To a mother who posted on a trans support list trying to find understanding about discovering that her son uses feminine lingerie for sexual pleasure:
I’ve been out and watching transpeople since the mid-1980s.
The big challenge each of us has is how we combine some form of inner transgender desire/knowledge/identification with being functional and effective in the world.
Do we need to be boldly, bravely, out and trans, shifting genders? Or are our trans feelings something we keep very private, feeling very comfortable showing ourselves as normative in the world?
I assume your son is in school and in the mix of peer pressure there, he knows how to be one of the guys. He also knows how to relate to the girls.
How does he mix his own inner trans feelings with that outer life? How does he get any benefit from being visible as trans?
Teenagers, in my experience, are mostly still figuring things out. They don’t know who they are and what they want yet. Their life is about surviving in a social world, not about deep exploration.
It is when they emerge into a wider world, one with more possibilities than their school provides, that they can finally start exploring the more complicated parts of their own psyche, their own character.
The first thing we know as transpeople is who we are not. For example, we might know that we aren’t gay because attractive men just don’t make us turn our head or catch our breath, while women do.
Your child knows that they are not one of the queer people they see in their school. They don’t want to be that kind of person. Are there other people out there who model roles that they may want to be? I bet they don’t see any real, possible roles for themselves now, at least not in the context of the world they live in everyday.
What happens in their future? What are the possibilities?
Maybe it is as simple as meeting a gal who likes gender play in the bedroom, who enjoys integrating sensual dress up into life. Since girls are much like boys, though, I suspect that most girls around him are still trying to play out their normative fantasies, trying to impress their friends. They will eventually get to a more mature and open view of sexuality, but not until they get to explore their own desire past standard issue imaginings.
Maybe something else comes down the line, some way to express his nature in a different way. Will he perform, be gender playful, or even transition? Who knows?
I know that the one person who doesn’t know is him. He has no safe space to explore his trans feelings, so sexy things that lead to personal sexual pleasure is all he has gotten to, all he has needed to get to, done.
Halloween is a great indicator. Does he want to dress up for Halloween? He may not want to, may feel too exposed. I know that for me, even wearing shorts felt too revealing for a long time. I didn’t have any way to safely explore my own desires, so putting my unresolved stuff on display was just too damn much.
We live in a world today where there are a wide range of ways to explore our own identity. Letting kids do that at their own pace, in their own time and in their own way seems to me to be the best plan.
He knows what he knows about himself, but the rest, well, he doesn’t yet understand in any context, and certainly not in a way that he can explain it to others, not a therapist and not his mother.
He isn’t burning to come out. That feels unsafe, and besides, he doesn’t have a model that looks appealing to him in his world.
Addictions start not when we desire but when those desires overwhelm our ability to be functional and effective in life.
Kids who explore sensuality are just starting to understand themselves. They want answers, not immediately, but over the time that they can live their life.
Don’t rush your kid. They will figure out how to combine some form of inner transgender desire/knowledge/identification with being functional and effective in the world.
Like anything else they have learned to this point, they will learn how to be effective through play and experimentation. That’s always how kids find new ways to grow.
Trans isn’t easy or simple, but it can lead to a life where we are open, aware and compassionate beyond the limits of gender. I have no idea what the path of your kid’s life will be, but if it means he ends up with a woman who loves how he can listen and engage her with sensitivity, that would be a good thing.
“What is the most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.”
— Susan Sontag
There are good possibilities for living just a bit beyond conventional gender. And there are good possibilities for moving across gender too.
And, in the fullness of time, your child will figure out where they need to live.
Especially if they have a compassionate, supportive and loving mother who lets her seeds grow.