I’m hoping that recently having to change the pronouns I use when referring to my 20-year-old trans daughter improves neuroplasticity, a cool word I think of as brain flexibility. Younger brains tend to be more flexible. Based on the work we’ve been putting in on shifting gender pronouns, my brain should be clocking in at about 25 years old (half my biological age).
My daughter was in a relationship with a trans male for the better part of a year before she herself came out as trans. That gave us some time to get used to disassociating the pronouns we were using from what we felt we were seeing. My wife and I had not known him before he came out as a trans male. I think not having known him before this identity helped us.
Our stumbles were many, but our intentions were always about honoring him. Eventually, we got better. Now he is always “he”.
With my daughter, luckily she knows where our hearts lie and is generous with her patience. Over 20 years of habit are proving to be a challenge, but we are making progress. The vast majority of the time, even when it’s just my wife and I talking, we are able to use “she” and “her”.
The complexity lies in referring to the time before she came out as trans. That accounts for over 99% of her life. Significant events, things that we still talk about quite a bit.
This has proven to be a big stumbling block for me.
It feels like revisionist history to use “her” for pre-”her” events. I find myself wanting to draw a chronological line, saying things like “he-at-the-time”. Some justification for me to keep using “he” and her old name in the context of the past. Keeping some element of my son alive.
How do I honor my son that was? Is the idea of “honoring” another way of saying “attachment”?
I think that’s the hook. I’m still feeling my way through this, taking my feelings and sitting with them, writing about them, examining them in a fashion I hope would make Pema Chodron proud. Not letting go of that boy-into-young-man who served as the center of my world, that way lies suffering.
During a meditation retreat, I had the realization that while attachment is the source of suffering, completely cutting myself off, becoming detached from everything is not the solution for me. It was more about understanding the cost of attachment, the need to be intentional with it.
My relationships with, my attachments to, my child, my wife, my parents, these have and will cause me suffering. They also introduce into my life the closest thing to pure joy I have experienced. I choose these relationships knowing the cost.
I am still grieving my son. I am suffering. It is a choice. I recognize that. It feels that I am not done honoring that relationship. But, it is getting lighter over time.
Luckily, this grieving is not at the cost of the love I have for my daughter. It is not mutually exclusive. But, it is a new landscape as she and I forge a new relationship. A connection with someone who is essentially the same person. But not.
I think this is one of the many places parents and loved ones of trans individuals struggle; it’s the same person, but its not. How much the same? How much different? The only way to figure that out is to talk, be patient. As long as the root, the foundation, of the relationship is love, everything else will work itself out.