Chloe has always been a force.
She came into the world ahead of schedule and tried to exit immediately.
The first three days of her life she spent in the Intensive Care Unit with a myriad of health issues.
Dozing off next to the incubator, I felt a tap on my shoulder…
“Hey. I want you to go home and get some sleep.”
White light flooded my eyes.
There was a white figure eclipsing the light.
Perhaps an angel…
Perhaps a doctor..
Those with sick children know that there is no difference.
“And then when I wake up, we can take her home?” I asked.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up.” Doctor Angel said.
I took a cab home that I couldn’t afford.
It was my birthday.
As I fell asleep I said aloud
“All I want for my birthday is for Chloe to be well.”
I awoke late that night to my grandmother banging on my door.
“The hospital keeps calling. They need you there as soon as possible.”
I arrived at the hospital, not to what I had feared, but instead to Dr. Angel telling me that Chloe was doing great.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” he said.
Or at least I remember him saying that.
I have played that movie in my head so many times that I think I might have worn it out.
Perhaps the original memory got used up and my brain wrote a more cinematic one in its place.
Maybe I just saw a doctor say that in a movie on one of those sleepless nights all parents experience when they bring their baby home.
I don’t know.
But I like my Dr. Angel memory and we got to bring Chloe home the next day.
Chloe was outstanding at everything.
When she was three, I tried to show her how to play Jacks (you know the game where you bounce the little ball and then try to pick up as many of the little thingies as you can in one swipe of your hand and then catch the ball in the same hand?) and she grabbed all six Jacks on her first try and then caught the ball and said…
“Is that it? Did I do it right?”
“I’ve never seen anyone get all six of them!!” I yelled.
“It’s easy.” she said and did it again.
“I think you might be a mutant.” I told her.
Even her fails were spectacular (in fairness this was actually MY fail).
Like when she was eighteen months old and got into her grandmother’s purse and swallowed an entire bottle of pills in the time it took me to use the restroom.
I had taken an infant CPR class a few weeks earlier and had really paid attention, because I feared I might have to use it someday.
I grabbed Chloe by the back of her neck, inserted my finger into the back of her throat, made a hook-shape with it and dragged forward across the tongue.
About 30 pills came out.
“How many pills were in that bottle?!!” I screamed as if it mattered.
Even a single pill might make a baby very ill or worse.
I ran to the driveway, put Chloe in the car-seat and drove carefully, but quickly to the hospital with the bottle in my hoodie pocket.
I kept trying to keep her conscious as she had a tendency to fall asleep in the car.
I kept smiling and singing songs with her.
I didn’t want her to be afraid.
I kept pulling up to red lights, looking both ways and going through them.
A cop flashed his lights behind me.
We were almost there.
He gave chase to the hospital.
I jumped out and he met me by the back of my car, his hand on his belt.
“I’m sorry, officer!! My child swallowed pills and is dying. I need your help!!”
“Come on!!” he replied and lead us inside screaming the words “We have an OD’d child!!”
I had Chloe in one arm and the empty pill bottle in my hand.
“She swallowed these!!” I said.
They grabbed her and everything became a blur.
They treated her.
They pulled me aside and told me that they don’t know how much of my grandmother’s heart medicine got into her bloodstream, but if it was enough, it could cause Chloe to go into cardiac arrest.
They kept her for observation overnight.
I sat there stroking her hair, making up stories about Elmo and Scooby Doo.
She kept breathing.
Self-recrimination consumed me.
She had fought so hard just to live and my negligence had nearly killed her.
I was going to lose custody and I deserved to.
There were a lot of interviews.
They were way too nice to me.
“It happens all the time.” they said.
“It could happen to anyone.” they said.
I took her home and waited for them to come and take her from me for the next several years.
They never came.
(Writer’s Note: You can skip this section, as it is another section in which I brag about how awesome Chloe is. Skip to the next section for the wrap-up.)
Then there was the year that I forced Chloe to play baseball.
Actually it was her idea to start, but after striking out the first 30 or so times up to bat, she decided that baseball was boring and wanted to quit.
Having some strange idea that parenting had something to do with teaching kids to overcome obstacles, instead of letting her quit, I forced her to take batting practice with me pitching to her every day.
She couldn’t even hit my pitches from six feet away.
No matter how slow I pitched, she would swing wildly, missing it by several inches.
One of the parents kept stats for all the kids and going into the last inning of the last game, Chloe had batted something like 92 times and had struck out literally every single time.
And then of course, as fate would have it, with two outs in the last inning of the final game, with the bases loaded, Chloe was up to bat with her team down by three runs.
