Saturday afternoon, I was driving to pick up a friend on the way to work. We were heading to see the midway ‘in progress’ showing of the high school theatre class that I’m helping to direct and whose final show he, in a few weeks, will be stage managing.
As is my habit when driving to work on Saturday afternoon, I flipped to This American Life. (If you’re not familiar with the show, you really should be. It’s a weekly program that has various documentary-ish stories about everything ranging from haunted houses to the financial crisis. Start by listening to something from this list, and go from there.)
Anyway. I’d heard the promos for this week’s episode. It was about finding that one-in-a-million person, the one who you weren’t sure you’d be able to find. Act One of the episode was about a man going back to China to find a woman he’d met years earlier, and I caught the tail end of the act when I switched to NPR. Act Two started up after the station break, and was totally unexpected: it was about two eight-year-old transgender girls. (The episode is available online here, via This American Life.)
The act was called ‘Tom Girls’ and was about a conference on the west coast for families with transgender children. These two girls, Lilly and Thomasina, had never met other transgender children and were amazed that someone else might share the same experiences they did, the same fears and hopes.
It sort of blindsided me as I was driving, because they didn’t lead into it with any indication of what was coming. It was a well-done setup: two girls saying “We’re best friend because we’re both nice. We both like Chinese food. We’re both eight. We both have crooked teeth.” And then, at the prompting of the produced, “Oh yeah. We’re both girls. We’re not boys.” At which point they do the ‘big reveal’ that these girls are trans.
They’re also extremely eloquent (and/or the piece is very well-edited). When speaking about whether or not their friends know they’re trans, one of the girls says, “Well, some do. But some just think I’m normal. It’s nice, sometimes, to have someone just think you’re normal.”
I think that’s about the time I started crying, driving over to pick up my friend.
Because she’s right. It is nice to sometimes just be ‘normal.’ (I thought, as I was driving to pick up my friend who stage managed my show about being trans, to drive up to the theatre I’ve taken classes and taught at for fifteen years. Where I’m normal. But not ‘not trans.’)
Thomasina and Lilly are also adorably young; simultaneously worldly and naive. One of the girls speaks about how it might be bad if news of her being trans got out, that reporters would “bang on [her] door, yelling ‘How do you feel being transgender?!’ Or ‘Why did you change your name?!’ Or “I like your new haircut! What’s your favorite kind of jewel?!’ That would be very painful, and annoying.”
This American Life doesn’t sugar-coat Lilly and Thomasina’s life, sharing quotes from both the girls and their parents about how other kids tease them at school, other childrens’ parents complained to the principal at school, how Lilly and Thomasina’s parents themselves have had trouble adjusting to the big change in their childrens’ lives.
For all that, it’s really hard not to fantasize about what life would have been like had I come out to my parents when I was five. “Sure, a lot about growing up and going to school and socializing would have been harder,” I think to myself, “but it was hard anyway. It was hard because I wasn’t out and transitioning.” Of course, I try to contrast that with what I’ve been told by older trans men and women, that I’m “so lucky” to be transitioning so young.
Ultimately, I know both are true: I’ll probably always wish that I’d come out and started transitioning twenty years ago, when I was Lilly and Thomasina’s age, and that doing so probably would have made many parts of my life easier. But I’m also extremely glad I’m transitioning now and not twenty years in the future.
I just need to try and focus more on the ‘being happy now’ part than the ‘regretting what’s past’ part.