Our younger child, formerly known as our daughter Eliza Hannah, has become our son Elijah Henry (Eli). Let me explain.
Late last year, Eli came out to us as transgender. In our case, this means that Eli, despite having female body parts, feels that he has always been male.
To say that this was bewildering news to Laura and me is a severe understatement. Laura and I pride ourselves on our open-mindedness and have steeled ourselves for all sorts of surprises the kids could spring on us (e.g., “Hey Dad, I’m gay!”, “Hey Mom, I’m Baha’i.”, “Hey Mom & Dad, I eloped!”). But we didn’t think about this possibility. It never occurred to us.
Being clueless about anything transgender, we had no idea what this meant or what to do. Clearly, Eli needed us and was confiding something major to us. Very quickly, we had to educate ourselves on matters transgender. Laura and I were simply overwhelmed at first.
That said, some months later, here we are, much more knowledgable and confident of the path we are taking. Are things perfect? No. Eli is still a teenager and, well,…you know. But we are very proud of Eli for having the courage to be true to himself, his family, and his friends. We are a very out family and are happy to talk to anyone who may have questions.
Just for our sake, here are answers to questions and comments we get a lot:
- Did this come out of the blue or did you suspect something was amiss?
While we never suspected anything like this, there were signs in hindsight. For example, at Eli’s Bat* Mitzvah, he fought Laura incredibly hard about wearing a dress. Laura relented, which says a lot because she invested a lot of thought into what dress to buy for Eli. Eli also has always been sort of a tomboy, but that says very little because many girls who are tomboys are indeed girls.
Eli also had a rough year leading up to the announcement. I won’t go into detail, but I will say it’s a miracle that, despite everything, his grades are stellar.
- How do you know that this in fact a real thing and not just a passing fad?
To be honest, we don’t with 100% certainty. 99% certainty, not 100%. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Eli is clearly serious about it – we know Eli and we know when he’s very serious about something. And that’s enough for us. If more time goes by and Eli changes his mind…well, lesson learned. But we don’t see that happening.
- I imagine you guys have gone through the mill with the school and other kids.
Wrong. The school has been nothing short of incredible. The teachers and staff have all been on board and have, to the best of their ability, respected the name and gender change. We have been working very closely with the school and they are just a pleasure to work with.
The kids…wow. Eli’s friends have been wonderful, just so accepting. Zero bullying in the school. Zero. What a different world than mid-1980’s Brockton. (To my Brockton homies: no offense meant, I will always love my hometown, but you know precisely what I am talking about.)
Some of this has to do with being here in Massachusetts. Since 2012, gender identity has become a protected class in the public schools (but not in other public spaces such as businesses). This means that if someone is bullied for being transgender, then the school is obligated to do something about it. Further, the school staff are trained to work with transgender kids and educate other kids as the situation arises.
I will note here that this is obviously not the case in many states. Even a very liberal state like New York does not consider gender identity a protected class in its public schools. So we count our blessings that, sucky winter weather and all, we live in Massachusetts.
- How has your family taken the news?
Really well. Amazing. Knocked our socks off. First of all, Eli’s older brother Josh has been so incredible through this. He understands that he is not getting as much grease right now as his wheel isn’t squeaking as much. We are very proud of him.
Parents, brothers and families, aunts and uncles, cousins, close friends,…., just so much love and support. We are so blessed.
- Psst! You have to be really careful around the Gordons now because they offend easily.
(Actually, no one’s said this to us, but I can tell that some people we have told got a little careful in what they said to us at first.)
Hey, this is a bit weird for everyone. We had no clue about what being transgender was all about not that long ago. It would be awful of us to assume that everyone is instantly on board with everything transgender. I alone have over 500 FB friends and I would be amazed if 10% of them knew anything about transgender issues.
We do not care if you don’t know the difference between trans and cis. We are not concerned if you instinctively refer to Eli as “she.” We understand if you are uncomfortable with certain perceived aspects of transgender issues (e.g., “Does my daughter have to take a leak next to a 275 lb, hairy, bearded dude in a ponytail, dress, and matching espadrilles?”).
But we will not lie about the fact that we are a little exasperated with misinformation being disseminated in articles and elsewhere by certain political and religious commentators that have the ear of many frightened parents. Please, by all means, ask us about the content of these articles and ask us why we might agree or disagree with the assertions presented therein. However, if someone truly buys into misinformation enough to express it as fact in public, expect a rebuttal from me.
Examples of misinformation I have seen:
- “The child has gender confusion.” Wrong. Eli is not confused one bit about his gender. He is a male. End of story. Eli, however, suffers from gender dysphoria, which is trauma felt by despising the wrongly-gendered body he feels trapped in.
- “Exposing our kids to all this sex talk.” Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual attraction. Nothing. This is about one’s identity and is centered on the self rather than other people. The misinformation may come about by the “T” being included in LGBT. The inclusion is really about similarities in societal attitudes rather than actual similarities.
- “Perverts.” This is the language of bigots. Used also to describe gay people.
When all is said and done, it is basic respect. Asking questions about that which is not understood is respectful. That’s all.