The entire game rested on her tiny shoulders.
I pulled the coach aside and told him that I would not be at all offended if he let someone else bat for her.
Our teams best player, an eight year old who looked like a twelve-year-old, came up to join the conversation.
“Let Chloe hit.” he said selflessly and begin clapping his hands and saying “GO CHLOE!!!” in an attempt to get the other kids to cheer for her.
The parents joined in with their own cheers.
The kids on the other team, moved up really close, to where the outfielders were pretty much on the infield and the infielders were only about 10 feet away from where Chloe stood with her tiny bat.
They started chanting “HEY BATTER-BATTER-BATTER!!”, a chant I had always hated.
Chloe’s coach tossed the ball softly towards the plate (in pee-wee leagues the coach is usually the pitcher) and she swung and missed.
She missed badly on the second pitch as well.
“Keep your eyes open, Chloe!!” I reminded her.
She always closed her eyes when she swung and she always swung so hard.
The chants of “EASY OUT!! EASY OUT!!” rang in my ears and I wondered what kind of long-term damage I had done to my kid by forcing them to play this ridiculous game that they had no chance of succeeding at.
I envisioned a thousand negative images of Chloe’s doomed adulthood and at the end of each mental movie I imagined her saying..
“IT’S BECAUSE I STRUCK OUT 93 TIMES WHEN I WAS FIVE!!!”
Just as I was imagining rescuing a 20-something Chloe from a crack-house, I heard a “CLINK”, the unmistakable sound of a baseball hitting a metal bat, followed quickly by the image of a ball rolling past the pitcher’s mound and past the second baseman, who was so arrogant that he had been standing right next to the pitcher, mocking Chloe’s inability to make contact.
The ball rolled past the center-fielder, who was standing right next to second base with his glove off, figuring that Chloe wouldn’t be able to hit it very far should she be able to hit it at all.
The ball was hit well.
The ball rolled past everyone on the other team.
The ball was tired of its diamond life.
It was escaping.
It was running through grass, being pursued by giants.
It was Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.
It was Thelma and Louise.
It was Forrest Fucking Gump!!!
The entire crowd shared an audible gasp, then suddenly, like birds in flight, they all shifted together to tell Chloe to “RUN!!!!!”
She had never hit the ball before.
She didn’t know what to do next.
She took a doubtful step towards the pitcher’s mound, where the coach ran towards her, pointed at first base and said “THAT WAY!!”
She took off like a tiny rocket.
Chloe reached first base and stood there proudly, hand on her hips, smiling.
The ball hit the fence and stopped rolling as the parents raced from the bleachers and pointed in unison for Chloe to “RUN THAT WAY!!!” towards second base.
By the time she arrived at second, all three runners had crossed the plate, tying the game and the rest of her team had ran out of the dugout and were standing behind third base screaming for Chloe to “COME THIS WAY!!!”
As the center-fielder slipped and fell, trying to pick up the ball, Chloe was rounding third and by the time he had overthrown the cut-off man, Chloe was standing at home plate being mobbed by teammates and parents.
I’d be doubting that memory too, if so many people hadn’t been there to witness it.
Even now, ten years later, I will see one of those parents and they will say
“Remember that time Chloe got the game winning hit?”
I’ll smile and nod, but what I really remember is Chloe asking on the way home..
“Does this mean that I don’t have to play baseball anymore?”
We all think our kids are special, because in fact, all kids are special.
I could go on for days with stories about what it was like to be a single-dad, raising a daughter in a conservative state, without any child support or extended family.
Perhaps some day, I’ll write a novel about our adventures, but for the purposes of this article, I just wanted to share a few stories about how miraculous my child is, so that you might grasp in the tiniest way, why I did not give one actual fuck when Chloe pulled me aside a month ago and nervously told me that she wanted to be called Aaron and wanted to be referred to as “he” and not “she” from now on.
I hope you can understand how this news had ZERO effect on my feelings about my son and how I immediately made the transition and it wasn’t even the tiniest bit difficult for me.
I want to convey completely that if my parenting were an animal, that it would be a honey badger, because not one fuck was given on my part.
My only response was to hug Aaron and remind him for the ten millionth time that I loved him unconditionally.
If I raised my arms out as wide as I could, that would not begin to emphasize how fucking proud I am of my child, regardless of what gender(s) they identify as or what gender(s) they are attracted to.
If I pushed my thumb and middle-finger very tightly together, I could not begin to show you how little my ego is tied up into my child’s gender identity.
