When Light and Joy Changes (into Light and Joy)


It began with a phone call from a second grade teacher.

Well, perhaps it began with hand-me-down boxer briefs. Or, more probably, it began at conception.

But I get ahead of myself, my part in this drama began with a phone call.

“Um, hi, Ms Foote, I need to touch base with you about what happened in class today.”

Well, this is probably not going to be good.

“Lucia asked if she could share something at morning meeting. She wanted the class to know that she is ‘gender fluid and does not want to be called Lucia but L.G.’ (her initials), also, we should be using he/him pronouns. I told her I would have to call you first. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by gender fluid. What would you like me to do?”

“I guess you’ll have to tell the class to use a new name and pronouns.” Was my ever so calm reply. At which point, I hung up the phone and proceeded to freak out.

When the child got home, I engaged him in a way that was not at all graceful but, in fact, was a lot confused and a little hysterical. I may have raised my voice. I am certain that we both cried. We concluded by decamping to our separate corners of the house.

I went to Facebook (as you do) and publicly declared my epic parenting fail. I asked for an intervention. My dear and wonderful friends began making suggestions and introductions. I now know so many more dear and wonderful folks. The community rallied. I found people who let me ask stupid, intrusive, and probably offensive questions and I received a real education. I was awesome, humbling, beautiful, difficult…

The next morning, before school, I regrouped and charged in  “So you prefer he/him?” “yep” “And no more Lucia?” “uh huhn”

“Why didn’t you say something before? (!!!!!)”  “Well, I knew it wasn’t gonna change anything at home. Right?”

Oh. Oh…   So, maybe not failing after all. Because it’s not really going to change anything at home. Right?  Kids are so wise.

School was attended. Announcements were made. Parents were overwhelmingly supportive. Second graders mostly just didn’t care. Second graders are surprisingly flexible about big things.

Weeks later a sty found us visiting our pediatrician at the school health clinic. Our wonderful school nurse got there first; so that when we checked in our pediatrician already knew what name to use and what pronouns is preferred.She asked no intrusive questions, just one verifying one “So you prefer to be called Luca now, is that right?”

And then on with the show!  An exam of the offending eye, some antibiotics, and one small child was happily off to class.

I stayed after and talked to the PCP. She referred me to some groups and told me where to go to read more. She told me to call the office if I had any questions. She told me I was doing a good job.

At some point in the following weeks our beloved Nurse Practitioner called me at home. You see, she had taken it upon herself to pull my kid’s chart, and while she was at it, she perused his older sister’s as well. The question of “when do the women in your family enter puberty?” wasn’t even on my radar. Early, the answer is early. And early means that if your transgender son is 9, you had best be thinking ahead.

Referrals were made. Luca got to meet the new members of his team on the opening day of the new University of Vermont Medical Center Trans Youth Program. They were amazing. Informative, patient, reassuring…

Names had to be sorted ( what a process that has been!) Lucia-L.G.-Luc-Luca. Wardrobes edited. Hair cut. Siblings reasoned with.

It’s not been super easy. Not everyone is supportive. There will always be mean people, cruel people. Navigating school bureaucracy has been challenging.

But it hasn’t been super hard either. We had in place, and are continuing to build, a vibrant, diverse, knowledgeable, and compassionate group of friends. Luca’s friends and their parents have been supportive and encouraging. Our church family has been embracing and loving. And our medical providers have been respectful and proactive. I feel so grateful to live in this lovely little bubble of tolerance that is Burlington, Vt.

The journey continues! I so look forward to seeing what will be. This child was all light and joy on the day that she was born, and he is still light and joy today – no hiding under bushels for us.

————————————————————————–

Some words about advocacy:

The best things that friends and community members have done for us have been simple. Ask lots of respectful questions. Try your best to new names and pronouns right but don’t freak out when you misstep (my kid can tell when you’re trying and he’s pretty forgiving). Give us real, honest feedback – friends communicate even when it’s hard. Most important, just remember that this is the same kid and we are the same family that we all were before, it’s just a gender not a personality.

Health Care Providers:

Make sure your notes are clear, you wouldn’t want to be called the wrong name by your doctor.

Think ahead, you know more about this than your patient’s parents. We need as much information as possible, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Talk to my kid with respect. Small does not mean unintelligent and 9 year olds need to understand and consent to their health care too.

Be encouraging, tell parents that they are doing a good job or where they can improve. Normalize the situation so we don’t feel so isolated and unsure.

The best tools we have in this life are each other.

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About antoniafoote

Toni is the Mama of six ferociously quirky children. She can usually be found lying in a sunbeam wasting time with a book or staring off into the distance contemplating how all of human experience is comprised of infinite spectrums. Since all of the things are inextricably intertwined, she writes to make sense of it all. View all posts by antoniafoote

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