A couple months ago, I wrote about our meeting with what will be Max's school next year. During the meeting with the principal and the guidance counselor, we introduced Max's gender-nonconformity and discussed some of the issues that may arise that concern us. I wrote about how well our conversation (and our little boy) were received by the school administration and how that, among other things, leads me to know that we're where we need to be.
I was chatting with a friend of mine, a preschool mom from Max's class, at a birthday party last weekend. She asked how things with Max were going and I told her about our very positive conversation with the school.
"Do you know Megan Thomas*?" she asked. I didn't.
"She lives in our neighborhood. You should know her. She's a therapist who works with a primarily pediatric patient list. She has experience working with kids like Max...kids who are gender-nonconforming, even kids who have transitioned. You should know her."
I couldn't agree more. So, I reached out to her (via Facebook, of course, like a true scaredy-cat introvert) and I told her a little bit about Max. I asked if she would be willing to meet....with me, not Max. I don't want Max to see a therapist right now. Max, right now, is fine. He's happy, he's comfortable, he's expressing himself fully. Max doesn't need a therapist...right now. And neither do I, really...but, with Kindergarten looming so big and near and anxiety-inducing-ly on the horizon, I have some questions. I wanted to know if we are on the right track.
Megan immediately wrote back and offered to meet this very week.
Friday morning, after I dropped Happy Max off at preschool, I dropped Molly off at Sam's office (she makes an excellent office assistant for a 3-year old). Then I headed to the coffee shop. I arrived a few minutes early and sat there willing myself not to start crying as soon as I started talking to Megan. Talking about Max sometimes makes me do that...it's not out of shame or because I wish things were different...it's out of fear. Like any parent, I just want my baby to be safe and happy.
As soon as Megan walked in, though, I breathed a little sigh of relief...she seemed very warm and open. Once we started talking, I knew I'd be okay. She was very reassuring.
I started by talking a bit about Max's timeline with gender-creativity and how happy, safe, and accepted he is in his current school. I told her that my only concern, truly, is that he continue to feel so happy, safe, and accepted in his big, new school next year. She asked if he has had any negative social interactions related to his dress-wearing. He has had a few difficult moments in our neighborhood, but we've worked through them and given him words to use in situations where someone makes him feel uncomfortable for dressing as he does. Megan affirmed that providing words, a script, will be important.
She then told me that he will, at some point in his life, encounter a Mean Kid. Someone who will pick on him. Someone who will try to get a rise out of him. Someone who will be unkind. But, she made it a point to remind me that most kids, not just the gender-creative kids, will. Some kids will be teased because of their clothes, some for a physical attribute, some for their family make-up, some for their academic ability. "Those kids who are unkind to Max," she said, "are most likely being unkind to other kids for other reasons, too. It's not Max's problem, the problem is with the kid who is being mean."
That's so true. And so important to remember. If Max comes home from school upset about what a kid in the hallway said to him, I should tell Max that I'm sorry that that child feels like he has to be mean....I'm not sorry that Max's skirt provoked him. It's not the skirt. It's not Max. It's the other kid.
It feels very freeing to hear that. Like I'm not sending my gender-creative kid into a Lion's Den to be ridiculed and bullied. I'm just sending my Kid to School. We will deal with any Mean Kid in the same way that we will deal with a kid who is ever unkind to Evan or Molly.
Similarly, Megan gave me some good talking points to use with Max's kindergarten teacher. If a situation were to arise in which Max is being teased about his skirt, the teacher should not say, "We don't tease Max about wearing a skirt. Max can wear whatever Max wants to wear." That makes the *skirt* the issue, when it is the *teasing* that should be the issue. Instead, the teacher should simply say, "We do not tease people in this school." Max is no different than any other kid.
I needed to hear that.
I also needed to hear how we can keep Evan happy and safe and comfortable next year. For some reason, I'm actually more worried about him than Max. Aside from some curious questions, I'm not sure Max will get any negative comments directly to his face. Most kids know better. But what I can see happening, is other kids, bigger kids, asking Evan why his brother wears a dress. I want Evan to stick up for Max, of course, because we're a family...that's what families do.
Megan agreed that Evan should have a script, too. Something that he can say to deflect or diffuse the situation if it arises. She suggested he can say something funny (bordering on snarky, without being mean) like, "Wow. I'm not sure why you think I'm in charge of Max's clothes. Or why you seem to want to be." I can't really see Evan being able to say something like this, though, so Megan said that he can recite our current script: In our house, we wear what we like. Then, if the questioning continues, he should direct the kid to his teacher: "You know what? I'm done talking about this, but you can ask the teacher, she knows all about it." [She suggested that I notify Evan's teacher, as well as the administration/support staff/resource teachers about Max so that everyone will be ready to step in.]
An important thing to remember, though, is that it's not Evan's job to defend Max. He can support his brother without feeling the pressure of needing to keep him safe. That's not a Brother Job....that's a Grown Up Job. Megan suggested that we encourage Evan to say exactly how the situation makes him feel (to us; he doesn't need to say it to Max) and to validate his feelings, whatever they may be. No feelings are Wrong Feelings, and we can help Evan to work though the difficult ones if and when they come up.
Finally, we talked a bit about Megan's experience working with kids who have transitioned at a young age. I don't know what Max's future holds. I don't need to know....but I want to be ready for anything. Megan said that, in her experience, the children who have transitioned at a very young age are those who have been "in conflict" since the age of 2 or 3. Children who retaliate against the notion of being called or encouraged to behave in a way that conforms to their sex. Children who are adamant about the fact that "I am NOT a BOY!" We're not there right now. Right now, Max calls himself a boy...a boy who likes girl things.
But we'll keep our ears open. Our hearts are already.
We're where we need to be. We're surrounded by the right people. We have access to the right information and resources. We're going to be just fine.
I just need to remember, every now and again, to breathe.
*For privacy reasons, this name has been changed.