The Scarlet Letter
My clammy hands gripped the steering wheel while I focused on restraining my foot from pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Breathe, I told myself. Relax. Deep breath in through my nostrils, taking in the bucolic beauty of our rural area. My throat was parched and my heart raced.
My destination was an ordinary office building on the side of the freeway; but my reason for going there was anything but ordinary. The building was the Superior Court and my reason for going there was to file the paperwork that would be the first step in the process for legally changing my child’s name and gender status. On this unremarkable day, I found myself doing something utterly life changing. I had understood that taking this step could be something we’d do eventually, but since Alex had switched schools and was being affirmed in her authentic gender, there appeared to be no discord. When we switched her schools, I had thought we would have a few years to regroup, relax, and settle into the new normal.
It felt like cinematic slow motion as my minivan careened down the freeway at 70 mph. As I passed the exit to the local hospital, I reflected on the day nearly nine years ago at 11 pm that my husband was taking that exit to welcome our first born. I remember feeling every contraction, the visceral experience of bringing new life into the world along with hope, joy, and pain.
Here I was, nine years later, feeling those same emotions, only it’s the next exit on the freeway. And those emotions are hitting me on a much deeper, spiritual, visceral level and dimension. It dawned on me that in a sense, I was again bringing a new life into the world. This time it was my daughter Alex.
An overwhelming bubble of emotion welled up in me. I wanted to let the tears of hope, joy, and pain pour forth, but I knew that I needed to present myself in a composed manner. It’s not every day that a parent files legal proceedings to change their child’s birth name and gender marker. I knew this. I also suspected that my actions and appearance had the potential of being judged as much as the content of our petition. Crying tears of joy and sorrow would have to wait.
The course of events leading up to this moment could only be explained as divine intervention. It came to light a few weeks before….
It was a Saturday evening, and we had a friend’s child, Liam*, over for a short playdate before we were planning on taking him and our own kids to the local gym that sponsors a twice monthly Parent’s Night Out. Liam had known Alex since the second grade prior to Alex’s social transition, when she went by her birth name and gender (male). After Alex’s transition, Liam was generally very accepting and did not participate in any of the teasing and ostracizing that went on at the school.
So it was that Liam, Alex, and her younger brother were playing in the family room.
“Alex, it’s time for you to change into your gym clothes,” I instructed. “We’re leaving in 10 minutes.”
“Ok, mom,” she replied quickly getting up and darting from the room. She ran straight to her room when I had thought she would be putting on her favorite blue velvet leotard and black yoga pants. After five minutes when she did not reappear, I went to her room and rapped gently on the door before opening it a crack. I noticed she was still in the process of changing. As she noticed me, she immediately covered her chest with her arms.
“Eeek! Close the door!” she cried. “Don’t let Liam see me naked!”
“He won’t,” I replied. “He’s in the family room playing.”
I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time reflecting on this simple exchange. It was a very natural, ordinary conversation that one would expect from a parent and daughter. And yet, somehow it solidified something in my mind that, while I have accepted unconditionally and have never doubted, I think I needed to witness first-hand—Alex’s authentic self shining through.
As if this wasn’t enough to light the fire under my bottom, there was to be yet another series of events that would indicate to me that the time was right to make Alex’s name and gender status official.
“Hi, sweetie!” I greeted Alex one Monday after school. “How was STAR testing today?” I knew that it was the first day of the standardized test.
“Oh it was fine,” she replied hastily. “But how come there was an ‘M’ on my test?”
The question caught me totally off guard, but it only took a few seconds to realize that she was referring to the gender marker labeled on her test.
“Ohhhhhh, thaaaat,” I stammered. I had not the foggiest notion of how to respond to this question. Attempting to buy some time, I deflected the question with another inquiry.
“So, just curious… what was the name on your test?”
“Alex,” she replied.
“Hm, ok. So they managed to put the right name, even though it’s not your birth name on there,” I reasoned.
“Why did it say ‘M’? I thought you were going to change my gender, too,” she persisted. A few weeks prior, we discussed with her the complicated legal process for changing one’s gender marker and name on official documents. I can only imagine that in her 8 year old mind, somehow she must have thought that since we discussed it, it would suddenly, magically just be a done deal.
“Uh, well, yeah, about that…,” my reply trailed off. I am rarely caught off-guard, but this time I was left speechless. I felt that I had in some way failed my child. Not in a major or devastating way, but in a way that I needed to prove we as her parents could follow through and may the situation “right” for her.
It was a simple, but clear indication that in that moment, reality was a-knockin’ and now it was up to me to open the door.
That very evening, I sent an email to Alex’s psychiatrist requesting an affidavit affirming Alex’s new gender. It was this singular document that held the key to unlocking that door.
Alex’s doctor replied to my email with a scanned and signed statement in email the following Monday. He closed his email with “I’m glad you’re doing this for Alex.” Those were some powerful words of support and encouragement and that affirmed to me that we were taking the appropriate steps for her.
By now, we had not only started thinking about the legal transition for Alex, but it was also on our radar that puberty could be around the corner for her. We have long since understood that puberty for transkids can be a devastating time for them. When a transchild is skipping merrily along through life, integrating relatively well with their peers, and then suddenly his body betrays him and magnifies the wrong features.
Like any parent, I am not about to subject my child to any situation that would make her feel more different than she already does. For this reason, I had resolved to have Alex’s Puberty Dream Team in place well before there would be any urgent need to act.
April 24th marked an important day for us. It was the day that Alex met the endocrinologist, Dr. Rosenthal, who would someday be treating her for puberty suppression. Although I had scheduled this appointment several months prior, it just so happened to land at a time when so many other signs were illuminating Alex’s authentic self.
“Next!” the clerk said.
I stepped up to the counter nervously. Hands cold and clammy. I handed her the manila envelope containing the documentation I had so carefully prepared. Two copies of everything. Physician’s affidavit on letterhead – check. Civil cover sheet indicating our reason for filing the petition: NAME AND GENDER CHANGE – check. Order to Show Cause (whatever the hell that is) – check.
My thoughts raced.She’s going to reject it. I’ve forgotten something. She thinks I’m a batshit crazy mother, living on a commune, and forcing her child to change her child’s gender of all things!
I breathed deeply through my nose and focused on getting through the moment. After a several minutes of watching the clerk sort, stamp, resort, staple, pile various permutations of the carefully stacked and sorted papers I had handed her, she handed me one of the stamped pages on which she had written a case number.
“Well, it all looks good. Everything’s here,” she said with a cursory smile.
Is she on my side? I wondered.
“You can check this web site the day before your hearing to find out the judge’s ruling,” she said.
“Ok, great,” I replied in my most calm and collected way.
Is that it? I wondered. Could it really be this easy? What am I missing?
As I got back into my car and headed back to work to continue my day at my 9-to-5 job, I carefully, slowly, and cautiously allowed the feelings of joy and elation wash over me. Down came those tears that were once so meticulously held at bay, welling up in my eyes, blurring my vision, and then deliciously streaming down my cheeks.
I know our journey has only begun, but so far, the sun is shining on our lives. Thank you, Universe!