Dear Dr Ren,
I have accepted my daughter as a butch lesbian for a long time now. I’ve met many of her friends and a few of her lovers and like most of them, too. I thought I was doing quite well at being a cool mom. Now Karen tells me she wants to transition. I’m reading, we’re talking. I’m aware of my own emotional reactions and trying hard to separate them from what’s required to help her.
Karen’s made a good life for herself. I watched her succeed in her relationships, both social and romantic. She’s single now and says she (when does “she” become “he”?) intends to stay that way till she’s settled as male. That seems to make sense, but . . .
Who will love my child when she is so different? How will sex work when her sex organs are mismatched with her identity? How best can I protect her from rejection?
Please. What are the words for having this most unusual of sex talks?
Dear Fearful Mom,
I hope you realize you are already doing a spectacular job. Your acceptance and support are critical in helping Karen navigate her transition smoothly.
She’ll have many challenges to meet, and probably more than a few dark nights. She knows that. You can’t shelter her from the reality of potential rejection and necessary losses. This is far from a perfect world for the diverse.
Don’t worry about the actual mechanics of sex. When the chemistry is right, it all works. Besides, children rarely want to speak about their personal sex lives with their mothers, even cool mothers like you. Trust that Karen will work that part out with her lovers.
Regarding pronouns, just ask. And update yourself as Karen moves forward. Try hard to remember the importance of language. There are many “correct” pronouns. Adjust according to your child’s requests.
You are most importantly concerned with Karen’s future happiness. Who will love him?
Karen brings with him a perspective quite unique to transgender individuals, and that will be a powerful attractor to an insightful and open-minded suitor. Having grown up treated as female, he understands feminist philosophy as well as misogyny firsthand. Likewise, becoming visibly male, Karen will understand male perspective and privilege. Given this background, there’s not much that will escape his empathy, and that’s a primary ingredient of relationship sustenance.
Having a view from both sides of the gender divide makes Karen irresistible to those with open minds and a somewhat fluid orientation. While they (some trans people use the gender-neutral pronoun "they") won’t appeal to those seeking overtly feminine traits, they will disarm their female admirers with their understanding of women’s emotional capability and appreciation of their unhurried approach to lovemaking.
Should they find themselves attracted to men (sometimes orientation shifts with gender change), they will perceive the immediacy of their lover's arousal as only another man could, all the while tempering the lust with their grasp of the weight of maintaining a macho image.
So you see, Mom, though your child must pass through some deep valleys, they will be able to do so with your valuable support and will offer to some wise and courageous traveller a companion who has seen several sides of the gender divide. For that they will earn a place of privilege and perspective unobtainable to the rest of us.
Remind him of his value as a brave human being defiantly resisting culture’s demand for conformity. Encourage him, too, to grow to his full potential, including sexually. Be unafraid of frank sexual discussions, but observe privacy boundaries. Grow your knowledge about your child’s situation independently, and check in for accuracy with Karen directly. Most importantly, continue to believe in your lovable child.