Today, my kids celebrate their 10th birthday! My son will be going with my husband and my dad this afternoon to run some errands, have lunch, and probably belly up to a bar for a quick root beer. There will be a family dinner out at a place of the birthday boy’s choosing. My daughter, however, isn’t with us to celebrate her birthday today. She won’t be joining us for dinner and I won’t get to see her open the small gift that I surreptitiously gave to someone else to give her. You see, this year, we gave my daughter the best birthday gift that we ever could have bestowed.
The chance to be a normal kid.
My daughter constantly feels different from her friends. Even when she is giggling with her besties in the yard or playing Minecraft with her brother, she knows that she is not quite the same as other children. To look at her, she appears to be exactly as a nine year old (ahem, TEN year old) girl should appear. We have a lot of the same conversations that many families have.
Yes, you can stay up a little bit later than you could a year ago.
No, you still can’t have a cell phone.
Yes, I realize that you are now a pre-teen since that distinction seems to be so important to you.
No, you can’t go to the mall alone with just your friends. (Though I’d consider walking about 50 feet behind them to give the semblance of privacy).
As a transgender girl, though she appears to be like everyone else, she doesn’t feel like everyone else. I see it in her eyes every now and then. One of her friends will say something and a look will flicker across her face because she knows she won’t get to experience it in the same way. Sometimes, she curls up beside me and asks me if I think her body is starting to look like a boy’s body. She gets concerned about imaginary hairs and wonders about the pitch of her voice. She asks if we need to see her pediatrician to start puberty blockers.
For her, growing up is a two-edged sword. She’s getting older with all the privileges that bestows, but each day brings her another step closer to puberty, and the next steps necessary to keep her from developing as a boy.
At this point, we have systems in place and ready to go. Her primary care provider can start puberty blockers at the appropriate stage. We have an endocrinologist in the wings ready to step in when necessary. We have a therapist working with her to give her the tools to manage her body dysphoria, fears of (and at times, acts of) bullying from both kids and adults, and to check in and make sure that this is still what she needs and that she still feels transgender.
But all the systems and all the tools we’ve arranged can’t give her the chance to be surrounded by peers who are just like her. That’s why this year we sent her to Camp Aranu’tiq. She gets to celebrate her birthday making new friends and getting to be with kids who have the same struggles she faces. Camp won’t be a place to hear stories from the camp counselors about being transgender because that’s not the focus of camp. Like it is for everyone else, camp is about playing games, getting dirty, doing arts and crafts, learning to canoe, trying out archery, learning to play Ga-ga, and hanging out with a bunch of kids.
Will she hear stories from other kids about what their life is like? Probably. But, I suspect that those conversations will take place over hotdogs, campfires, and waiting for lights out. It will happen organically as friendships are formed and memories created. Camp Aranu’tiq isn’t about counseling my child about being transgender. It’s about letting kids be kids without the stress they carry on a daily basis. It’s a chance to take the mask off, let the hair down (literally and figuratively), and spend 1-2 weeks just being.
It breaks me at times to know that it’s taken her ten years to find what I grew up having which is the chance to be just like the rest of the girls. I can’t hide her from people’s attitudes and their comments, though I try. I can’t promise that her new school will be better than her last. I can’t give her a girl’s body. But, I can give her time at camp which is probably the best birthday gift we’ve given her. And she’ll get it again next year, and the next. She’ll get the chance to go as long as she wants because it’s so very important.
I miss her terribly and it’s been a damp few days in our house. Her poor brother has suffered through double the amount of hugs and kisses though he seems to be tolerating it with grace. Today, he gets to reign as the only birthday child in the house which is a new phenomenon for him. He’s requested Red Lobster for dinner and I already know that means shrimp AND crab legs in his immediate future.
And hopefully, my daughter has opened the card and the box of hair chalk that I snuck to her camp counselor. I hope she and her cabin mates are sporting multi-colored hair until they hit the showers, or go swimming, or get rained on, or fall out of the canoe. I hope she feels like a queen for the day. I can’t wait to hear about how her birthday went at camp and to hear about her new friends.
I can’t wait to see my baby girl as I find myself, once again, crying. But, I’m so thrilled that she’s had this chance. If you are the parent of a transgender child then you should check into Camp Aranu’tiq which is a part of a non-profit organization called Harbor Camps. Their mission is to provide a welcome place for marginalized populations of kids and their families. They will be starting an overnight camp for kids with dwarfism in 2016 and plans are underway to create a camp for kids with craniofacial disorders.
I can’t always make her world a better place. I can’t wave a magic wand to change her DNA to what she wants it to be. But, I can give her Camp Aranu’tiq.