“When did you know for sure?”
Everyone we meet wants to know the answer to that question when they hear we have a transgender child. Some, perhaps, so that they can calm unspoken fears about the possibility their own tomboy daughter or feminine son might be gender variant. And most others because they are genuinely interested.
I remember Sam always gravitating to traditional male activities…male friends…male play. From Match Box cars and CAT bulldozers to baseball jerseys and Bob the Builder reruns. Sam was all boy — even if he was biologically a girl.
At the age of 3, a well-meaning preschool teacher sent a photo home with Sam. The woman just as pleased to share what fun our child was having at school as Sam was to be hand delivering a picture that was sure to make the refrigerator hall-of-fame. As I studied the photo of three young children playing “house,” a sick feeling began to grow in my stomach. In front of me were two girls engaged in traditional gender role-play, happily assuming the coveted parts of mother and child, and then there was Sam, complete with a fake beard, sport coat, top hat and a grin from ear-to-ear.
When I asked Sam what role she was playing, the tone, more than the answer, caught me off guard. With a confident, don’t-you-get-it-mom inflection in her voice, Sam proclaimed, “I’m the DAD!” An even more incredulous tone ensued when I asked why she was playing that part. “Because that is who I am!” she explained with frustration. At that point, I was hoping the answer would have been, “…because they made me be the Dad. I would have much rather dealt with a daughter not standing up to her classmates than a child who was starting to tell us in the only way she knew how, that there was a disconnect between mind and body.
The early years were filled with more of these types of anecdotes than I care to remember, each one providing varying degrees of uneasiness for my husband and me. But it was the revelation Sam came home with in third grade that provided me with my proverbial ah-ha moment.
In third grade students at our local public elementary school get their first lesson on the subject of chromosomes. Nothing too complex, mind you, just the basic information on XY sex-determination. Well, as it turned out, that day proved to be monumental for Sam, who jumped off the bus in the afternoon eager to share something important. “I know what is wrong with me!” Sam exclaimed, grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser before the back door was even closed.
“There is nothing wrong with you,” I replied, scared of where this conversation was going.
“Look mom,” Sam said, as she wrote in large letters XX followed by XY. “Girls have XX chromosomes, and boys have XY,” “she” went on.
Okay, I thought. So far I can deal with this discussion.
Sam continued: “Something happened to my Y — it was supposed to be a Y, but it turned into an X (erasing the bottom stem of a sloppily drawn Y), and that is why I am a girl when I was really suppose to be a boy.”
All I could feel at that moment was an excruciating pain in my heart thinking about the magnitude of the internal struggle my child must be enduring for her to come away with this self-diagnosis from a simple third-grade science lesson.
I did not try to deny Sam’s feelings any longer; instead I picked up the phone and called my husband at work to share Sam’s revelation. It was that afternoon we both knew we were facing something bigger than we had once thought. While difficult at the time, we will always reflect positively on that day, for it marked the beginning of our journey down a new path — one that would help our child become who he was really meant to be.