Plum came out as transgender not long before his 16th birthday. I was really surprised. This might seem reasonable to some of you but let me explain – I was surprised mostly because I’d asked him about his gender identity years earlier and he had affirmed that he felt himself to be female. I don’t care even a little bit about which gender Plum is. I don’t care even a little bit which body parts he has or which pronouns he wants me to use. The only thing that I care about, as a mom, is how miserable Plum felt for years trying to figure out why he felt so uncomfortable with who he was. My heart hurt for Plum when he told me that the tremendous social anxiety and depression he was trying to live with was most likely because he felt himself to be male in a female’s body.
Plum is a fantastic kid. He writes sci-fi, steampunk novels about kids who smoke cigars. Not all of his stories are like that but one of my favourites is about a kid who smokes a cigar and is best friends with Gordon Lightfoot. I mean, c’mon, that’s fucking brilliant. Plum also pens and sings folk songs, he loves animals, is an amazing pal to all wee kids and will play with them until he’s exhausted. Plum is one of the kindest, smartest and most creative people I know. He also happens to be my one and only baby. I’ve had the fortune of spending a lot of time with him.
I attend a monthly support group for parents/guardians of trans kids. Overall, we’re a supportive, open-minded group of people. There is one exception: Angry Mom. Since her first appearance at group, she has been very upset by the medical intervention most of us are allowing our children to take. For example, Plum started taking a hormone suppressor to halt his estrogen levels before being able to start taking testosterone. This was a big deal because Plum had already gone through female puberty, so he went through a sort of reverse puberty (think menopause) before he could start his male puberty. When all of this medical stuff started I asked all of the right questions about side effects, and made inquiries about long-term studies. There were none. There are no long-term studies on the effects of cross sex hormones. Transgender people have not been followed by professional medical studies en masse because, until recently, they weren’t being recognized much at all. The endocrinologist told me that she had no idea what the long-term repercussions would be and, as a parent, that was a terrifying thing to hear.
To be clear, I do not relish the idea of Plum being part of a medical experiment. If in 20, 30 or 40 years our actions now negatively affect Plum’s health, I will be devastated. But let me tell you something I consider even more important than the uncertainty –
43% of trans people in Ontario have attempted suicide at least once.
Plum was so unwell before he came out that I was worried we’d have to hospitalize him. He barely left his room, couldn’t attend school and I watched in morbid fear that I was witnessing a downward spiral that would end horribly. So, I am supporting Plum’s medical choices, which brings me back to Angry Mom. Angry Mom spends a lot of time during our support group sessions talking about the unknown dangers of these medical treatments. Angry Mom talks a lot about there only being 2 genders and about how you can’t be born in the “wrong” body if that’s the body you’re born into.
Angry Mom doesn’t realize that every time she talks I get angrier than her. I cannot believe that in 2015 there are still people who believe that they have the right to hate on other people because they don’t understand something. Gender is something we have constructed based on anatomy and I do not believe that anatomical parts define who we are. If someone born with a penis tells me she is female, or anywhere else on the gender spectrum, then she is. I do not pretend to have the answers to why this happens, I just know that it does. I have met dozens of trans kids and their families. I have met dozens of trans adults. I have spoken with medical professionals and advocates and I know the science and theory behind gender non-conforming individuals.
I grew up in the 90’s and attended an arts school where I studied ballet. I was a talented and pretty ballerina. When I wanted to also take shop class, the principal called me in to gawk at me. At the time, I thought he was very lame and sexist. There was no term I identified with then, but there is now: I am genderqueer. This is a term for someone who does not feel that they are exclusively female or male. Apparently. Whatever. I am just me.
I cannot fathom a world where people on the internet feel that it’s okay to tell a beautiful, eloquent and resilient trans woman like Laverne Cox to shoot herself. I cannot believe that it has to be stated that no one deserves to be gawked at, threatened or hated for behaving in a manner that feels natural in their own skin. I wore tights and jumped around to music and also wanted to learn how to fix cars. So? What’s it to you? Does the idea of a skilled ballerina mechanic freak you out? Why? Why does Laverne Cox being fabulous matter to you? Why does my gentle, beautiful son, make you aggressively stupid?
My trans son has rights. He’s back at school and thriving because we support him. We use male pronouns, we bring him to his hospital appointments to get hormone treatments and never once has he tried to kill himself.
And every single time Angry Mom talks about the dangers of medical intervention, I worry about her child. And every single time some stranger on the street, on the web, or even someone in my family, makes a repugnant comment about a trans person I reserve the right to be angry at them because I am not here to educate – I am here to stand up for my child. I care for my trans kid as much as anyone cares about their cisgender kid.
As a mom, let me tell you that I will demand to know why you feel entitled to spew hatred, and I will yell right back at you. I will stand between you and my child if you try to throw a punch. I am not going to let anyone disrespect my family. You are mistaken if you think that as parent, friend and lover, I will passively allow anyone to treat any trans person violently.
The time for pretty words is over. I’m the new genderqueer Angry Mom in town.