The Coming Out
Let me start at the beginning. Really though, I am not sure where the beginning is, so I’ll start at the beginning of my awareness that something was going on.
May 2015….The kids and I had left the metro Detroit area the previous November. Remaining in close proximity to a father that chose to ignore them, was taking a toll. As luck would (not) have it, my dad was also sick and old. He had been sick and old for some time, but it was very apparent that he could not continue to live alone.
My youngest, Jonah, and I moved in with him and Anna moved in with my adult daughter, Hollie. My dad’s house was not fit for anyone to live in, I didn’t think Anna would be very tolerant. At the time, I anticipated this arrangement to be a short term thing, intending to get an apartment in January. But things happened. My dad was worse than I thought…..the short term situation continued. Anna was depressed and having trouble adjusting to leaving her friends and starting a new school. Jonah is mostly oblivious to such things; as long as I am close by, he is good. So I parented Anna from another house, a few miles away and relied on Hollie more than ever. It wasn’t an ideal setup but I had too many demands on my resources to do much different at that time.
Just about daily from December forward, Anna asked if we could move back. She cried. She was horribly upset. She maintained her grades but didn’t make friends. She refused to try out for basketball, despite loving it at the previous school. I thought it would ease eventually. It did a bit, she brightened up a little here and there, but never very much. May is when Hollie found cut marks on her wrists. They were old and superficial. She did it with the flattened metal end of a pencil after the eraser is removed. I talked to her, she assured me it was a onetime thing. I thought it was something to get into the cool crowd. I don’t exaggerate when I say that 75% of the girls in the middle school, have these marks (most in much worse condition). We attended a birthday party for my niece, in March, held at a water park. I looked at these 13–14 year old girls in bathing suits and shook my head in sadness at their arms and thighs covered in marks. The school culture/environment here is very different from where we came from. Kids seem to take pride in swearing at the teachers, talking back, getting into various forms of trouble, getting suspended, etc….Anna is not interested in that, claims all the kids do it and half of them are also on drugs, so that’s why she isn’t making friends. And can we move back? No Anna, we aren’t moving back.
We got past this initial cutting incident, I believed it was a onetime thing and didn’t feel pressed about it. She began to dress differently. Getting her into anything besides a t-shirt and jeans produced a fight and I finally quit trying. She started wearing weird hats and bracelets. My dad’s illness continued to overtake him and by the time school was over in June, it was clear that his days were numbered. My sister came from Alabama and Anna wanted to go back with her, for the summer. She had done the same in previous summers, and enjoyed herself. I didn’t see the point of her sitting on deathwatch with me all summer, so away she went. Just before this, she had wanted to have her hair dyed blue. We spent considerable time and money to do this. A short 3 weeks later, the day before leaving Alabama, she wants it cut short. Really short. Shorter than mine. I am all about expressing yourself, it’s just hair, it will grow back, etc….but still, I cautioned her to be really sure, growing it out is a royal pain. She was sure. Every picture she pulled up to show the stylist, was a boy. I’d pull short girl styles up, she’d shake her head at them and pull up another boy picture. Fine, whatever. She got her hair cut and went to Alabama.
As far as I know, there were no issues in Alabama. My dad died in July, my sister and her family and Anna, met us in TN for the burial. Anna (AND Jonah) returned to Alabama after, came home just before school started. Anna had her hair returned to her normal color, still keeping it short and loving it, and entered into her freshman year of high school. I wrapped up what I could at my dad’s house and we moved into an apartment. I was excited to get back to our normal routine with us all under the same roof.
I was beyond delighted when, by the second week of school, a light seemed to flip on inside this kid! She LOVED this school. She had friends. She didn’t want to go back to her old school. Her appearance continued to evolve into a hard tomboy look. She constantly talked about a particular friend, Steve. As time went on, it was apparent that she had a crush on Steve. When I asked her this, she blushed and smiled and said, “maybe a little.” Later discussions about this crush revealed that Anna had talked to him and discovered that he is gay. She says she no longer has a crush on him A few weeks later, I finally met Steve when I picked him up to go somewhere with us. Imagine my surprise to see a clearly female kid walk out of the house. She took great steps to look male, but there was no hiding that this was a girl. I am pretty open minded, have had friends in the past that were transgender, and am a generally, “live and let live” kinda chick. But I do not mind saying that his shocked me for about 30 seconds. Why hadn’t Anna mentioned this? When I asked her later, she wouldn’t say anything beyond, “why does it matter?”, Anytime they are together, it is pretty obvious that Anna is obsessed with this kid and he walks on water, she continues to deny the crush. At some point, I point blank asked, “Anna, are you still a girl these days?” She looked at me like I had 3 heads, rolled her eyes, and said, “of course, mom.”
