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.
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.
More in this series
Today tongzhi is seldom used in a political context, if ever: The Beijing LGBT center is called Beijing Comrade Center; 同志村, or comrade village, translates to gayborhood. So yeah, everyone knows what comrade really means—everyone except the president of China, apparently.
For me, homosexuality is an invitation to opt out, to abstain from the trappings of heteronormativity, a gift of eternal boyhood.
I was leaving femininity behind, grateful to have an example like my grandpa to grow toward.