Five days after my fifteen-year-old daughter Alice reveals herself as, well HERself, and two days after she breaks the news to her father and brother, we have the following conversation.
“So who should we tell next?”
“Everyone” she responds.
“And when should we tell them?”
“Immediately, I don't wanna play Boy one day longer than I have to. But you should do the telling, be my Chief Informer, because you're good with words.” She's clearly pandering but I let it slide. After all, I've been trying to manage the disconnect between this child and the rest of the world for long enough that by now it's second nature.
I start my awkward announcements that same Monday morning at the Skilled Nursing Facility where I work as an Office Manager. I'm sifting through a stack of papers from my mailbox in the Admitting office when my coworker Sherry asks one of those usual polite-chatter question.
“So how was your weekend?”
“Not long enough.” I laugh, “But I got some stuff done. Took my daughter shopping, spent too much money...”
“I didn't know you had a daughter” the Director of Nursing, Dawn says.
“Either did I.” I say and then I laugh because I've been practicing that one for four days.
“I thought you just had the two boys.” Sherry says, looking particularly confused.
“So did I, but apparently my little one has just been pretending with the boy stuff for the last fifteen years.” Again, I laugh and still, they stare. Then a little light-bulb pops on over Dawn's head.
“Wait, like that boy in the lifetime movie with Mercedes Ruehl...oh what's his name?”
“Oh I saw that too!” Sherry says.
“The murdered kid who dressed up like a girl?” Martha asks.
“Transgender” I say, wincing at the thought that Gwen Araujo's murder is the one touch-point these women have to relate to Alice.
“My little buddy Jordan wants to be a girl?!” My assistant Martha, who fields phone calls from ALice/Jordan on a daily basis asks.
“It's called Gender Identity Disorder if you want to get all DSMV about it.” which, seeing as how I'm talking to a bunch of nurses, they probably do.
“How do they treat it?” Dawn asks, sounding genuinely concerned.
“Actually the only successful treatment appears to be living in harmony with the brain's gender, or the gender they feel.” I tell her. I hate myself for going the whole Mental Disorder route here, but it's not the last time I'll do so. Faced with an audience whose only previous knowledge of trans people comes from television and tabloids, I feel ill-prepared for the task of explaining Gender Identity otherwise.
“Is he going to have the surgery?” Martha asks, clearly horrified.
“For chri'sake she's fifteen!” I don't know why I'm shocked by the question, but I am. “Surgery's not even an option until she's eighteen and at that point, it's up to her.”
Everyone gets real quiet at this point and then Sherry finally says “Wow.”
“Yeah, wow” Dawn echoes.
Martha pats my arm and then bustles out of the room. I smile weakly at the others, clutch my papers and make for my office down the hall.
Over time, and after enough of these conversations, I get to the point where I can deflect the surgery question without hesitation, “To be perfectly honest, I'm not comfortable discussing my kid's genitals.” That bit stops people short and usually prompts an apology. I make a point not to brush those apologies off, but instead follow up with “It's really less about genitals than it is about Alice living comfortably as herself and being honest with all of us about who she is.
I don't get a lot of work done on this particular day but I DO kick ass in my new role as Chief Informer, checking off name after name on our “To Tell” list. I call my father, out in the Nevada desert. He already knows about the drugs and self-harming issues, and somehow this newest development fails to faze him. “What'ya gonna do but love 'em?” he says with a sigh.
I call my best friend, who responds with the same kind of disbelief I initially felt, but is generally supportive. I spend my lunch hour re-working the last week's notes from my journal and post them on my blog. The wave of supportive comments and e-mails which follow help sustain the momentum I've got going. I call my brother-in-law David and invite him for dinner without telling him why. At twenty-five, he's the kids' cool Unkie D, an Anime and Cosplay fiend who I'm depending on for a casually positive response.
That evening, my husband Jay comes home with pizzas just as his brother shows up. Our son Max is out with friends and Alice is locked in her room, plotting her announcement to Unkie D. I'm painfully aware of the ticking clock, knowing that I've got less than 36 hours before my mother arrives, expecting to pick Jordan up for their weekly baking date and finding Alice instead.
