While a storm has been raging on twitter, I have been wondering if I can say anything that has any value. I haven’t been around for a while because life got in the way, so I’m not sure exactly what has happened, but with the whole “If you say nothing, you’re part of the problem,” vibe going on, I have taken a good few days to work out what my experience brings to the party. I didn’t want to write something that turned out to be about me.
Everything in here has been shared with and approved by the people referenced. You might need to be aware this post glances past losing a child, and references child sexual abuse and a whole host of people not being kind to people who don’t fit a certain idea of normal.
I try to be very careful in what I say, because as a person with autism I am aware just how limited communication in words can be. Anything that isn’t a conversation can transmute into a lecture. And regardless of how correct you may be about something, no-one responds well to being lectured. Equally, when something is based on personal experience, there is a need to acknowledge everyone’s experience is different.
It is a rare parent who doesn’t hold their new born child
and map certain expectations and aspirations onto their life. When I went to a
scan for child number three, having already given birth to two boys, I was
briefly, irrationally upset that the baby had waved their male gentalia at me
clearly in the scan. Cartoon bubbles of dresses and hairbands literally popped
in my mind as I thought that future was gone.
But then child three was gone and child four was on the way.
Suddenly gender was completely irrelevant and what I ached for was a healthy
child in my arms, crying and wiggling.
Or course, if T had been born healthy, I would have loved him as I love my other children. Fully. Completely. And baby four is just as well loved and came with dresses and ribbons and rainbow sprinkles.
It turns out, so do my older children. Both my children born boys now identify as non-binary.
Roll back the clock a little to when Mr Hunt and I were getting married, we thought working out how to facilitate a trans-parent/parent-in-law at a wedding seemed like a huge mountain. Things had to be said to avoid accidental misunderstandings or more directly hurtful things happening at the wedding, but what and how to say it was incredibly tricky. The relationship between my husband-to-be and their parent, Felicity, was also rocky, so we couldn’t really ask for a lead. Leaving the family home to pursue gender reassignment was not handled with perfect grace. As she said in conversation today, there is something inherently selfish about making such a large change in your life, even if you strongly believe you need to do it. I’m pretty sure I felt smugly satisfied at how the event went off, without a punch being thrown or a deadname used. We even negotiated the legal issues of how she could be identified on the wedding certificate. After all, I was brought up to be liberal and understanding of everyone with differences.
If you’d asked me when I held my first child in my arms how
I would react if they one day told me they were gay, I would have responded
that love is love and as long as they were happy, it would be ok, and I would
have felt proud of myself for that answer. I thought that would be the most
difficult stumbling block they might face.
Having a family hasn’t worked out quite like I might have
My children are survivors of sexual abuse. To say that
wasn’t in the plan is the understatement of understatements. They are disabled
by autism, or more in fact by the lack of adaptions available to them. In case
you haven’t read previous posts of mine on the subject, they were abused by a
carer brought in to support their autism. And now, two of them identify as
non-binary, which brings a whole new world of mountains for them to climb, in
an already mountainous world.
Before they were identifying as non-binary they were shunned
at school for being different. Ask any parent of autistic children how many
birthday parties they are invited to and they will probably burst into tears.
Then, as children who had been abused and not understood that what had happened
to them was abuse, they spent years with 1-2-1 shadows making sure they didn’t
become abusers and they were not allowed to mix with other children in any
Talking to Felicity, their grandparent, she has confirmed
that her first knowledge that she was different came from feeling she had more
in common with the children attending the girl’s school in her town, than her
peers at the boy’s school. Just something ill defined about not fitting in,
which could be quieted temporarily by dressing up in her sister’s clothes in
the privacy of her bedroom. As a person with autism, I can sympathise entirely
with more than a little dose of dysphoria, and trying to change my appearance
to alleviate it. After all, I started to wear my hair blue to show I’m not
quite as middle class, middle aged “normal” as I first seem, and now it is so
much part of my identity I feel wrong when the dye fades.
40 years ago, Felicity experienced transitioning as a black
and white process. You were trans and had a full surgical reassignment, or you
weren’t. Today, we have chatted about the situation in my twittersphere and it
has become apparent just how much the fluid presentation available today is a
world away from a “1980s sex change”. The whole middle ground of non-binary,
the language for body parts and the intersection of gender and sexualities
across a whole rainbow of possibility is a very modern opportunity for
expression. That is by no means insinuating that people didn’t feel all the
colours of the rainbow before, but showing them at all was a very different
proposition. It is very easy to forget just how much has changed, even if that
change is not as fast and complete as those living on the front line would
like. I am glad the full rainbow playground is available for my children.
The children were diagnosed with autism below the age of five. They have never felt like they’ve fitted in. Between autism and the sexual abuse, parenting has looked very different in our home than elsewhere. Our normal is different than most. But F’s pronouns and hair and high heels are a source of joy to them. D feels most secure when people don’t assume they’re a boy or a girl. They are creating their own niche where they fit in perfectly. Their confidence is attractive and this year they both received multiple Valentines from peers completely aware and unfazed by their gender.
