Like a typical adolescent boy, my 15-year-old son yearns for independence. Freedom from parental rules, chores, and homework. He worries about not having had any relationships yet, claiming he will never find anyone who looks past his short stature. He looks for ways to earn money, but bemoans being asked to take out the trash each week. He likes to sleep late on the weekends and hang out with friends after school. He runs cross country, plays the trumpet, and got his first job.
Looking at my son, I see a world of possibilities for him that he cannot yet imagine. This world contains the usual run of the mill worries of every parent: will he do well in school, will he go to college, will he find his way? But for me, this world also contains dangers I have only begun to comprehend.
Fifteen years ago, when I gave birth to this beautiful child, I thought I had added a second daughter to my family. When I look back at pictures from his early life, I see a smiling girl who lopped her hair off and insisted on boys’ clothes in elementary school before having an extreme backing out of femininity. By junior high, what I deemed adolescent moodiness was actually the anxious confusion of a child trying to figure out how to survive in a world living in the wrong body.
Sitting in the car at a red light one afternoon shortly after his eleventh birthday, he pushed aside the fear to come out. At that moment, I had a son where I thought I had a daughter and the world no longer look the same. Never had I realized how gendered our world really was: pronouns, bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, clothes, names, etc. Gendered and binary in tight boxes with little-to-no room to wiggle.
Every parent worries for their children and the scary aspect of letting them go on their own to the mall or movies, sleeping at a friend’s house, or going on dates. For me, the fears grew to include how my child would be accepted at a school where he had previously been she. Family gatherings needed careful treading with slipped pronouns and confused looks. We had to have awkward conversations about the challenges of balancing honesty in relationships with the dangers of coming out too soon.
As we have navigated the road to becoming mother and son, we have taken long car rides in order to find physicians comfortable with prescribing gender-affirming hormones; advocated to play for the boys’ sports teams; and struggled with his body’s insistence to grow into a woman instead of a man. Short haircuts and breast binders can only go so far. My son just wants to be cis-something I can never fully provide.
Over the summer, he convinced me to let him go away to a sleepover rock climbing camp several hours away from home. Overnight camping meant sleeping away from home, which tends to include separation by sex. We had endured a misunderstanding a few years prior with an overnight program which did not understand the difference between sex and gender. My son had ultimately been separated from everyone and required to sleep in a room alone. So, I feared repetition.
After several phone calls with the director of the camp, I left my son to climb and camp with a small group of supervised teenagers. The worry I felt driving to pick up him at the end of the week dissipated as I pulled in and saw him horse playing with his friends as any teenage boy would do. Later at lunch, beaming he confessed that he had gone stealth. The camp director had not made my son’s birth sex known. My son opted not to tell. For one week he lived his desire to be cis. He tasted the freedom from the weight of his female sex further confirming his desire to live in a male body.
My son will soon be sixteen. He binds his breasts and injects testosterone to cajole his body to be more masculine. In a few weeks, we will meet with a surgeon about female to male top surgery. Nothing has prepared me for this pending transformation. I understand the risks, but I also see clearly the potential benefits to my child. This surgery provides the freedom to play shirts and skins in soccer, the freedom from the daily squeeze into an uncomfortable binder, the freedom to go stealth. Surgery does not solve all the problems, but it does open the path to my son’s life up just a bit more. I still worry about his future, but I also have hope in the possibilities of the man he will become.
Dr. KrisEmily McCrory is Family Medicine doctor based in Schenectady, NY. She is a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.