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Writer, wife, and mother of toddlers.
Lessons I Learned from My Transgender Nanny
Posted: 03/ 1/2012 2:45 pm
When my first daughter was a year and a half old I replied to an ad on
Craigslist from a young woman, I'll call her Y, looking for work as a
part-time caregiver. I was newly pregnant with my second daughter and
in need of a few days a week to write, shop and collect my sanity.
When Y showed up at my front door for the interview, I was immediately
put at ease -- warmth and sincerity radiated from her like the steam
from my (unfortunately) decaffeinated latte. Within 10 minutes of our
first meeting, she had gained the trust of my toddler and I was ready
to hand her the keys to my house.
The next few months were rather difficult for my family. My second
pregnancy was accompanied by a myriad of problems including a brutal
bout of prenatal depression and preterm labor that left me on bed rest
for the last two and a half months. During this time I was forced to
lean on those around me. Y proved herself to be a steady constant for
both my daughter and myself, she was someone with endless patience for
the trying terrible twos and the energy to do the activities I
When the baby was born, Y proved even more invaluable. Given that my
time and attention was split between the two children, and Y mostly
babysat while my older one was in morning preschool, the baby and Y
formed a relationship that could only make a mother jealous. When Y
would climb our front stairs, the baby's face would light up as though
Elmo himself had come to pay her a visit. She would reach for Y and
giggle as Y smothered her cheeks with kisses. Mommy who?
It was obvious from the beginning that Y was queer. She dressed in
typical San Francisco "butch" fashion and was always open about her
social/sexual life. I loved this about her. While I am a rather
feminine, girly-kind-of woman, I was excited to have a different
example of femininity to show my girls. Being a woman did not have to
mean growing your hair long, dressing in skirts and playing
princesses; here was a model of a woman who defied all that.
One evening, nearly two years after I first hired her, Y and I sat
chatting at the end of a workday, as we often did. While the girls
played at our feet, she told me the news; Y had decided to start
hormone therapy and begin the process of transitioning to a man.
My initial reaction could be summed up with three words: confusion,
bewilderment and skepticism. Although I consider myself to be quite
progressive and supportive of the LGBTQ community (both of my maternal
grandparents are gay) I was pretty certain that this was the wrong
decision. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Is it because you are trying to
distinguish yourself from your identical twin sister?" "There are
easier ways to not have a period anymore." "Could this be a fad?"
Unsurprisingly, Y was upset with my inability to provide unconditional
While I tried to disguise my questions as legitimate concerns, in
reality I was scared. How would she change? What did this mean for our
relationship? How would this affect my girls? They already had one
straight male caregiver (my husband), but now, who would provide them
with that other side of femininity? I worried about losing a friend
and a piece of my family.
Y's identical twin sister almost exclusively dates transgender men.
Although many research studies have established a correlation between
the sexuality of identical twins (these twins are more likely than not
to be of the same sexual orientation), little research has been
conducted on gender identity and identical twins. There are a handful
of cases where both siblings in a set have transitioned to the
opposite gender, and a handful of other cases where just one sibling
transitioned. Genetic composition may be playing an important role
here, but for now, it is too early to tell.
Whether gender identity is genetic or not, there is a bounty of
evidence pointing to a biological connection. With the use of MRI
brain scans, doctors have found that both male-to-female (MtF) and
female-to-male (FtM) transgender persons show significant neurological
differences from the non-transgender. When shown erotic images, MtF
subject's brains respond closer to that of a biological female than a
biological man. The FtM subjects showed brain responsivity that
differed from both biological men and women.
Y's twin sister, N, has called Y "Brother" since they were little, and
she was not surprised by his decision. Similarly, my older daughter
did not flinch when Y changed his name and cut his hair short. To
Elana, Y had never been a girl, yet somehow not quite a boy. Before I
knew of Y's gender identity, I would argue with my toddler when she
referred to Y as a boy. "No," I would reply, "Y is a girl." Even at
three years of age, Elana would look me dead in the eye and tell me I
was wrong (though she did use female pronouns when referring to him).
Over the next year and a half, Y experienced many physical and
emotional changes. His weekly testosterone therapy changed his body
quickly, his hips narrowing, upper body muscles growing, voice
lowering, and rapidly growing facial hair. The emotional changes also
started soon after the introduction of the hormones, and this is what
I feared most. The testosterone left him more masculine. His
perception on everyday issues became more concrete, while he grew less
emotionally involved with drama that surrounded him. In addition, his
confidence, as well as his sex drive, skyrocketed.
However, there was one very important aspect of Y that never changed
-- his close relationship with my children. As a caretaker, he
continued to be fantastic, loving my two girls as though they were his
little nieces and he was their uncle. Their admiration for him never
faltered, he was exactly who he always was -- fun, creative, and
Having a non-female caregiver gave my daughters additional benefits.
Since my husband, their father, works long days, it was refreshing to
have a masculine figure helping in their early childhood. While I know
nothing about cars and bugs, and tend to lean toward the more
traditional girl clothing, Y was there to point out fire trucks, help
them search for worms at the park, and dress them in bib overalls. He
also braided their hair, taught them how to bead necklaces and
bracelets, and threw spontaneous dance parties. It was the exact same
things that he had done when he was a woman.
Y's transition changed me too. Watching Y's struggle with weekly
hormone therapy, decide when to come out to his family, friends, and
employers, and select the appropriate public restroom, transformed my
beliefs on gender identity. Even though I always supported the notion
that people could be born into the wrong gender, I now view gender as
more fluid -- if there is a spectrum for sexuality, maybe there is
also one with gender. I started making sure that I approach gender
more sensitively with my own girls, allowing them to tell me who they
Because of Y's influence in our lives, I made the conscious effort to
choose gender-neutral toys and clothing. When the decisions were still
mine to make, I purchased balls and blocks, in lieu of Barbies and
Hello Kitty, and opted for brown and green shirts, instead of pink and
purple. Once the girls began to exert their own unique fashion sense,
I encouraged them to select their own clothing, making sure that they
had a variety of colors and styles to pick from.
Giver their ages, at the time I did not need to explain to my
daughters much more than Y's name change. However, when the girls are
older I am actually looking forward to telling them about Y's
transition. While he may not provide them with that second side of
womanhood that I had I hoped Y would offer, he is a brave example of
pride and conviction in becoming who you are meant to be.
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