I sometimes wonder how those men who live double lives with a family in two different cities do it. How do they keep it all straight? I would be a lousy liar. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to come up with a plausible story when confronted by someone who has noticed that their details don’t quite match up with their past stories. And yet I find myself in their shoes with surprising regularity.
I’ll be at the store, shopping for toilet paper and dog food, and I’ll run into another parent. Someone from a playgroup years past, or from the preschool co-op, someone I haven’t seen in some time. The predictable yet enjoyable conversation starts. How are the kids? What are they up to? …What parent doesn’t like to talk about their awesome offspring??
And so I do. Older daughter is interested in theater, excited about getting braces (who knew braces would become a mark of coolness?), growing like a weed. Younger daughter is reading everything she can get her hands on, is obsessed with Minecraft, and wants to dye her hair crazy colors.
Then I see The Look.
“Wait. Daughters? I thought you had a girl and a boy.”
Right. You don’t know. OK. Deep breath.
“I thought I did. Turns out we were mistaken. She identifies as a girl and is transgender.”
Cue the transformation from a brief and casual conversation to a much longer discussion. Put the ice cream back and plan on going back for it later; otherwise it will melt while we stand in the middle of the grocery store and discuss one of the most frightening periods of my parenting life.
I used to dread these encounters. I worried about being a good advocate for my amazing, vulnerable, yet incredibly strong daughter. I feared saying the wrong thing, getting my facts wrong, coming across as deluded or defensive. I braced myself for the negative reaction that magically hasn’t come yet, the hidden prejudices, the blinkered political or religious viewpoints that would render an old acquaintance incapable of accepting my daughter’s existence as a valid reality.
I won’t say I haven’t had challenging encounters with people who have strong opinions on the truth of my child. But they haven’t happened in the middle of the grocery store yet, and they haven’t come from anyone who has met my daughter, even when she was my son. I have been blessed to find myself in a community of parents from all walks of life who hear about our journey, keep their “there but for the grace of God go I” thoughts gracefully to themselves, and who reach out and give me a hug.
They exclaim on all the things they — and I — didn’t know about being transgender until it became a presence in our personal lives in some way, and I am profoundly grateful to be able to be the vehicle for the news that every parent wants to hear when faced with the harsh reality that life isn’t always kind to our precious children: It’s not the end of the world. I have a beautiful, loving child who is finally happy. She faces some steep challenges, and has overcome many already, but she’s going to be ok. And so is her mother, for all her inability to keep track of Before and After.