Dear family and friends,
Many of you already know that, over the past year, my youngest child, who has been known to us all as “Jon” since birth, has been questioning, exploring, and, more recently, affirming her gender identity. (Yes, I have used the female pronoun here correctly. It turns out that for all these years I was using the wrong one. My bad!) What my child has come to understand is that she is transgender and identifies as female. She has chosen to call herself “Elana,” a name she feels more aptly reflects the person she knows herself to be.*
I realize that some of you might not be familiar with the term “transgender” or what it means to live as a transgender person. I have learned that a full understanding can be both deceptively simple and extraordinarily complicated at the same time. Thinking back to the moment of Jon’s birth 15 years ago reinforces this observation. Toward the end of my labor, my husband and I experienced some moments of terror when the monitor showed a slowing heartbeat and the doctor declared, “We have to get this baby out.” I remember hunkering down into a primal space and pushing for dear life, and although I did succeed in pushing this baby out, the room was leaden with silence as we all waited for that first cry of life, which was notably, frighteningly absent. When the wail came, the room seemed to explode with a palpable measure of joy. This is the simple part: I had birthed a healthy baby.
What followed is what follows the natural sequence of all births: the proclamation of the baby’s sex — in our case, a boy! Within seconds of the birth, everyone in the room had begun making and acting on assumptions about the significance of our child’s genitalia. Since our baby quite visibly had a penis, we did not give the matter a second thought, and we forged ahead along the gendered path before us, as we had with our three older children, and as our parents had done when raising us. On a very basic level we assumed that the genitalia wholly determined the gendered direction of our child’s life, and we also assumed that our child’s identity would naturally align with maleness.
So here is where it gets more complicated. Most children are born with a penis or a vagina (and some are born with genitals that don’t fall neatly into either category). For the majority of children, the brain and the body will match; that is, the interior — the brain, or neuroendocrine system — will work in tandem with the exterior, the physical body. These children will typically grow up aligned with the gender assigned to them at birth, and they will be comfortable in their skin, so to speak. For other children, the brain/body relationship is differently matched, complicating the relationship between the two. This can simply mean that that an individual with male genitalia knows herself to be female, and another with female genitalia knows himself to be male. (There are many other variations along the gender spectrum, which I will not go into here, but I would be happy to point you in the direction of more in-depth information, should you wish to learn more.) And now back to the simple part of this story and the most important truth of my life: I gave birth to a healthy baby, a human being, not a prepackaged promise of a predictable gendered life.
And now I am the fortunate parent who lives in awe of her 15-year-old child, whose courage and conviction to live authentically in a largely unfamiliar and often less-than-friendly world is humbling. And as Elana has grown into herself, so too have those around her. I have watched our family’s love deepen as we’ve traveled alongside Elana on her journey. I have seen the care with which our friends have made the switch from male to female pronouns and from “Jon” to “Elana” without blinking an eye or missing a beat. I have watched our community — neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses, and, yes, even police officers — unequivocally agree to see and address my child as the person she knows herself to be. I have been blessed to see humanity outshine ignorance again and again.
I am writing to you today to thank you for being a part of this amazing community we are fortunate to call home, and to ask you to join us in using the name “Elana,” along with her chosen corresponding pronouns, “she” and “her.”
Much love to you all,
*I have used the pseudonym “Elana” to protect my child’s privacy.