I can’t say it wasn’t totally unexpected. About 1-2 years ago, Tigger informed me he was transgender. We discussed it, what that term meant, etc., and we I decided (hoped?) it was just a vocabulary mistake.
Nothing was said again, so I left it alone. We discuss gender issues from time to time as they are a big part of current events. We discussed this when he was a little boy, too. “Pink is for girls!” he proclaimed once. I used that as a teaching moment to address that colors and toys (at least for children) don’t have genitalia, therefore there is no such thing as a girl color or a boy’s toy, etc.
As we prepared to leave Mexico this last time, we did some shopping. He informed me: “Don’t be surprised when I go looking in the women’s department. I want to see if women’s clothes are more comfortable.” I remember my instant mental reaction, how my heart seemingly skipped a beat, and how my mouth went dry.
I was raised in a culture very different from today’s. Yes, blue was for boys and pink for girls. Boys didn’t play with dolls, and only “tomboy” girls would dare play with a toy truck. Any male who wore a dress for anything except Halloween or a theater performance was a “faggot.” Boys and men didn’t cry.
I’ve worked hard to reprogram that cultural learning because I despised it and flat out didn’t agree with some of it. I was determined I would raise a son who believed that crying was okay, that a guy can wear pink, and that there’s nothing wrong with a teenage boy wanting a My Little Pony plush toy. When he openly declared he was a Brony, I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Having worked with transgender and gender neutral teens before, I have learned how incredibly difficult their life can be. I’ve been watching I Am Cait and have been left speechless at some of the experiences of these trans women and just how many of them get killed (one every 29 hours).
It is this knowledge that caused my reaction, not that he was interested in wearing “incorrect” clothing for his gender.
I actually kind of admire people who thumb their nose at society-declared gender norms. I’m quite fond of this quote from gender-nonconforming Jaden Smith: “I don’t see man clothes and woman clothes, I just see scared people and comfortable people.” [emphasis mine]
So we went clothes shopping. He chose a pair of women’s pants and a blouse I pointed out for its funny saying. I held my breath when he showed up at the fitting room. “Are these for you?” she asked a bit surprised. He said yes, and she handed him the numbered placard. Phew!
He ended up liking them and so they were purchased. He declared they were surprisingly comfortable and that was that.
Having returned to Budapest, we went into a discount general store to see what they had. Tigger went exploring and came back and announced “They have purple nail polish!” I took a deep breath and responded: “Well, purple is a nice color.” A few minutes later he had gathered up the courage to ask if we could buy it. And soon my son was sporting purple fingernails.
He discovered painting one’s nails isn’t as easy as it looks, and I suggested he consider a manicure.
I was waiting to see where else this was leading, and sure enough two days later I heard “I wonder what it feels like to wear a dress.” I said that there was only one way to find out. I could see he was nervous, so as we did our daily walk I would point out dress shops so he knew I was okay with this.
About three days ago, he finally decided he wanted to try on a dress. He found one he liked and tried it on. Again I waited breathlessly as he took the item to the fitting room. The clerk didn’t even bat an eye. When he came out wearing the dress, she did a brief double take but that was it. “Would you help me zip this up?” I never expected to hear those words from my son. When he returned in his other clothes, she asked “Did it work for you?” He said yes and smiled.
I wanted to hug her fiercely.
As I paid for the dress, my heart was pounding again. This was really happening.
We left the store, and I watched him from the corner of my eye. Tigger is his nickname because he doesn’t walk. He skips, hops, runs, and bounces. Most of it stems from his anxiety issues. This time there was no bouncing. He walked with the dress firmly clutched to his chest like a prized possession.
When we got home, he immediately changed into his dress. He asked if I would take a picture, post it to Facebook, and tag him in it. I was amazed by his courage and intent to be himself no matter what.
Later we talked about how he felt in the dress. He decided he was gender fluid and would maybe decide he was transgender later as an adult. I was glad he was open and thinking through things. And I watched in amazement as two things transpired.
First, he started organizing his room and the table next to my chair. People often make their surroundings match their insides, and so he tends to like a lot of chaos around him. Suddenly organizing stuff, which he has never done before, told me that his thoughts were becoming more organized, too.
What was even bigger, though, is that for the rest of the night there was no bouncing. He usually has to hop and bounce around the apartment about every 1-2 hours to release the extra energy and ground himself again. Several hours went by without this happening. “Where’s your anxiety at?” I asked. He rated his anxiety as a “zero.”
This doesn’t even happen when he’s on meds. I can count the times he’s been a zero on one hand.
Because his usual hat doesn’t really work with a dress, he needed a better fit. Covering his head helps him maintain his anxiety, especially in public. So it’s kind of required gear.
The next day we decided to go to our favorite burrito place in the mall. When I came downstairs, he was wearing his dress (over pants no less). I kept the look of surprise from my face. For some reason, I hadn’t expected that he would wear his dress in public.
As we were leaving the safe confines of our apartment complex, I took a deep breath. I felt tension grip my body instantly as he placed a death grip on my arm. My eyes darted wildly as we walked. I carefully searched for any signs of impending danger, ready to physically defend my child vigorously. Papa Bear was primed and ready.
“Are you feeling anxious?” I asked, already knowing the answer. He did feel nervous but only rated his anxiety at a 4, which I thought was pretty amazing really. I was probably at a 7, and I don’t have anxiety issues.
After eating I spotted a store with hats and we went in. He found a very suitable hat. He was much calmer during the walk home. It helped having his new hat. I was slightly more relaxed having experienced no problems on our first trip, but I was still nervously scanning the crowd so I would be ready.
Again, at his request I took a photo and published it on Facebook. Because I have amazing friends and family-by-choice, he instantly had wonderful comments and fashion and makeup tips.
The next morning I was going through my Facebook notifications. I saw that he had responded “she BTW” in that thread. I asked what this meant, and he explained that he is transgender and wants to go by female pronouns.
I asked some followup questions to make sure I understood everything fully and quickly was smacked by a powerful feeling of grief. I spent some time doing research, joined some groups for parents of transgender kids, and discovered that was a common feeling.
On the one hand, I want her to be happy and to be herself. On the other, I fear for her future. I fear for what she will encounter as “a boy in a dress.” Will she find a woman who will love her as she is (yes, she is attracted to women)?
I’ve also contacted a couple of LGBTQ associations in Budapest and have been reassured that “risk is relatively low.” Even though Hungarians aren’t always the most open-minded people, the country has enacted many laws protecting LGBT people and that’s helpful. Budapest is very youthful and international and that helps as well.
We adore Budapest, but I find myself wondering if Berlin might not be a better fit. It’s considered the most LGBT-friendly city in the world. She would have better access to knowledgeable doctors, therapists, trans teens, and a more welcoming and accepting environment. I think we may go for a 2-week visit or something to see what we think. We had a short visit there last year and really did like it.
She has decided that she will remain Tigger on the blog. I think it’s also important to note that, as always, she has given her permission for me to post about this. I have always checked with her before sharing stories, quotes, etc. She always has veto power.
So it looks like we have a very different adventure now.