Jay and David are noshing pizza in the living room and fighting off hungry dogs when Alice makes her grand entrance, sporting her Think Green baby-doll tee, Kohl-lined eyes and a blood-red lipstick.
“TaDa!” She says, waving spirit fingers above her head before dashing into the kitchen for a slice.
David scans the room and checks our response, then he asks, “Did I inherit a niece without knowing it?”
“Actually, yes.” I say quietly, shooting him a particularly pleading look.
“Are we public, like full-time?”
“Not at school yet, but other than that, yes.”
“Well,” and he pauses, “at least he didn't come out as a Furry. Those costumes are outrageously expensive.”
Jay tries to laugh but chokes on his pizza and a coughing fit ensues, during which Iggy grabs a bit of crust off his plate and makes a mad dash for the backyard. Jay chases the dog out the door, still coughing and Alice reappears, a fat slice of pepperoni pizza hanging out of her lipsticked mouth.
“You wanna break the news to your mother?” I ask David quietly.
“Will do.” He says.
Alice plops down beside David on the couch and tossed him a Playstation controller.
“I can still kick your ass in Smackdown,” she says, wiping grease and a smear of lipstick from her chin, “Now I'll just do it in heels.”
“We'll see.” David challenges, “Now be a good girl and get Unkie D. another slice of the combination.”
Relieved, but knowing that more daunting tasks lay ahead, I plate some pizza and take it down the hall to my bedroom, closing the door so I won't be disturbed. I call my mother and spend five minutes downing my dinner while she makes chatty talk. I still don't know how I'm going to tell her, but I start moving in that direction.
“So you remember my friend Ari from Santa Cruz?”
“Well I never met her, but yes. Remember you told me she was having surgery and my bible study group prayed for her? Of course, I didn't tell them what kind of surgery it was, but we DID pray for her that morning.”
“I like that.” I say, and then try a conversational swerve, “Well last week with Linda, Jory kinda blurted out this big secret he's been keeping and, well as it turns out, your youngest grandson is, um, a girl.”
“um hum” she says, utterly non-committal. In fact, I'm not altogether sure she heard me.
“Like Ari.” I say.
“So we're going to let her be herself and maybe some of the other stuff will get better. Like the drugs and the rages, all the self-harming stuff...I mean, that would be good, right? If he … she gets better.”
She's quiet and I let her be quiet. Then finally, she says, “Obviously, we love him no matter what.”
“You're going to need to get used to switching pronouns” I tell her, “And using her name.”
”I see. Well we'll work on that.” Her voice has become increasingly tight, like her throat is constricted so I try to wrap up the call so she can decompress.
“If you're not up for baking and chauffeuring this week...”
“Oh I'll be there.” she reassures me.
“Ok, I'm gonna let you go now. But I love you mom.”
“I love you too. All of you.”
I hang up and head back out into the living room where I find Alice and David engaged in a gamer's wrestling match. She's using the new character Max created for her, a spitting image, but for the addition of long blonde hair, a winnowed waist and surprisingly understated rack.
Jay is watching me and I cross the room to where he's sitting in front of his computer.
“Well my mother is sorted.”
“And?” he asks.
I shrug. “Hard to know just yet. Let's see how Wednesday goes.” I know I'm harder on my mother than any of Alice's other grandparents. I expect more from her, in spite of or perhaps because of her religious intensity. Also, her involvement in our everyday lives makes her response and acceptance incredibly important. I watch Alice's in-game character complete a Swanton Bomb off the ropes, slamming David's character to the mat.
“I rule!” she shouts.
“my life...” I mumble under my breath so only Jay can hear, "...somehow kiddo, you always do.”
[Note: The final year of my daughter's life was a revelation and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I tell her story in bits and pieces as part of my own therapy, but also to let others who may travel some piece of the same path; You are not alone. This piece and previous diaries about Alice are cross-posted Laurustina.com.]