Lessons from the Bridal Shop
People ask when I knew my daughter was actually my son. It seems impossible, even to me, that I shouldn't have an answer, but I don't. At least, not a simple one.
From the moment the sonogram revealed that we were having a daughter, I was hard at work making sure she would grow up a confident, self-actualized person who proudly manifested her Girl Power. I eschewed pink, decorating her nursery in shades of green and yellow. I attended workshops on the developing female brain and how to help G. thrive intellectually. Her dad and I were terrified that she would want to wear pretend high heels and worship Disney princesses, so it was a relief when she was mostly interested in Elmo, animal stuffies, Handy Manny and Peter Pan.
She didn't care what she wore. I dressed her in gender-neutral outfits that featured forest and savannah animals. Whatever she wore to daycare or preschool would be cast off for one of her many footie pajamas the minute she got home. Have spent my on life both tormented by and obsessed with clothes, I was overjoyed by this indifference. My daughter would be not define herself by her appearance or be a slave to fashion.
So my heart stopped early one evening when she was four, and, walking slowly back home from a trip to town, she spotted a meringue of a wedding dress in the window of a bridal shop up the block, and took off running towards it. Oh, Jesus. This is it. And it’s worse than I could have imagined. Worse than Barbie, Belle or Cinderella, she wants to be a bride.
Don’t shame her, I reminded myself as I hustled to catch up. This could be a phase. Talk about the craftsmanship that went into the creation of the dress. Talk about costume design as a potentially wonderful career.
Her hands were pressed to the glass and her face glowed in the light of the window display. She rocked back and forth on the heels of her purple high tops.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s really something. That’s a big dress! Somebody spent weeks putting those sequins on! Do you like it?”
“Not that,” she said. She stepped back to take in the entire display. “I like that.”
She pointed to the classic tuxedo beside the hideous poof, her entire body electric with awe. “I want that.”
Oh, thank God. And how cool! I pictured her going to her prom in a tux, a beautiful, Dietrich-esque empowered young woman, or running a thriving business wearing a tux, like Babette on Boardwalk Empire. “That’s a tuxedo,” I told her. “That one is just classic with a short coat, but they come with a long back, too. With tails.”
“I want a tuxedo.”
“Maybe we can get you one,” I said. We started walking. I couldn’t wait to tell her dad about this revelation. A tux! “Most people just wear them for fancy occasions, though. Like weddings. Do you think you’d want to wear a tuxedo to your wedding?”
“Of course not,” she said. “I’m wearing a hamster suit to my wedding. But I want a tuxedo for now.”
That was probably it: My first sign that my daughter might actually be my son. At the time, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. I just counted it a score for the Bold, Empowered Daughter team, that I was winning my battle against our princess/whore, appearance-obsessed culture. But G. might have been telling us both something that neither of us would even suspect for some time to come.
She did get a tux eventually, delivered by Santa when she was eight. But shortly after the bridal shop revelation, I bought her a little black suit that she wore to our holiday tradition of seeing A Christmas Carol at A.C.T., accessorized with a long-skirted red top coat, velvet top hat, and walking stick that he dad sawed down to size from an old cane. As she strode down the streets of San Francisco like a character out of Dickens, I’d never seen her look so proud, so confident. A man we passed on a corner told her, “You look very handsome,” and she beamed so brightly I thought her feet would lift off the sidewalk. “Thank you,” she replied. “I take good care of myself.”
And she did. He does. Not in the sense of combing hair and primping in the mirror, lipstick and nail polish. She did and he does take care of who he is, is true to the person inside, acknowledges what that person needs and wants and honors and celebrates it without even a single doubt or flicker of self-consciousness. After that day, she corrected everyone who said she looked pretty or beautiful by saying, "I prefer to be called handsome."
Yes, he takes good care of himself.
Another five years passed before my kid said, “I’m a boy.” I suppose that’s when I really knew he was transgender. But by that time, the word “boy” and his declaration meant very little to me, except that I needed to hurry up and change the gender marker on her birth certificate and passport before the start of the Trump administration. It had been so long since I’d thought of G. in gendered terms, because she didn't exist within them; as she sat in his camo shorts playing with her collection of Calico Critters, pretended to shave and requested a short haircut, painted her grandma’s toenails and adored the nurses in Call the Midwife, my lifelong conceptions of what made a boy a boy and what made a girl a girl had been shattered and fallen into a wonderful kaleidoscope in my mind.
He had just been my girl. Now he is just my boy.
When he does wear a hamster suit to his wedding, I'll know I've done something right.