When she was born, the midwife instructed me, “reach down and grab your baby.” I did as I was told. This being my fourth birth, I knew what to expect. I wasn’t put off by the clamming, wet, clump of flesh that was making it’s entrance. I reached for my child, held her up to the light, and brought her to my chest. “It’s a girl”, whispered the midwife. My mind went a little sideways. A girl? Wait, what? No, not possible. I was having a boy. From the deepest recesses of my soul, I KNEW. There was no sonogram just a sincere clarity. So I only picked a boy name, Calvin. This baby was a boy. I was sure of it, and in my mind, I had one of those thoughts that only make sense after twenty hours of labor, “Maybe my boy has a vagina? Is that a thing?” I watched the busy midwife and my beaming husband and decided to keep my confusion to myself.
Thirteen years later, my daughter comes to the same confused conclusion. “I think this is a thing,” she tells me as she hangs a flag on her bedroom door to proclaiming her truth to the world. Or at least to the members of our household. I don’t recognize the flag. I have never seen it before. It’s the transgender flag, a light blue stripe, a light pink stripe, a white stripe and then a pink and a light blue again. It’s pretty like candy or an invitation to a baby shower. On the white stripe, she has written he, him, his to inform us of how to address her. It is such a sharp and unexpected turn. I look for the seat belt and immediately began to feel the bumps of the unpaved road we are now speeding down.
This was not in the baby books, I have no map for this and I am oddly aware of how reliant I have become on other mother’s experiences. I have rested soundly on the guidance of these gurus who have generously doled out life-hacks for parenting. But for all the books I poured over, I don’t remember seeing suggestions for this scenario. I rack my brain but come up short.
At the edge of his bed in a room filled with polka-dots and frogs, he explains himself. And I listen. He will be my road map, my teacher and I am a student in a class that I would have never signed up for. I am sorry to say, I want to sound cool and collected, but this is my kid. Life for transgendered people is not just rough, but because of the suicides, self-loathing and social stigmas, it can also be statistically shorter. Call me greedy, but I don’t want a shorter life span for my kid. At the edge of his bed, I try to pay attention and not get blown away by my fears. I try to anchor down, I want to hold the space. I want him to tell me everything he needs to say, and at the same time, I am slipping, struggling and selfishly, though silently wishing this is just a phase. It’s not just my fears of the world, but also the experience of being sideswiped. See, there has been a well-paved groove created in my mind about a little girl named Rosemary, who is scrappy and artsy and loves frogs and baking and telling jokes and… she is both no longer here and yet not really gone. I am watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly and honestly, I am so sad to see the caterpillar go. I can’t express in words how very dearly I have loved that little caterpillar. Wait, I want to say… hold up, are you sure you have to go?
A funny thing happens to the caterpillar when she is ready to really live her most fully expressed life… she begins to slowly and methodically kill off the old idea of herself. First, she stops eating. She literally stops feeding the old version of herself. Then she climbs to a twig, hooks herself into the branch, hangs herself upside down, and begins to weave a shell of silk. When she has completely wrapped up her old self, she begins to digest herself by releasing enzymes that take all her parts down to goo. Turning everything into a caterpillar soup of sorts. Everything except for the imaginal disc.
I am not a scientist, I just dig reading about nature. I have no idea why only the imaginal disc is left or what it does… I think it has something to do with transforming the caterpillar soup into the butterfly. From my poetic mind, I imagine this little disc whispering “imaginings” to the caterpillar soup.
“Imagine, imagine, imagine…Do not go back to your old ways, that is done. Do not conform to old definitions, they are broken. Step to the cusp of the unknown and imagine.
Imagine, imagine, imagine flight.”
I teach and study a book called A Course in Miracles, it contains a workbook of lessons, mantras, mindfulness exercises. One of the core concepts that is repeated early and often is, I am not a body, I am free I am still as God created me. It points to the idea that we are spiritual beings, having a physical experience, for a temporary time. I am at peace with this idea. But to know that YOU are not YOUR body, and HE is not HIS, and SHE is not HER body… I can sometimes get hung up.
At the foot of my child’s bed, I am hooked and hanging upside down. My world is turning to soup. He is weaving a new story made from silk. We hang on the cusp of this great mystery, this place that I did not know was. This uncharted territory.
My inner teacher whispers, “Everything must be boiled down, but nothing REAL will die.” So I turn inward and take a look at myself. I let my rules and regulations and restrictions get soft. I admit once again, that I do not know what anything is for.
In my bones, in my heart, in my blood I know this child, I have always known this child. The midwife whispers, “reach for your baby.” and I do. I reach once again and hold him to my chest. This sweet and scrappy soul is my teacher. A great lesson, a great healing is poking its head. And I begin to wrap my mind around what I had once been so sure of. It’s a boy.
All at once it becomes so not important at all. These body parts, these silly distractions, designed to hide a deeper truth.
I feel his heart pounding, running with worry over outing his confession, and my heart seems to answer where words fail me. You are magnificent my child and so much bigger than these limited limbs.
At the foot of my child’s bed, I struggle for the next breath, the next right word. I struggle to listen for a clue on how to play out this new script, I search for signs, symbols, bread crumbs that might assure me that we will find our way back to the known.
I smell his hair and it smells like her’s, I rub his arm and it feels just like her arm and I am amazed at how very brave he feels, how very strong and good and true. I sit with his head on my chest, my heart is breaking and blooming all at once. We are way off course and yet I feel anchored and this new terrain is more beautiful than I would have guessed.
In the weeks that follow there are more turns and twists and revelations. Rosemary calls himself Rhine, which was his middle name. The polka-dotted frog room is painted over with black chalkboard paint and flannel sheets. The frills have been pressed down and the closet thinned out. Where once there lived dresses, now there are boy jeans. With ever adjustment I watch another part of Rhine reveal himself and another part of Rosemary fall away. I do my best to trust the process of the caterpillar, I do my best to stop feeding the old ideas. To keep breathing even when our world is hung upside down, and then turned into goo. In this far-flung phase that is turning out to not be just a phase, I have had moments of great clarity. True moments of shock and awe as I witness this scrappy kid navigate a world that he is not willing to hide from or conform to. And in those moments, although it sounds insane, I have witnessed myself do what I thought that I couldn’t. In the midst of the caterpillar soup, I have found myself imagining flight.