A reader writes: “My 12-year-old step-granddaughter has come for a visit. My 19-year-old daughter realized she was acting different and in a discussion with her, my granddaughter explained she feels more like a boy and wants to live as one.
“While taking them to the mall for shopping I expressed that I have only known her as a girl and would probably have trouble in doing things differently. I do choose to be careful not to say ‘she’ and to refer to both girls as the guys or kids, etc.
“Once home, my granddaughter was quiet, and when asking my daughter about it, I was told it was my fault, that my granddaughter was depressed because we can’t jump into this new world with her at the drop of a hat.
“My daughter is very sensitive to issues like this. The problem came when my daughter yelled at me and called me a white supremacist, among a number of other things, because I am not trying hard enough to support her niece/nephew.
“I tried to point out at 12 this is a confusing time and talking to a professional to make sure the child really feels this way is a good way to go. I was told I know nothing and the decision has been made and my grandchild will dress, act and for all intents now be a boy and to not respect that I was showing disrespect to my grandchild. Any advice?”
First, I have some thoughts:
> It’s unfortunate that you were not prepared for this prior to your grandchild’s visit. I don’t know if your grandchild has even talked to his parents about this (I will use the male pronoun because this is what your grandchild has requested). But if he had discussed this with his parents prior to his visit with you, his parents should have let you know, in my opinion. Regardless, you were not prepared, and that led to difficulty that I would say is not your fault.
> While I believe that a 12-year-old is plenty old enough to know his gender identity, a 12-year-old is not necessarily emotionally sophisticated enough to understand the concept of patience with regard to those who are just beginning to adjust to a new gender presentation, new pronouns, and so on. I would expect that a 12-year-old might have outbursts of anger and impatience and might not understand why everyone around him cannot happily adjust to his news without any questions, concerns, or slip-ups. I would expect more from a 19-year-old.
> I don’t think either one – your granddaughter or your daughter – is being fair to you. Again, I would expect that from a 12-year-old, but I wouldn’t give a 19-year-old as much leeway. At 19, a person ought to be aware of the shock this might be and the time that it might take to adjust. With regard to the name calling, I have no idea what problems have come up in your family with regard to race, but your daughter might want to stick to arguments that have something to do with the situation at hand. And then she needs to grow up and calm down so that you might actually be inclined to listen to her.
> I agree with you that I think your grandchild should talk to a professional. Even if he is not the least bit confused about who he is, he is going to have to navigate the world in a different way, and he is going to have to make some decisions for himself that are going to be difficult. A professional therapist, particularly one who is knowledgeable about gender issues, can help him do that.
Now I have some advice:
I would recommend that you sit down with your grandchild – just the two of you – and have a discussion. If I were you (and I’m not), these are the things I would ask and tell my grandchild:
> Have you talked to your parents yet? If yes, what did they say? If no, why not? When are you planning to do that?
> If you have already talked to your parents, how do they feel about taking you to a therapist? Are they using the name and pronouns that you have requested? Have you had any troubles? (You also want to make sure that your grandchild is safe in his home.) Is there anything that I can help you with?
> If you have not talked to your parents, how do you think that they are going to respond? How would they feel about me using a male pronoun for you and relating to you as male? What do you want me to do when I talk to them about you (for example, if they call to check on you)? If they don’t know yet and I use a male pronoun with them, that will obviously be troublesome. How do you want me to handle all of this? Is there anything I can do to help you talk to them?
> I want to support you, and I will do my very best. It’s important for you to understand that I love you and I want to do the right thing. It’s also important for you to understand that this was dropped in my lap and that I have not experienced this before. I still have to get used to this and to adjust to this. I might make mistakes in my pronoun usage, and I might make other mistakes as well. I hope that you are able to bear with me on this and understand that I am doing my best.
I don’t know what the relationships are within your family. If your grandchild has not yet talked to his parents, you might want to offer to go with him or help him with that. I would not recommend that you “tell on him” – that you talk to his parents before he has. But I would make it very clear that he has put you in a bit of a dilemma, because he is expecting you to see him as male and refer to him as male, but yet his parents are not aware of this, so you will be switching back and forth with pronouns and so on with his parents, and this could lead to problems.
I would also make it clear to him that this is not necessarily a fair position that he has put you in, and that you hope that he will decide to tell his parents very soon. (Again, you need to be cognizant of his safety and what might happen to him if he tells his parents.)
If he has already talked to his parents, then I would recommend that you talk to them and find out how they want you to handle this, then put that together with what your grandchild has said and make your best determination. (And depending on your relationship with them, I would be inclined to ask them why they did not prepare you for this.)
But I think the most important thing is the one-on-one with your grandchild. Take him to lunch, take him to the park, take him wherever the two of you can talk uninterrupted. Your daughter should not be in on this conversation.
And don’t let your daughter bully you. You and your grandchild will come to some understandings during this conversation, and depending on what the two of you decide, you daughter might or might not need to be privy to all of them. So you can let her know that you had a good discussion and that you and your grandchild have some agreements that you will both be following. She needs to keep her nose out of all that and have her own conversations with her nephew.
And although this might be a little out of line for me to suggest, since this was not the question you asked, you might want to talk to your daughter about your expectation that the two of you will have adult conversations now that she is an adult, which means no yelling and no name calling – just honest, open discussion about your concerns.
Readers, what thoughts do you have?