By Pamela Valentine
There’s some conversations that you simply can’t prepare for.
We had to tell our babysitter that our oldest child was transgender. We didn’t want to, or for that matter, even have to. Our child’s gender was nobody’s business but ours and shouldn’t play any role in how a babysitter treated him. But last summer, she had known him by another name, a female name, and used female pronouns. Now, things had changed.
I imagined a breezy announcement as we ran out the door.
“Bedtime is at eight, not a minute later! They can both have a cookie after dinner and oh, by the way, our oldest is transgender. Have fun, see you by ten!”
Yeah, somehow, I just didn’t see that being the way to do it.
Writing a letter, like we did for most of our family members, wasn’t the solution either. First of all, I didn’t have her mailing address. Secondly, she was our babysitter, not our childhood friend or relative.
I briefly considered a text. Aside from brief exchanges before and after, that was generally how we communicated.
R U good Friday @ 5? J BTW, oldest uses male pronouns and a male name now. U cool wit dat?
Again, not the kind of news to break over text message.
No, this would have to be face to face.
It wasn’t the way I generally liked giving people the news. For a variety of reasons, but most importantly, because it didn’t give them the courtesy of reacting in private. I’ve had years to adjust to my child being transgender. I’d seen the signs as early as two, he’d been telling us as early as three. I’ve known, in my heart and my gut, since he was four. His transition didn’t come easy for me, but it also didn’t come as a surprise.
But our family, even close family, wasn’t necessarily as open-minded as me and my husband. Mostly out of ignorance, not malice. They didn’t know what transgender was. As far as they knew, they didn’t know any transgender people.
Neither had we, at first. Not until our son. When we first heard the term gender dysphoria, we took the time to research, to read, to educate ourselves. And though we fully expected our family and friends to follow suit and to embrace and support our child, a letter gave them the distance to come to terms, to express any possibly negative or ignorant views in private, and then to process the information.
But how do you tell your babysitter?
On two fronts, this was a difficult situation.
First, we put ourselves and our child at risk. I didn’t know the religious or political views that my babysitter held. We had never sat down and had long conversations about where she stood on issues like marriage equality or civil rights or parenting, for that matter. I knew from my usual (if somewhat neurotic) Internet research that she leaned towards conservative, but I also knew that she was a nursing student. This could go either way. What if she got angry or rude or offensive? What if she ran screaming or called our son a freak or denounced us as sinners?
What if she thanked us but said she could no longer be our sitter?
Which brought me to the second front: how did we lose the greatest sitter we had ever had?
Because she truly was. She was kind and thoughtful and sensitive to the kids. She brought games and toys and crafts and activities. She loved my kids almost as much as I did, and the kids loved her just as much.
My son would be heartbroken if she never came to sit again. He would never understand.
No, I had to tell her face to face, to sit her down without the kids around, and break the news to her. When she arrived, I did. I started with the basics, the diagnosis, the most successful treatment, our decision to transition and how supportive our family had been so far. Then I followed that with how much we loved her, how much we hoped she would understand and support our son.
“Oh my gosh, I love both the kids! And I suspected from last summer, but it doesn’t change who he is and how I feel about him.”
I felt like all the air was knocked out of me. It didn’t change anything. My fears, my groundless, baseless fears, were put to rest. She loved both the kids. It didn’t change a thing.
“But at the end of the summer, I got an internship, so I’ll be moving for good. This will be my last summer home. I’m going to miss you guys so much!”
Relief and joy turned to despair. There’s some news you simply can’t prepare for.
Pamela Valentine is a writer, educator and self-proclaimed geek, who shares the joys and challenges of raising a trans child on her blog, Affirmed Mom. She’s looking forward to the release of two upcoming anthologies that she’s a part of: So Glad They Told Me and Here in the Middle.