This morning I watched a video of a fierce breastfeeding mama who was at a church feeding her baby when they repeatedly asked her to cover herself or leave for a different room. They told her it was because she might make the men uncomfortable. I felt her rejection, and then I read all the local comments that said boobs belong covered, a blanket won’t hurt a baby, women should learn modesty, how dare she whip her boob out in a church of all places. So many people ignoring the singular function of breasts in favor of sexualizing them. Most women have breasts. The sole purpose of those breasts is feeding, not for your entertainment or pleasure. If a woman breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable or leads you to stumble, it’s because you have been taught to treat her like an object. It is not because she shouldn’t be feeding her child around you.
Less than 2 hours later my transgender child pulled a pair of tight leggings out of a drawer to get ready for school. These particular leggings don’t have any skirts that match and they are sporty so they aren’t made to be worn with something over them. My initial reaction was to tell her that she needed to find a longer shirt because she couldn’t wear a skirt with them. Because the bulge that comes from wearing those tight, tight leggings is our little secret and no one needs to know about it. She fought me a little and when I insisted that she needed something to cover she said defeatedly, “I’m just going to be Owen today” and proceeded to pick out “boy” clothes. I regretted my reaction before she’d decided it was easier to fake being a boy with a penis than it is to be herself, but that just slapped me and I saw the hypocrisy of the situation.
I instantly apologized and then pulled her in to talk. I reminded her again that she can be whoever she wants to be and she can wear whatever clothes she wants to wear regardless of her name and gender. I told her I was sorry that I felt she needed to cover herself up all the time and, mainly because I felt bad, we compromised on a pair of sport pants that I usually don’t let her wear to school. She went to school feeling confident as I sit here wondering what I’ve been telling her for the last couple years.
Elly loves skirts, she just does and it’s never been an issue to hand her a skirt when she puts on leggings because she does enjoy them. Thinking back now, though, I know there have been at least a handful of times when she hasn’t wanted to wear skirts. I remember specifically when she had on her “leggings underwear” and I still felt the bump was too noticeable and she said, “But I’m wearing my legging underwear, I don’t need a skirt.”
For the last two years I’ve been subtly shaming my daughter for having a penis.
Let me be real for a second and say that there are a few very good reasons to be as secretive as possible about my child’s identity. Safety being the first and foremost reason to refrain from exposure. This country is not safe for my kid and so keeping her identity a secret could save her from a particularly dangerous situation. Second, it helps to remain stealth and understood at school. She is young and few parents of the kids in her class are likely to have productive and enlightening conversations about being transgender with her peers so it’s possible she’ll lose some. These are important, to a point.
The bigger question and my bigger concern is however, what danger is her secrecy costing her? When I tell her how amazing she is, and how special she is and how being transgender is amazing but teach her to conceal it what message does that send? We don’t advocate exhibition; I don’t teach my kids to expose themselves, but we keep private parts private. But if my younger cis son had on something that shaped to his body I wouldn’t make him cover it up, everyone knows CJ has a penis. Few know that Elly has a penis so it’s become this secret so big that she is already thinking there’s something wrong with it.
We don’t want to make men uncomfortable with women’s breasts, but apparently it’s okay for me to teach my child that having a penis and being a girl are somehow mutually exclusive. I’m an affirming mama bear, I allow my child to be exactly who she is, so long as she conforms to society’s ideas of gender and modesty. Given the first 4 years of her life with all of the shaming that happened “Do you have a penis? Then you’re not a girl” everyday, I can’t say that I am surprised that her response to my push back is to dress up as Owen. No kid deserves to be penis shamed, or breast shamed. Whether it’s the trans boy who desperately wishes he had one, or that he didn’t have the latter; or the mom who just wants to feed her kid.
My child is of the male sex but has the gender of a girl. We have called her she for two years and I’ve never regretted that for even a moment. I regret the lengths I went to trying to convince her she was a boy because of her penis. Almost two years ago to the day she told me she wanted to get rid of it so she could be a girl. I take full and complete credit for shaming my child, and I can’t take it back. What I can do is stop it. I can stop forcing my child to hide a part of her body that she didn’t ask for. I can stop referring to form fitting underwear as “legging underwear” and I can have a conversation with her about how incredible she is and how sorry I am for ever making her think she had to hide who she is.
A couple weeks ago a gay man on Survivor outed a transgender man calling it the greatest deception. It was a heinous thing to do, and his premise was incredibly incorrect. Being private about your identity isn’t deception, being transgender isn’t deception. The deception comes when you try to pretend you’re something you’re not. My kid is transgender. She was born with male anatomy but she has never been a boy, even when I was sure she was. I’m done teaching her that she must hide it.