Two years ago this November, my child came to me and said that she was a girl. No big deal. Except that she had been identified by a doctor at birth as male, and had lived her life up until that point as a boy.
In two years, she has changed schools, changed names, changed hair, changed clothes, changed gender terms.
As that anniversary approaches, I think about what we haven’t changed. Her legal identity. In Connecticut, this involves some paperwork, $150, and a trip to Probate Court. Once approved, her name will officially be Rose.* The name we carefully chose for our baby boy, with love and care in our hearts, will no longer exist. When a parent chooses a name for their baby, they never think that it will change. Maybe he’ll pick up a nickname or two. Maybe she’ll drop her middle name for her maiden name when she gets married. But that first name? That’s an identity. That’s a symbol of love and tradition and a parent’s involvement in a child’s life. ….Isn’t it?
I’ve gotten weepy a few times. Raising a child means constant adjustment to change for any parent. Raising a transgender child raises that by a factor of ten. I have found myself grieving for the child I sometimes feel I lost, even as I rejoice in the beautiful, amazing child that I have. Releasing this name that we picked for our baby is more than signing some paperwork in court. It’s an effort of heart and mind.
One might ask why we would bother to change her legal name now, while she’s still so young. It’s expensive, it takes time, it’s a big step, it’s permanent. These are all true. On the other side of the scales, it’s an affirmation to her. It makes paperwork mistakes at school — an old gender marker slipping through the computer system, perhaps — easier for her to explain away as just a mistake if the name isn’t also wrong. It saves having to explain in front of strangers in a crowded waiting room every single time we go to the doctor, the dentist, or the optometrist, that she is transgender when the insurance card lists her birth name. And then sitting on edge for the next few hours as we navigate the office and then the parking lot in case someone takes it upon themselves to express their bigoted views at my child. And it’s what she wants. Identity is an intricate, inherent part of us all. She deserves to own her name, that calling card that the rest of the world uses. Because her new name isn’t just a nickname, isn’t just a passing phase. It’s who she is.
I still grieve. I love the name that we picked out for our baby boy. It had meaning and purpose, and it was beautiful. I didn’t choose her new name. She did. I had to consciously let go of my assumption that, as a parent, I got to make that choice for my baby. Because by the time the need for a new name became apparent, she was no longer a baby. The expected dynamic wasn’t there. We were charting a brave new world. But her new name is beautiful, too. It has purpose and meaning. It fits her. And she loves it.
In two years, she has changed schools, changed names, changed hair, changed clothes, changed gender terms. And she has changed me. I have let go of some of my control, and come to understand that a happy child is far, far more important than a child that conforms to social expectations. I have found some peace in the middle of not knowing what comes next, as much as I want to know. I have found strength I did not know I had, to face down strangers and affirm my child’s right to exist as a child who was born with an outwardly male form and entirely female identity. I have found acceptance in how my expectations for her life have changed, knowing that she will face choices that impact her fertility and physical form far sooner than any person should ever have to.
I have come to peace with letting go of her old name. I’ll still cry. But my heart feels joy that I have a child who is finally happy in her skin. Making her new name official is a part of that. It’s an affirmation of self that she needs and I can do this for her. A parent’s job is to meet their children’s needs and simultaneously, constantly, let them go. I can do this for her, and let go of the baby she was for the sake of the person she is now. It’s time to go get that paperwork.
*Rose is not her real name. Dear readers, it’s a crazy world out there sometimes, and her privacy is her own. I hope you understand the writer’s sleight-of-hand I chose to do here.