Lots of people look in on our life and have an opinion. We
have social workers, solicitors, a psychologist, and other professionals all
weighing in on our ability to raise these beautiful, different children. After
the sexual abuse, we agreed to go into child protection because it was the only
way to access the funds to access the specialist support we needed. It turned
out that meant everyone and their brother could have a say in how the children
should be raised.
It is never easy to be out of step with what society thinks
is normal, and when the scrutiny is so fierce and your child exhibits as
different it is hard to stand up for their rights or your own. When the
children told the social worker about their grandparent and explained they knew
gender could be a more fluid concept than male or female, questions were asked.
Had we groomed the children into thinking they were not boys? Do they know
their own mind or have our liberal ways given them choices of which they don’t
understand the implications? Are they non-binary because they were assaulted? How
do you answer those questions, when even the asking of them makes you burn with
Turns out, supporting Felicity at our wedding was a gentle
stroll in the park when we needed to train to climb the three peaks.
Nothing is simple. Asking professionals to use the pronouns
the children have chosen in their reports is an ongoing process. The children
patiently explain themselves in a million places as they are consistently
misgendered as female which I find strangely superficial because in my opinion
don’t lean towards femme, beyond their long hair. And children is a loose term
as they are 11 and 13, and both would pass for older, D being over 6ft tall and
their voice having broken. I had to ask twitter for the correct term for F’s
girlfriend to call them. They settled on ‘datemate’. Their sister had to ask
her French teacher for the word for Enby in French as she didn’t have brothers
or sisters but wasn’t an only child. The confused French teacher had to ask us
about the English term before they could research the French. Don’t get me
started on how confusing it is to be using the singular ‘their’ when there are
two of them and the audience doesn’t realise it can be a singular pronoun.
It is people peripheral to their lives that are difficult.
All the people who know and love them,- their school friends at their
specialist school, their teachers, grandparents and friends through church, all
accept them as they are. One step distant though and their scout leaders have
no idea what to make of them and have refused to take them on camp, as it is
too difficult to sort out the sleeping and washing facilities. We have taken
this up with Central Scouting, as it is contrary to their policies. Take them
for an eye exam and find that a major high street opticians doesn’t have the
mechanism to enter their preferred title of Mx and insists they are Mr (despite
having HRH and Rear Admiral on the drop down menu choices). Their doctor’s
surgery forms insist they can only be male or female and have no place to record
their pronoun choice of ‘they’.
This strongly mirrors what I see in the online community at
the moment. People who have direct knowledge of others based on person to
person relationship, irrespective of their gender identity, make that leap to
make them comfortable. To use the language that makes them happy and make sure
they are aware they are loved and supported. For those further away, they are
still where I was when I was arranging my wedding, trying to make sure
Felicity’s trans-identity didn’t spoil my wedding day, without realising it was
all about my own comfort and not of hers. Back then, even though I did
everything by the book, as I saw it, my behaviour was not as it would be if I
were doing it again.
Luckily, Felicity has not held it against me. Her take on it
is that she didn’t at any point expect anyone to simply understand it when she
said she was going to change gender. At work, she expected it and didn’t worry
when people struggled with pronouns. They’d known her as Philip for 10 years or
more before she came to work as Felicity. What she wanted to see was people who
put in the effort to meet her where she was now. I can see this might be seen
as problematic, but she’s lived her life for over 70 years, and if that is how
she sees things I want to respect it. I have benefitted from after all.
It is easier to develop understanding of what is really
hurtful, and what matters on both sides, when you are in a conversation with a
three dimensional person rather than having that conversation with yourself or
the void of the internet. Part of that is understanding each person’s
experience is different. The more people you get to know, the more informed
And the fear other writers have expressed as part of a trans
persons life is constantly in our minds as parents. Felicity took being beaten
up in the early days of her translife as par for the course. After the
children’s abuse, we have had to develop sex positive parenting and be very
explicit about the behaviours of others and consent to try to keep all three of
them safe from those who might try to groom them again and help them recover as
much as we can, but, with their very fluid gender presentation, there are
hundreds of risks out there we had never considered. They have been assaulted
in the male changing rooms at the gym by someone who misgendered them as female
and then became sexually aggressive towards them, despite them identifying as
penis owners and most importantly children. Their sister has been bullied for
her ‘brothers’ being different.
Looking older, and having confidence in their own identities is a constant risk factor. After a show where my eldest performed in drag at the local arts centre, we had to leave and walk back to the car without them changing. I’m never normally scared, but I could feel the predatory attention they were gathering, as they sashayed across the car park in heels and dance leggings and I wanted to wrap them up and take them home, while they wanted to celebrate the euphoria of a great performance. Wanted to strut and preen and appreciate the whistles they didn’t really understand and which weren’t half as kind as the applause on stage.
It is natural to need to protect the people we love. Especially when they want to be loud and proud. Doing it without stifling them is going to be a challenge.
My children, my glorious, wonderful children, have a whole
mountain range in front of them. As parents we can walk with them, try to equip
them for the journey. Stumbling and falling will happen on the way, but
tempting as it is to try, we can’t carry them up the mountain. In the end, they
will carry us.