I Want to Be a Boy

“Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”

~Wes Angelozzi~

Supporting Kaden was a foregone conclusion when he came out at 15 years old. I knew then, even in my darkest moments, that he would transition and I would be by his side. That being said, it wasn’t easy. And there were moments when I second guessed myself…and him. I prayed we were doing the right thing and asked God, daily, and sometimes moment by moment to guide our steps. Only with time, did I see just how our lives changed for the better. I certainly did not know how it would be when Kaden was little, when he first shared his desire to be a boy. I believe I could have handled things differently. I could have worried less about the outcome and enjoyed the process of who he was becoming. I didn’t know what to do back then, but I know I did my best, even if it was messy and riddled with mistakes. This is the story of Kaden’s early days, when he began showing who he was on the inside. It’s also the story of my early days as a mom to a gender expansive child. In it are details that I would like to forget, but they are a part of our journey and I need to give myself the same grace I would offer anyone else in this situation. All I can say is when I knew better, I did better.

{For the purpose of this post, I use Kaden’s birth name and pronouns.}

I’ll never forget the first time Kate told me she wanted to be a boy. It was early fall, my favorite season, and I was standing at the sink, washing dishes, in my single story home on Old Hickory. The kitchen faced our backyard and I could see, through the windows, the tops of pretty trees lining the main road into our neighborhood, just on the other side of my fence. I always loved that view and would often get lost in all the branches and green leaves. Kate, who was almost three years old at the time, was playing with something in the hallway closet, near the front door, when she hollered, “Mommy, I want to be a boy.” I stood there for a moment, with the hot water running full blast, and did not dare move or breathe. It was as though her life flashed before my eyes and images of the types of toys she liked, the shows she watched, the friends she liked to play with all painted a clear picture that pointed to the truth of her statement…

She wanted to be a boy.

My little girl wanted to be a boy.

And my response was, “Nope!”

I immediately started praying it all away. This was not happening. I gave birth to a girl and a girl she would stay. She didn’t seem to understand that, but I was okay with being the one to show her, though I wished one of the many parenting books I had read would have given me a heads up. I wasn’t aware that some parents had to teach their children how to identify with their birth gender/sex. Of course, now I know that kids aren’t the confused ones. They know who they are. It’s us adults who tend to make things messy when it comes to our kids’ gender identity.

Interestingly, I didn’t think much about Kate’s gender before. In fact, I thought I had a cool little girl who loved to rough house, play with boys and boy toys, who liked to wear jeans, a cute ‘T’, and a pony tail, and on occasion wear a dress. The thing is, I understood her, because I wasn’t very fussy or much into glam either. But I also wondered if that was why she didn’t connect with being a girl. Maybe I wasn’t glam enough to register a positive impression. Maybe it was my fault that she wanted to be a boy. My guilt-driven remedy was to do the exact opposite of what I had been doing up to that point in her life. I began putting bows in her hair, and picking out girly clothing. I bought adorable little play sets, and Barbie dolls, but they were only played with when other little girls would come over or if I pulled them out. I resisted her natural inclinations and sometimes shamed her for them. I even went as far as saying to her, “Why can’t you be like all the other little girls?” I also enrolled her in ballet, with the conscious thought that maybe she would finally get it. I had the same hopes when I sent her to kindergarten. I prayed that since she would be around so many little girls, she’d finally realize she was one of them.

During those few early years, well-intentioned friends would make comments or ask questions about Kate’s preferences. Questions like, “Why doesn’t Kate play with the girls?” or “Wow, did Kate pick out her outfit today?” and comments about her boyish build-a-bear designs or masculine Wii avatar choices, or my friends pointing out when she looked more feminine were normal topics of conversation. The sad part of it was that I participated in those conversations. I asked questions and made comments, too. I did not hide my discomfort in having a gender creative child. And I did not know how to handle my own shame.

I was so uncomfortable with the whole thing, and so concerned about what others thought, that I did not fully enjoy my beautiful, sporty, kind, funny, smart, sweet, and loving child. I spent a lot of time focused on my unmet expectations in having a daughter, and spent years trying to “fix” the precious gender expansive child God gave me. In some ways, I divorced my head from my heart and tried to bully my child into submission…which did not work. THANK GOD!! As a result of not being aligned with the truth, my relationship with Kate suffered. Imposing my will over hers in order to get the result I was after put a horrible wedge between us.

On the morning of November 29, 2007, Kate had had enough of my agenda. I had picked out a dress for her to wear to school, like I often did, but when she saw it, she burst into tears, ran into the family room, threw herself of the couch, and yelled, “I am not your daughter, I am your son.” She told me she hated her body, and that she prayed to God he would turn her into a boy. She told me she wanted to quit ballet and have her long hair cut short. In that moment, my hope that she would embrace being a girl all but vanished. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut and I imagined this was her six-year-old way of telling me to fuck off. She was done with my attempts at making her into the daughter I wanted and demanded that I know and understand the truth of who she really was. In that moment, I knew I had to wake up to what her heart was telling mine. I had to see and hear her in a new way. It was so hard, but that very day I cancelled her ballet class and took her to get a short haircut. It wasn’t the end of struggle for us, as Kate would not be ready to “come out” until nine years later, but it was the beginning of understanding, compassion, and unconditional love.

I can’t do anything about those early years. I can only commit to being my best for Kaden now. I can commit to showing up for other LGBTQ+ kids with understanding and affirming support. I can also share my story in order to help other moms (or dads, grandparents, siblings, and friends) avoid the mistakes I made and to help them see that their kids need compassion, support, and unconditional love as they figure themselves out. Love will continue to win, even if the path is bumpy. Don’t ever give up…

It gets better.

xoxo

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