Early October brought talks of homecoming. I was pretty excited to take her dress shopping. For a week before we went, we argued. She didn’t want to wear a dress, why can’t she wear khakis and a button up shirt? Back and forth we went. I thought I was compromising when I said she could wear something dressy but it didn’t have to be a dress. Picked Steve up (cause we apparently cannot shop without his approval) and went to Rue 21. After 20 solid minutes of my trying to redirect them from the men’s section to the women’s section, Anna had a sudden outburst that was so uncharacteristic for her, it made my jaw drop. “I’m not wearing anything over there ’cause I am not a girl, mom!” We promptly left the store, dropped Steve off at home, and returned to our own home. 2 hours of tearful conversation later and POOF! I have a son named Shane. Immediately after, like the next day, I noticed a huge difference. She smiled, she was happy, as if relieved….she joined the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) group at school. She participated. She just seemed happy.
So here we are. There have been other incidents. A few weeks where she was skipping her 4th hour class so that she could go to a different lunch period, where her friends were. Shortly after the homecoming shopping fiasco, I requested her phone so I could go through it. This nearly always starts a fight, she has this really irrational thing about privacy. And not even necessarily her own, she wants to protect her friends’ privacy, from me. So, the phone is an ongoing battle. But in this instance, when I held out my hand and said, “let me have your phone,” as I pulled into our parking spot in front of our apartment, she snapped. She jumped out of the car, screaming, “fuck you” and “I hate you!” while walking towards the highway, periodically turning to flip me off or scream at me as I gave (very slow) chase and said, “come back here.” That lasted about 15 minutes before I turned, walked back, got into my van, and drove around trying to find her. I don’t know where she went so quickly, but I couldn’t find her. She ignored calls and texts for 45 minutes, then finally responded, “I’m ok, I will see you tomorrow.” Refused to return, refused to tell me where she was, refused to tell me where she was going, refused to answer anything I said. Driving around again, I finally came across her, pulled to the curb on the opposite side of the street, and rolled the window down. She just kept walking and saying, “leave me alone.” I finally put the car in park and got out, again, on the wrong side of a pretty busy street. She kept walking, resumed with the “I hate you,” and then did what I really knew she would-dialed her dad. She got out, “hi dad, I hate mom and want to live with you,” before I wrenched the phone out of her hands. Then I wrestled her into the van, her pushing me, trying to hit me, screaming at me….traffic driving by and looking….I don’t know why the police never showed up, but they didn’t. Once in the van, she first tried to get her phone from me. Then she tried to grab the first aid kid I keep in the van, saying, “I know there’s a scalpel in here.” I wrestled that away from her too and told Hollie to drive us to the ER. I had no idea what I expected them to do, but had no idea what to do with this behavior, either.
At the ER, she sat as far from me as she could, but was quiet and didn’t attempt to run. Once we were in the back, I saw that her arm was again sporting fresh cut marks. The nurse took vitals, drew blood, etc….and we awaited psych to show up for their evaluation (do you know they just test your kid for pregnancy and drugs without telling you?!?). The nurse, the psych and the MD spoke to her about our local juvenile detention facility. That is certainly not a road I want my child to start down. There is no mental health care near us. The only other option was to attempt to secure a bed in an in-patient psych facility. I didn’t really want to start that road either, but I was at a loss. The nearest facilities were in the 2 biggest cities in my state; 3 hours in one direction or 1 ½ hours in another. And then what? Drop her off, come back every day? Cut marks were again superficial, she claimed she did them yesterday (with a disposable razor), before any of this particular episode even started. Nobody seemed particularly concerned about any of this, and asked what I hoped they would do for me. I didn’t know, I hoped they had answers. They procured a safety agreement (yeah, right) from her, advised me to lock all sharp instruments away (REALLY? She did it with a fucking pencil end once), and seek therapy. No kidding, why hadn’t I thought of that? Oh wait, I did. Immediately upon the coming out. My child was adamant that she would not attend and would not participate, in therapy. I had that experience with my oldest child, it is a huge waste of time for everyone, to sit in a room with a child whose arms are folded across their chest and mouth refuses to open, even to respond to questions. This child did however, agree to see a therapist if I were able to locate a gender psychologist (who knew?). Again, small area. Medicaid. Limited options. I did however, make an appointment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services Program. Huge university, supposedly great program…..long waiting list. Appointment made in October for December. So we left the ER with nothing but a negative pregnancy test and the phone number for Community Mental Health. But she had calmed down. Once home, long discussion again. She was tearful, she was remorseful. I explained that I would support her no matter what but her behavior would put roadblocks up to the path she wanted to pursue. Once you’re a delinquent, that becomes the focus, not transitioning. She promised to adjust her behavior. I did make an immediate appointment for intake at CMH. It was useless. Only 2 options for therapists with our particular brand of Medicaid, and both had waiting lists of 2 months or more. I told him we were already waiting on services via the U of M program, he told us we were lucky to be able to get in there. I suggested starting some anti-depressants while we waited, that requires an appointment with their psych….who is booked through mid January. I finally said, “so, mid January, we may get a script, it takes a few weeks to kick in, we may start some therapy in February…..she can look forward to starting to feel better in April or so?” His response was, “that is the truth, if the kids are still here, then.” Lovely.
