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My recent reader survey asked for your gender. I had a suspicion that the strong majority of my audience is male, and I wanted to know if I was right. Boy, was I ever — four out of five readers are men.
The gender question has become sensitive in recent years, and some people have very strong feelings about it. If I offered only Male and Female as options, it would have alienated anyone who no longer claims the gender that they were born with. I know for certain that this blog has such readers. At the same time, I didn’t want to alienate readers with traditional values by listing options such as agender, genderqueer, nonbinary, and pangender. I asked the question like this:
I hoped everyone would understand and respect the line I was trying to walk. But a handful of respondents used the “Other” write-in option to share their negative views about transgenderism and even to warn me against writing about it here.
To them I say, you know I have a transgender daughter, don’t you?
My daughter Rana, who died unexpectedly at the end of 2021, was born with a male body. In her mid 30s told us that she was a woman and would begin to live as one.
I don’t know — I can’t know — all that was in her mind, all that she experienced, all that she had to process to make that realization and choice. I’m going to level with you, I have some doubts that she really was a woman. I raised her from the time she was seven, when her mother came into my life. Rana, then Ross, was a little boy in every way to me, and he grew straight toward manhood before my eyes.
Importantly, crucially, my experience with Ross/Rana was informed by what I thought becoming a man was, and by what I think masculinity is in general, both of which are heavily informed by the societal norms in which I have lived. It’s entirely possible that my child was playing the masculine role because she didn’t know there were other options, or because she was trying to make them work, or because she was masking. Or maybe I missed the signs back then. Either way, it’s likely that she finally realized who she really was and made a positive choice to honor it.
It’s also possible that she was confused, lost, and wrong about herself. I can’t know.
I saw no sane or loving choice other than to accept, support, and love my child as she was. I’m so glad I did, because our relationship remained as close as it always had been, until she died.
I knew someone in high school who presented strongly as “butch,” as we said in the 80s about any woman who wore masculine clothes and short hair. I was intensely naive about sexuality, but even I wondered if perhaps she wasn’t into men.
We went different directions after high school but I saw her at the reunions. At the 25th, she and I ended up getting a drink together afterward. She told me that she was sure in high school that she was gay, and had a series of same-sex relationships well into her adulthood. Along the way something felt off about it, and after a long period of reflection and further experiences she had lately come to realize that she was on the wrong path. “Jim, I think I’m straight. I’m not sure I was ever gay. I don’t know anymore why I thought I was.”
It’s remarkable how poorly we know ourselves as we enter adulthood. And then throughout our lives we grow, change, and become who we are. Most of us are fortunate to be comfortable and confident in our gender and sexuality — many of us never have to give it a thought. Some of us don’t feel sure about it, or are quite sure we don’t fit the norm. Theirs is always a hard road. Societal norms are powerful. Humans have a deep need to fit in, and when we don’t, we have to work incredibly hard to make our place in life.
It’s not impossible, had Rana lived, that at some point in the future she could have concluded that she was wrong and that she was a man all along. Were that to happen, the sane and loving thing to do would be to accept, support, and love her. I think it would have been more likely that she lived happily as a woman until she died naturally. Just the same, the sane and loving thing would be to accept, support, and love.
We all have to constantly figure ourselves out. We all need acceptance, support, and love as we make our way through our lives. We all should have the chance to find or make our happiness and success, as we define happiness and success.
Side note: That’s not to say that in love we should not challenge people when they are making destructive choices. A few years before she died, I saw some evidence that Rana may have been seriously abusing alcohol. I regret not asking about it and challenging her on it. That would have been appropriate, especially within the broader context of the acceptance, support, and love I offered as best I could. It is crystal clear to me that serious alcohol abuse is bad for a person and should be challenged, in love. It is not clear to me at all that changing one’s gender identity is bad for a person who genuinely believes they are not the gender they were born with. I see some evidence that people who do it live happier, healthier lives. More to the point, I saw evidence that changing her gender identity was, on the balance, good for Rana.
I’m not going to make gender identity or sexuality an ongoing topic of this blog. I am not interested in having arguments over these topics in this article’s comments, especially should they involve the common talking points and tropes. I am, however, interested in hearing where you stand on the issues I’ve raised here. Just please, let’s have a conversation in which we mutually listen to each other and respect each others’ positions.
Also, please remember this blog’s comment policy.