And then I trust it will appear.