By Krisztina Inskeep
(of a continuing series)
As my kids were growing up, I paid very little attention to the LGBT community, I’m sorry to say.
I knew a few gay people, but not well. Our lives didn’t intersect much. I was unaware of the daily slights, indignities, challenges, discrimination, bullying, violence and hate crimes suffered by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors.
As our fourth child grew, however, we were drawn into a whole ‘nother world. You see, when he was in high school, he realized he was transgender.
When he was born, we thought William* was Mary, our new daughter. I didn’t know it could be any other way. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Our first three children, a daughter and two sons, were unique individuals, to be sure, but they seemed to be comfortable with themselves and their assumed and assigned gender. I did not have any idea that gender, the way we feel about ourselves, was separate from the physical sex characteristics we are born with. The doctor or midwife takes one look and says, “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” and that is that.
I had no idea what it meant to be transgender – and I have a master’s degree in education! I certainly did not know a very young child could have a very strong sense of who he or she is, and that sense may or may not match up with their assigned gender at birth.
We were pretty much a typical, Hoosier family. My husband, Ken, was the breadwinner. I had quit my teaching job to be the full-time child-wrangler when we started our family. Our first three came along within three years. After a few years to catch my breath, we added another, then finally a fifth child.
I enjoyed being at home with them, most of the time. I liked the freedom to structure my days and weeks the way I saw fit, able to change my mind or pivot on the spot if we suddenly had the urge to go to the park, do an art project or watch Mr. Rogers in our jammies.
The house was rarely tidy, but I was glad to be able to spend so much time with the kids. It suited our priorities and our personalities, and we were grateful that Ken’s salary amply covered our needs. I really HAD found my vocation.
Our kids enjoyed the usual suburban, Midwestern activities. They played basketball, rode bikes, drew pictures, read books, built with Legos, and participated in sports and other activities. William did, too.
I first wondered about Will in third grade or so. He’d enthusiastically played on the church co-ed second- and third-grade basketball teams. He LOVED basketball. What a Hoosier! He threw himself completely into the game, sometimes literally. I was astonished when it came time to sign up for next year’s team, now no longer co-ed, but a girls team, and he just said, “Nah.”
What? But you love basketball!
Huh? Well, okay. I didn’t force it, but I did wonder.
What on earth had happened to cool his ardor? He still played b-ball on the driveway. Still wanted to beat his older siblings at H-O-R-S-E.
Had something happened with the other kids? Was it because teammates ignored him and not passed him the ball because he was a girl? I know that was a frustration, but to not continue on a team – I simply did not understand it.
I wonder if I should have pursued it and asked him more at the time. I guess I just thought he knew how he wanted to spend his time, and b-ball just didn’t make the cut. Oh well. He was plenty active and interested in other things. I let it go.
That same year he also begged to have his hair cut. Sure – why not? I admired his chutzpah and sense of self. It was brave of him to buck the trend. He was the only girl in his elementary with short hair – I mean barely-covering-the-ears short. It made him happier. In fact, he was thrilled!
He wore loose, comfortable, baggy pants, shorts and shirts acquired in the boys department. He also loved the cool hand-me-down tee shirts from his older brothers. OK. I’m not super frilly myself. I get it.
But even as he was dressing comfortably, Will grew less content in other ways. Whenever he played with his younger sister, he invariably made his character a boy, a boy who usually ran away from home or played off by himself. There was a lot of friction between the two of them; bickering and arguments were a daily occurrence. He also grew increasingly anxious, and began to miss school more and more with a generic, undetermined illness that recurred every few weeks.
What was wrong? How could we help? We wouldn’t find out for several more years.
(continued in the March edition)
*Our son does not want his real name used in public. I call him Mary/William in this article and refer to him with male pronouns, per his request.