April 21, 2019
When we said goodbye at the Kona airport, Ollie asked us to introduce him with his new, chosen name and use the he/him pronouns- this was our first time. So, we were saying goodbye to both a daughter and a son. Our daughter would not be coming back to us, but hopefully our son would return.
In the turmoil that enveloped us, there was a bright, hard spot that we couldn’t even talk about with each other, and I dared not poke at it too much even while caught up in my own thoughts. How do you grieve for a child that isn’t lost? She was discarded so that he could live. Living was then, and is now, the most important thing. That is all that matters. You always hear parents say, “I just want him to be happy” or “I just want a healthy baby.” We just wanted our baby to live. We could deal with everything else later. Including a change of gender.
“Dead-naming” is the act of using a transgender person’s birth name. It is traumatic and hurtful and “othering.” However, the idea of “death” as an adjective to describe anything relating to my child causes me pain. My pain pales in comparison to what Ollie experiences, but it is still there. And the fact that Ollie is thinking a little too much about death makes it exponentially harder to stay on the grateful side of things. What do I do with 13 years’ worth of memories? I can remove old family photos and much-loved childhood artwork signed by the artist, but where do I put my emotions? It feels shameful and selfish to even name these feelings. And dangerous too– when the statistics surrounding transgender youth (harassment, self-harm, safety, lack of support) are so grim. But if you can’t talk about it, or even acknowledge it, it just sits there, eating away at your insides.
Therapy, PFLAG parent support groups, and conversations with Cameron are where I can share my “backstage mess.” I come home to these places, and these people, to let go of negative emotions and loneliness and guilt, and I leave them feeling less alone, with a desperate desire to make this world safer for both my son and my daughter. I also leave these places sometimes and head straight for bed– this is my new “duality.”
As far as duality goes– one of the main therapeutic modalities we’ve encountered on our journey is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short. Loosely, it is based on the concept of holding two opposing thoughts or feelings in your mind at the same time. Acceptance AND change. I am happy AND I am sad. I am grieving AND I’m grateful. This is not always the most comfortable place to land– our DNA still reacts powerfully to strong stimuli with a “fight or flight” surge of adrenalin. How do we live in the middle? How do we fight AND flight? Advocate AND retreat? My body reacts to this ongoing tension by sudden, unexpected episodes of shaking and trembling. It takes a lot of energy to stay in the center of the unknown and be okay with it.
How much energy did it take Ollie to shed our expectations and give voice to his true identity? How much pain did he have to suffer, living in a way that wasn’t authentic? How scary is it to find your path when you look around and can’t see those who’ve gone before you? On this Easter Sunday, this day marked by resurrection and rebirth, I honor Ollie, and shout my pride and love into the world. Perhaps all my recent pain is just my second labor– all this noise and tears and mess, breathing exercises and visualization techniques and helping hands (and medication this time for sure)– bringing this new life into the world. Congratulations- it’s a boy!
To learn more about PFLAG, visit https://pflag.org
For more information about DBT: https://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/
And to learn more about ways to be a trans ally, visit the National Center for Transgender Equality at https://transequality.org/issues/resources/supporting-the-transgender-people-in-your-life-a-guide-to-being-a-good-ally