What I heard: it was a Sunday night in late September. We were headed back to the city after a weekend at the plastic farm house we rented up in Dutchess County, New York, in a town known by locals as Pine Box.
What I did beforehand: twenty-plus years of parenting, doing my best to raise happy, productive, well-adjusted children, and, sometimes, feeling vaguely that those might not be achievable goals.
What I wore: I don’t know. It was a couple of years ago now. It wasn’t riding clothes or anything fancy.
Who went with me: my husband, known as the Bacon Provider, was doing his normal Sunday night thing, which was working while I drove. Traffic was slower than usual. A text came through on my phone, and though he didn’t normally do this, my husband turned my phone over to see who it was from. He saw that it was our 21-year-old middle son, who lives on the west coast, and it was long, and he began to read it to me.
hey. i would just like to let you know that i would like to be known as Ruth*, … and my preferred pronouns are she/her/hers.
*Why the asterisk: I have my child’s permission to do this blog post, but this is a pseudonym.
Where I sat: I was in the driver’s seat. I kept driving.
Things that were sad: my husband continued reading aloud
There are a couple of medical transition-related things that I am seeking and I would like confirmation from you that you are willing to pay for them.
The language seemed like something she’d copied from a “How to Tell Your Parents You’re Trans.” I wasn’t mad. I was sad that this stuff is so hard to talk about that she had to ask via text, sad that we live in a country where medical expenses can destroy people, and sadder still that I was surprised. Everything I have ever read from the perspective of a parent of a trans child has at least a sentence where they say, “We always knew, somehow.” My middle child has always been one-of-a-kind, wanting to wear a cape and plastic armor or a dragon costume until starting kindergarten where they forbade it. Middle school was a struggle for him**, and so was high school. This was a revelation.
**Why these asterisks: I allow myself to call my child him when I talk about the past. Learning to call someone you are close to by a different name and pronoun is harder than you can possibly imagine. I am doing better all the time.
Things that were funny: the coincidence of my husband reading the text to me meant that I didn’t have to tell him; we found out together.
Things that were not funny: while I had a tom-boy phase in elementary school, I have never doubted being a girl. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be trans, but when I think about it, the quality of being one kind of soul in the wrong sort of container must be impossibly disorienting. How could I have ever met my parenting goals of a happy, productive, well-adjusted kid when she isn’t perceived to be who she feels she is?
What it is: the text goes on for a number of paragraphs, with details about the medical expenses, some stuff about why she wanted to tell me first (!), and this:
I don't really like talking on the phone about this, I'd much rather just tell you via text and get your response than have a long phone call where I'll just end up blubbering about it. i don't really have time for that, I have a drawing to finish.
have a nice day.
She also said she’d be changing her name on Facebook soon. I said her brother wouldn’t appreciate finding out on Facebook.
Who should see it: it has now been a bit over two years. The following Wednesday I shared the news with someone who had idly asked, “How are you?” I let her have it. It was pretty unfair of me, and I frightened and upset her. It’s an ugly habit, dumping your unsettling surprise on an innocent person who wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t do that again.
It did take at least a year for me to stop saying I have three boys. Sometimes, I don't mention it. Given the ascendence of the forces of racism, misogyny, and hatred with our national election result last week, this might not be the time to tell anyone.
Or maybe it's time to tell everyone.
I have told this story a few times, to people I am close to and trust. Most people my age are scandalized that she texted instead of calling. I think she was collecting her thoughts, and if texting your parents that you’re trans isn’t communicating in the lingua franca of the millennial, I don’t know what is.