When Aaron told me that he wanted a binder and informed me that a binder was an article of clothing that pushes breasts down, so that the wearer can pass as a boy, I asked only if binders were safe and read a few articles on them.
Once I was convinced that they were safe, I completely supported Aaron’s wearing of binders.
I cannot stress how little it bothers me that Chloe is now Aaron.
If shits given were rain, this parent would be in the desert.
If my concern for this were an algebra problem and how much I cared were an unknown integer, then you could multiply any number by that integer and get zero.
It would look something like this…
9736 x MC = 0
8,403,976 x MC =0
Okay, these comparisons are starting to become pretty abstract, but I REALLY want to stress to you that my child’s gender identity does not affect my love and support for my child in the least.
And I apologize if you are offended by profanity.
I am incredibly offended by bigotry and I really felt that these words could accentuate that point for me.
Some might suggest that teenagers are capricious and that this may be “just a phase”.
Doesn’t matter AT ALL!!
My support is 100% behind my child.
To me this seems like the only possible way to receive the news.
But I have heard nightmarish stories of parents not taking this kind of thing well.
I have heard stories of parents telling their children that they refuse to respect their wishes and boundaries.
I have heard stories of parents who throw their children out on the street.
I have heard stories of parents shaming their child for trying to be their true self.
(Writer’s Note: Unless you are the parent of a transgender child, then you can stop reading now. The story is over for you. The remainder of the article is me speaking directly to parents.)
I wrote this because I know how upside down the world can become when you are a parent.
I wrote this because I know that it is impossible to not let our egos get wrapped up in our children.
I wrote this because I have made many mistakes and I thought maybe, if just one person read this and gained something from it, then it would be worth sharing.
(And by the way, Aaron has read this and given me permission to publish it.)
I know it might be hard to let go of some of those visions you had for your child, that were wrapped up in their gender identity.
Maybe you imagined giving your little girl away on her wedding day.
Maybe you were still holding out hope that your son was going to be the football star that you wanted him to be.
Both of the above examples can still happen, because neither is gender specific, but it’s probably a good idea to let your child decide what they want to do and be.
Life is hard enough without having to live up to someone else’s vision for your life.
We can become overly attached to our child’s gender identity, without even realizing that this is even happening.
For some, a child changing their gender identity can feel like a death.
Things will be different, but probably not in the ways that you think they will be.
You may find yourself having confused feelings sometimes.
Tell your child, with compassion, some of your struggles.
You don’t have to pretend that everything is okay all the time.
It’s okay to talk about your challenges with your child.
It’s not okay to blame them for those challenges.
Start your statements with “I feel..” or “I fear..”
“I sometimes feel like you snap at me when I call you by your old name. I’m trying to adjust here. I need you to be more patient with me.”
“I fear my father’s judgment of your gender identity. I know you are my child and it is my job to protect you, but this change has exposed how afraid of my father I still am. I’m an adult, but I still feel like a five-year old when he says something judgmental. I know I need to do a better job of standing up to him and defending you.”
Your child may feel safer when they realize that you share some of their struggles.
You may worry about your child’s safety, knowing that there are so many hate-filled people in the world.
You’re a parent.
You will always worry.
The same safety rules apply for trans-children as for all children.
If there’s something you don’t understand, just ask your child.
They may not know either.
Maybe you can learn together.
You will probably be surprised by how much they can teach you.
If you let it, you might find that this change can allow you to know your child in different ways and bring your relationship closer than ever.
Read books that will help you to understand what your child is going through.
If it’s in your budget, find a therapist that specializes in transgender children and go see them together and also encourage your child to see them one on one.
You will learn a lot about yourself and how you relate to different genders.
For example, I always used to call Aaron “beautiful” when I related to him as female and now I find myself pausing a little bit before I use that word.
I guess I must have had a feminine association to it.
I push past that.
I look at him and proclaim the truth..
“You are beautiful and I love you!!”
But I have to work at it.
I have to remind myself.
If you are a member of a church, you may have to switch to a more evolved church, if your current one doesn’t accept you and your child completely.
Even if you are not religious, you may find that some friends are not as evolved as you had hoped.
You’ll make better friends.
You will have to stand up to some family members.
You will be scared.
You will face discrimination.
This is good.
This will give you more empathy for your child.
Your life may be more difficult for a while, during your own personal transition, as the parent of a transgender child.
You’ll be okay.
Parenting is a constant state of transition.
You can do it.
And always remember..
If being the parent of transgender child is hard…
Being a transgender child is much harder and they will always need you in their corner.