Byline: Jennifer Meyer For The Register-Guard
With all the controversy over human rights these days, it's time for me to get off of the sidelines and come out of the closet. Not as a lesbian this time (I've done that for decades), but as the mother of a transgender son.
Toby was 20 when she first explained to my partner Kate and me that she was questioning her gender. She wasn't sure of much, except that she could no longer be the boy we had raised and would appreciate it if we would use female pronouns when referring to her. This request had me stammering every time I talked about my child in third person.
Two years later, Toby now considers herself a `transwoman.' She's on a regimen of female hormones and has legally changed her name from Tobias to Tobi. I still have a hard time referring to her as anything other than `he,' even when people ask who my daughter is. She was my son, after all, for 20 years.
You might think it would be easier, as a lesbian already on the fringe of society, to embrace my child's differentness. Kate and I do celebrate both our kids' unique personalities, and we have always encouraged them to question the status quo and not to hesitate to be themselves at all times.
Yet, as lesbian mothers on the forefront of the `turkey-baster age,' our parenting is often scrutinized. Foes and peers alike are eager to hold up our family - and others like it - as point-provers.
We strive to be evidence for the side that says, `See? Kids with two moms are just as normal as everyone else's.' We haven't wanted to offer ourselves as examples for the side proclaiming that the lack of a male role model causes gender confusion and homosexuality (even though most transgender or gay people have heterosexual parents).
As important as it was for us to affirm ourselves as an average American family, we also felt it was our duty to counteract gender stereotyping. We strived to raise our boys to value emotion and sensitivity, and to avoid the honing of aggression and assertiveness that is usually imposed on male children. As babies, they wore lavender and pink as much as blue, and as a toddler, when Toby chose pink high-tops and nail polish, we hesitated only a little.
So now, as my very outspoken first-born takes a stand - everywhere from City Council meetings to the national media - I can't help but cringe a bit. The confidence that always kept outside criticism at bay sometimes wavers, and doubts creep in. Did we cause this?
I find myself swallowing a lot of words - the exact words I fended off from my own mother when I so joyously proclaimed my lesbianism to the world. Do you have to be so public? You're a walking target for hate-mongers. Just don't say anything about it to Grandma; she'd never understand. Surely this whole thing is a rebellious phase. You could feel differently in a few years, so don't lock yourself into anything you can't get out of.
I don't actually say these things, because every time I hear them in my head, I remember what it felt like to hear my mother say them to me. How she changed the subject whenever I made reference to a girlfriend or lover. Insisted I hide my pregnancy from my grandmother until the very last minute, because `it would kill her.' Introduced Kate as my roommate to her friends. Begged me to wear a dress to my sister's wedding.
I swore I would never be like that with my own children, and I do what I can to shed the shame and concern about what others think.
But the worry sticks, with good reason. Transgender people face heightened discrimination in employment, housing and access to public services and health care - not to mention a pervasive negative attitude from the general public. …