- This Is How It Always Is
“Penn, tell me you see how vaginoplasty is different from ear piercing. Tell me you see how removing a penis is different from removing wisdom teeth. Tell me you see that equating gender reassignment with address reassignment is an absurd comparison.”
“Of course. Clearly. I’m just saying we make decisions for our kids all the time. We do this because we know they aren’t as smart or experienced or informed as we are, so they can’t make these decisions for themselves. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
“You’re scaring the shit out of me, Penn.”
“You’re going too fast. She’s just decided to re-become Claude, and your response is to turn her into Linda Lovelace. Maybe she doesn’t mean it. Maybe she’s not really changing her mind. But we have to slow down and figure it out, let her figure it out. You’re ticking off boxes here because it’s something you can do, and I get that, believe me, but she’s got to be lost for a bit, and she can’t be lost if we’re leading her out of the woods.”
“She isn’t lost, Rosie.” Penn took her hands and, though she tried, would not let her pull away. “We made this decision long ago. We made it when Claude was in kindergarten, and Poppy’s never regretted it, not for a day, and neither have I.”
“Then why’d she shave her head?”
“I don’t know.” His face looked worn, wan.
“Penn, in so many ways, we’re so lucky. In so many ways, I’m grateful this is what our kid got, gender dysphoria instead of cancer or diabetes or heart disease or any of the other shit kids get. The treatment for those isn’t necessarily clearer. The drugs are harsher and the prognosis scarier and the options life-and-death but never black-and-white, and my heart breaks every time for those kids and those parents. But those are more or less medical issues. This is a medical issue, but mostly it’s a cultural issue. It’s a social issue and an emotional issue and a family dynamic issue and a community issue. Maybe we need to medically intervene so Poppy doesn’t grow a beard. Or maybe the world needs to learn to love a person with a beard who goes by ‘she’ and wears a skirt.”
“But that’s not going to happen.” Penn spoke so softly she wouldn’t have heard him if she didn’t already know what he was going to say.
“In which case maybe she—and you and I—need to learn to live in a world that refuses to accept a person with a beard who goes by ‘she’ and wears a skirt and be happy anyway. Maybe our response to that world should not necessarily be to drug and operate on our daughter.”
“How?” He looked up at her. It felt like a long time since their eyes had met.
“How do we learn to live in that world and be happy anyway?”
Rosie woke from fitful sleep sometime well predawn to send Howie a text: WILL GO TO THAILAND. IF I CAN BRING POPPY.
They would have needed a new wardrobe anyway. The clinic did not allow skirts. The clinic did not have air conditioning. The clinic, the whole jungle really, was plagued by mosquitos. These few, small facts they managed to glean combined with the one that was readily available—that highs would hover in the mid to high 90s every day—meant they both needed all new clothes, and those clothes proved fortuitously androgynous: long cotton pants, breathable shirts with long sleeves, walking sandals, sunhats. The night before they left, Rosie packed for both of them, then knocked on the turret door.
“So. Are you ready? Are you excited?” Rosie felt neither but tried to sound both, and when she got no response turned instead toward the practical. “I packed for you.”
“Is there anything special you want to bring with us?”
“I mean, I have all the essentials, but maybe you want to bring Alice and Miss Marple?”
“I’m not a baby.”
“Or a picture of your friends.”
“I have no friends.”
Rosie winced but plowed on. “I think I have all we need but one thing.”
Rosie sat on the edge of the bed and took her baby’s hands and said as gently, gently, gently as she knew how, “I don’t know what to call you, my love.” Her love looked slapped but spellbound by something just over Rosie’s head. “Should I call you Claude or Poppy? Should you be my daughter or my son? You can be either one, and you know we’ll all support you. You know we’ll love you no matter what, no matter who. You have only to tell me: who do you want to be?”
“It doesn’t matter who I want to be.”
“Nothing matters but,” Rosie insisted.
“It only matters who I am.”
“And who is that?”
“Claude.” He spat the name. “I have to be Claude.”
“You don’t, sweetheart—”
“I do. Claude is my punishment.”
This child is only ten, Rosie’s breaking heart implored the universe. “What are you being punished for, my love?”
“For lying to everyone. For pretending to be something I’m not.”