Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 5, by Mary van Balen
July 10, 2013 Leave a comment
A Guest Post from
Mary van Balen
Mother, Author, Columnist, Speaker
The New York Times publication of Dr. Jack Drescher’s letter in its July 30 print edition under the headline: Sunday Dialogue: Our Notions of Gender, has generated much response in the paper, on websites, and on blogs, including this one. I have followed the conversation, appreciated the clinical expertise, and would like to add my perspective. I am the mother of a transsexual daughter, now an adult, who lived for twenty-five years with her “secret” telling me only when she had to choose between suicide or finally accepting herself as she was. We spent hours in the family room as she summoned the courage to speak the truth she had known for so long but had kept hidden: “I hate my body. I always have. Do you know what gender dysphoria is? Well, that’s what I have.”
The words stunned. I had imagined other possibilities, but not that. My knowledge of GID was rudimentary. Images that came to mind were of make-up slathered characters in movies or television shows, generally sleazy types. And there was a person I had seen singing in Provincetown whose male face and female attire who made me uncomfortable. “Not my quiet son, the bright physicist,” I thought. This didn’t happen to people like “us.” I had a steep learning curve ahead.
That process included long talks with my daughter, who once out to me, was willing to share stories of her growing up years. Many of them broke my heart. I thought of them as I read Dr. Drescher’s letter and the responses.
“If only I had known,” I thought when my now twenty-something daughter told me that she knew she was a girl since she was three and in first grade at a Catholic school dreamed of a “magic uniform” that would change her into one. As she talked I remembered her playing dress-up with her younger sisters and loving to clomp around the house in glittering silver high heels. I didn’t know that she had also been making up ballets wearing a pink tutu. I didn’t know she was suicidal in sixth grade.
But what if I had known? In the early 80’s what kind of advice would have been given to me? What would I have done? I like to think I would have been accepting, encouraging even. At home, we gave dolls and trucks to all the kids. We encouraged our daughters and son to explore the creek, climb the trees and experiment with chemistry sets as well as cookie recipes. But having a child tell you “he” is a girl stretches a parent well beyond those attempts at gender-neutral play. Would I have stood up against the social norms of the day?
As my daughter and I continued sharing, she lamented not having had the chance to grow up as a girl. She missed all that socializing. “It would’ve helped a lot,” she said as she struggled to move into the world of women with a history of trying to fit into the world of men.
Dr. Drescher’s statement that “Currently experts can’t tell apart kids who outgrow gender dysphoria (desisters) from those who don’t (persisters)…” seems strange to me. My transsexual daughter’s feelings and her positive sense of gender identity by the age of three, are not the same as the desires and feelings of a boy who likes to play with girls toys or dress up.
I read the story of Coy Mathis and applaud the Colorado Civil Rights Division for ruling that she be allowed to use the girl’s restroom. California’s move to allow children K-12 to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is a step in the right direction. We should listen to the children and follow their lead. Perhaps then there will be fewer who will lament not having had the opportunity to grow up as the person they know themselves to be and fewer adult transsexuals who look at life and consider opting out of it a good choice.
Mary van Balen is an author, columnist, and speaker with a B.S.S.W. and M.A. in Theology. She has worked with abused, single mothers in a family literacy program and served as a curriculum director for an afterschool program for at risk students. She speaks on issues of transsexuality from a parent’s perspective and will be presenting on issues of transgender youth at the national convention of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries in New Orleans. She was a resident scholar the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical & and Cultural Research where she worked on her current writing project: “Julia All Along: A Mother’s Journey with her Transsexual Daughter.”