Instead, I took her to her regular doctor. Anna loves her, she already handles Jonah’s Adderall so we can avoid the middle man psych, and was fine with starting Prozac. She started the lowest dose and we would come back in a month, check in, see if we should adjust, etc….we did this and awaited that grand U of M appointment. Doc told Anna, “oh U of M? Good for you, people always want to go there but have a hard time getting in.”
Anna claimed she couldn’t tell much of a difference, 2 weeks into Prozac. But she seemed fine. In fact, I wouldn’t even call her depressed, so wonder if that’s even the right med. Anxious? Certainly. Poor decision making skills? Yup. I would never say depressed, but what do I know?
One night, as Anna was in the tub, one of her friends messaged me via facebook and said, “go check on Shane, right now.” I pushed my way into the bathroom (strangely the door was unlocked) to see blood in the sink and my naked child standing there with my disposable razor, sporting fresh marks on her arm. She immediately went into overdrive, screaming at me to get out, she was naked, get out. I wrapped her in a towel and we sat in that hot, tiny bathroom for a good long time, both crying. WTF!! She was FINE! Why is she doing this shit!
So I dunno. I feel that it’s a lot of attention seeking behavior and I don’t know why. But I am not a very empathetic person, so this stuff just bewilders me. She gets plenty of attention. I struggle with the transition stuff, am angry at bits of it. I know that disturbs her. When I tell her that she came to all of this on her own timeline and I should get the same allowance, she agrees and seems to understand. On the other hand, I have taken her shopping for male clothes and shoes, male cosmetics and deodorant and cologne and underwear, etc….I purchased some books and read them, I share things I read online with her, etc……I feel very manipulated by her behavior. I feel like I have to walk this line between setting boundaries and consequences and not punishing her and setting her off. I took the phone for a month after the ER incident, but then she is cut off from communicating with friends who may help her when she is struggling. I returned the phone eventually (after changing the phone number in the event her father tried to contact her), but only after she gave up the password-it took that whole month-and we revisited the whole “Mom can look in this phone whenever she wants” conversation. I do from time to time, since then. But she is smarter than me. She knows how to hide apps and chats and such. It always takes her just a little bit to actually get the phone to my hand when I ask for it, cause I am just so dumb I must not realize she is hurriedly deleting things, first. There were a few other instances of skipping school. Not days, just particular hours. She claims she was having a hard time that day and needed a time out, walked over to the middle school and read. Then returned to school for an hour, left again, skipping 4th and 6th hour that day. What? We discussed this of course. You don’t get to just leave school because you’re having issues, truant officer comes looking for mom eventually, college, roadblocks, choices and consequences, etc…..yada, yada, yada….she already knows all of that, I am wasting my breath.
The result of all of this is that I don’t trust her. My previously perfect child is now one I do not trust very far. Do I sleep in front of the door because she may just get a hair up her ass to walk out of it one day? Do I lock her up? Do I follow her to school and sit there all day to make sure she is there? Do I cut her off from all her friends and further her isolation? I really, really, really hate living like this. I’m too old for this shit and I have no help or support.
We came up with a plan where she will put Raggedy Andy on the table when she needs a distraction. Her friend does this with her mom, on the advice of her therapist. Seems to work. She hasn’t yet employed it.
I am not yet convinced this isn’t a phase. Or something to get in with the crowd she wants to be in with. EVERY one of her friends is gay, lesbian, transgender, or some combination. I will support it, phase or no, and see how it goes. But still. I worry that she will regret things down the line, I worry that proceeding down the transition path isn’t the right choice. These episodes I’ve described aside (and that’s really how they are-out of the blue and once they’re past, it’s as if it never happened, she is back to her normal self. Until it happens again), she is remarkably happy and pleasant since coming out to me. She is active with her friends. I like most of them. She keeps her grades at A’s and B’s; they would be A’s but she is lazy. She is in the school concert choir and loves it. She’s a happy kid.