Son Boy Allowed: A Trans Mother Finds Space for Boyhood
Well, what does it mean to be a boy or a girl? The answer so often is, simply: I don’t know. And I’m not sure that it actually matters, anyway.
“So, it looks like you’re having a little boy,” John the midwife says. “They found a Y chromosome. Girls don’t have those.”
There in the exam room, my mouth gapes just a little. Sometimes it’s amazing how cis people can’t connect the plain dots right before their eyes. This isn’t our first prenatal visit, he knows our story, and I know I don’t “pass” that well—he has to know I’m trans. It was thoughtless; it would be easier, somehow, if he meant to hurt. But as I sit in the anger, it’s hard to say precisely who I’m angry for. It’s about me, and it isn’t.
I know where that Y chromosome came from. We all know where it came from. And for all the pain it’s caused me, I’m suddenly ready to throw down in defense of it. It is, indelibly, mine, a part of my story, in my literal blood.
And now it’s in my kid’s blood, too.
Son Boy Allowed
Son Boy Allowed
The women at work are talking about scouts. Girl Scouts, Brownies, all those shared experiences, all those shared memories. I hear them and I see the inside of an Adirondack tent at midnight, my flashlight revealing a swarm of banana slugs that will give me nightmares for years. I feel the bite of a knife in a twig, fir bark, wood smoke. I feel piled canvas gear, everything like an old war antique. Redolent kerosene, rough twine. The cloying sweet of hot chocolate sipped from a tin cup in a Christmas tree lot after dark, as I sit alone in a musty trailer hunched over an old frayed hardcover of . The astringent tang of grand fir needles. The particular way you can taste carving soap.
And I remain silent, there at that table, lost in thoughts I cannot speak, a life I cannot share.
If the kid takes after me.
The Baron in the Trees
It’s a random Monday night in an early-’90s autumn, and my dad is cranking the TV volume all the way up. Monday Night Football is moments away. The last commercial fades, and there’s Hank Williams Jr., adjusting his guitar.
I mean, Get Ready.
Before Hank even gets through “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!” my dad leaps on top of the toy chest, dancing in slippered feet, belting out the lyrics in time.
“A MONDAY NIGHT PAR-TAY!!!” Dad’s down from the toy chest again, dancing around the room. He grabs me under my arms, spins me around and we dance there for a moment, my little feet swinging in the air. Dad has shed all reserve, all dignity, and it couldn’t be better. My little brother wobbles out his own little dance, clapping in time. Dad’s hands are strong and gentle and his eyes have this spark in them, a glimpse of his artist’s soul, his wanderlust. The elf child still within him. There are dreams there, an imagination and a tender heart he doesn’t get to show enough between all his overtime shifts.
“All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night.” The last chord rings and fades. Announcers appear. There is, I assume, a football game after; I don’t particularly recall. What I know, though, is that Monday nights are magic.
It’s a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2012 and Dad’s lying in the hospital bed only half there. The ugly bloody sutures are still raw at his scalp, his eyes wandering; his mind is elsewhere, struggling, and we’re still not sure if it will come back. I can’t handle the blood, so I drop my eyes all the way down past that loose hospital gown to his bare feet. Somehow, these aren’t aneurysm feet. They’re shocking, not just in their cleanliness amid all that carnage, but also in their familiarity, their sameness. They’re youthful feet, smooth, oddly out of time, and I’m struck by the notion then, that if I were just to climb up on that hospital bed, slip off my own shoes and socks, and lay my own two feet there beside his, you couldn’t tell, looking at them, which were the father’s feet, and which were the child’s.
There was, in that first year of transition, an effervescence. If you’ve ever played that game where you stand in a doorway with the backs of your hands against the jamb and push out, strong as you can for a minute or two, only to step out to find that you cannot help but lift your arms, that they seem to rise of their own accord, you will know what I mean. That first year, they were always rising. I’d be going about my day and suddenly there they were, out of the corner of my eye, lifting, dancing in the air. As the old weight faded, how could they not rise? That escape, that letting go, that smelting down to the essential within was so good, so necessary. For the first time, they could truly be.
To be sure, many people don’t really have that tie in front of them—maybe their Y-provider was absent, a faceless donor, a piece of shit, tragically passed, as mine almost was, or for whatever reason isn’t there. But still, for all of us, there is, or was, a human traveling this earth who gave us our blueprints, from whose flesh we spring, who anchors us in the bodies we grow into.
What my Son Boy will have is a shapeshifter. His hands will carry a weight he cannot find in the hands that made his. His hands will carry a weight I gave him, a weight I couldn’t carry myself. If and when that little tuft of hair starts to grow up at his collar bone, he won’t see it in me, won’t see how it ties him and how it binds him, how it binds us. How can it hold, then, the sense of grounding, of history, of familiarity and safety? The shapeshifter and her changeling. It’s just difficult, sometimes, to realize you’ve given away something that wasn’t fully yours.
The wind starts to blow through the pine boughs and I can feel the sway. My best friend Carl calls up from the treehouse platform below, worried. The pine tree creaks as it bends, one way then back again; it’s so easy to climb too high without realizing it, to get stuck with no easy way back down. Sometimes all you can do is cling tight and wait for the wind to pass.
There’s a question I can’t quite shake as we look ahead to the arrival of the (probable) Son Boy. Why is it, exactly, that a little boy can’t grow up to be a woman? Why can’t the one follow the other, or even flow from the other?
There is a scene in the kids book George by Alex Gino that ripped my heart out like no writing ever quite has. In it, the nine-year-old protagonist, Melissa, sits on the edge of her sink, stares into the mirror, and envisions her future self, all that will happen, all the damage her Y-chromosome will cause if she can’t find a way to stop it. When I sat on the edge of my bathroom sink at nine, all those hours with the door locked, just staring into the mirror, I wasn’t looking at discord, present tense. I saw an appalling future. My child’s fingers traced a hairline still full and round, knowing where it would go. I was lost in nightmares of bristles like black pine cones bursting from the pores of my smooth face. Jutting angles and muscles in slabs and skin thick as cowhide. I saw this all mapped out in the one who gave me my Y-chromosome, and saw no other path, no way out. And so I spent so much time in the mirror trying to fix and save those images, that point in time, that state of being, in memory if nowhere else. I spent so much time mourning a present while I was still living it.
But for me, then and there, in that body, in that self, I was okay.
I wonder often how it could have been, if I could somehow reach back and place a light hand on that kid’s shoulders, on that little boy’s shoulders, and tell him that no, it can be okay. That no, things can be different. That no, what he’s foreseeing is a possibility but not a destiny.
And I wonder now, what it would take to draw that kid back through time, to bring him into the here and now.
I wonder what it would take to let him live, here and now, so the Son Boy can know him, too.
Elanor Broker is a writer and civil rights attorney in Portland, Oregon. Their work has appeared in Slate, Catapult, Electric Literature, Gertrude Press, and other publications. Read more at www.elanorbroker.com and on twitter @elanorbroker.