“Mama, do you have a uterus?” our toddler asks my partner as we read What Makes a Baby—a non-gendered and age appropriate story about how babies are made. My partner answers yes. Then she turns her attention to me and asks if I also have a uterus.
Ten years ago, this question would have brought me to my knees. Back then, I was hiding my tampons deep in the bottoms of my pockets, praying that they didn’t fall out in public and betray my short haircut and bound chest. I would go out dancing with my friends; I wouldn’t use a washroom for the entire night, unsure which one I would be safe in. It was a time when every “ladies” and “miss” made me shrink inside myself, writhe with feelings of failure and heartache.
Ten years ago, I hadn’t yet made my body my home. Today, my sweet child asks about my uterus and I laugh.
“Yes Sweetpea, I do! Not all Dadda’s have one but I do.”
I pause to see if she wants to ask more, but she simply turns the page and we continue reading. It’s an uncomplicated moment, made possible by an inclusive storybook intentionally chosen to give my child the chance to experience the world with true openness. Reading together is one way we are creating space for all of us to be authentically ourselves and have conversations about who we are.
Our home is a queer one filled with love and transparency, and it is no secret that I am trans and non-binary. At 31, I am very comfortable with who I am; I am not afraid to navigate the world openly and proudly. I am not compelled to conceal any of who I am from my little one. As confident as I am, it doesn’t stop me from fearing how people will treat my child because one of her parents is a trans person. We read stories and talk about all kinds of bodies, all kinds of people and experiences; I know this isn’t the case in the homes of all of her peers. It also does not quiet my worries about the overall safety of queer and trans children in our school system today.
Trans peoples’ lives, experiences, and existence seem to constantly be up for debate. We are deemed inappropriate or confusing; we are ignored or erased. When people in positions of power—parents/caregivers, educators, elected officials or school board trustees—choose to erase trans people they send a clear signal to young people in our community (whether they are trans or have trans family members): no matter how far we have come or how many times we raise the rainbow flags at our schools, there will still be adults who don’t view trans people as people. For them, our stories aren’t valid or “appropriate” enough to be heard. In the end, what they really say to young people is you do not belong here.
When I was growing up, I can’t remember reading a single book about a trans or non-binary person, or even a queer person, and I read A LOT. There were no stories about people like me, something I believe deeply contributed to how long it took for me to figure out who I am. The years of confusion, fear, and deep sadness would have been so different if I had seen myself reflected. Even as a young adult, the few stories of trans people I knew were tragic, painful, and filled with despair. In my early twenties I was unable to picture any sort of future for myself.
Books were opportunities to learn, to get lost in beautiful worlds and to find pieces of myself in the stories of others. There were no trans characters in the books I read and even fewer trans and queer people in my real life. In my high school, I only knew of one “out” queer person. We had a Gay Straight Alliance; I think that person and their best friend were the only members. I recall sitting in a class where our teacher encouraged us to debate whether or not gay marriage should be legalized. I remember the heat rising in my face as my classmates openly argued on all sides, citing everything from the Bible to Ellen. I was hurt, furious and ultimately could not speak- too afraid that anyone would find out that I was queer.
I found the beginnings of a queer community on the hockey rink where several of my teammates were queer. I found hope in their presence, their stories, their lives. They were queer people living full lives- falling in love, raising families, holding wonderful careers, fostering incredible queer friendships. It helped me to realize that it was all possible for me too. When I was 16, I started dating my first girlfriend, mostly in secret. My teammates may have filled the void of representation of characters in books, but it was still clear to me that in many environments, queerness wasn’t accepted. We feared how people would treat us. I was too afraid to take my girlfriend to prom (a decision I still regret). Yet, I was starting to make sense of my identity, answering the questions that I had been carrying around.
While things began to become more clear, it doesn’t mean it got less complicated. I felt like I was wearing clothes that were too tight. My stomach seemed never to settle. There was a constant uneasiness within me.
The first time I named this discomfort out loud—I might not be a girl; I want to change my name—the person I told didn’t react kindly. I pushed my feelings back into secrecy. I don’t blame her for how she reacted. Like me, she had no positive examples of trans people and even less knowledge of us. I would spend the next two years fighting against myself. I couldn’t live this way any longer; I was tearing myself apart.
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my car, in the driveway of my friend’s house. I told her and then I sobbed. I just remember repeating over and over again “I don’t want to be this way.”
There was no escaping who I was. I carried a lot of guilt around for “being different”.
I felt as if I was making the lives of everyone around me so much harder. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be “normal.” I was tired of correcting people on pronouns and I didn’t like making a scene. I remember the searing feeling in my face when someone publicly debated my gender, or when the first question from a stranger’s mouth was, “ Are you going to have surgery?” Today, I know that I was so unfair to myself, the truth is I had so much internalized transphobia.
When I thought I had seemingly settled into life, I met a young trans person here in Waterloo Region. He was a trans kid, daring to be authentically himself in a community, a system, a region still not set up to support trans people, least of all trans youth. During one of our first conversations, he suggested I read Melissa by Alex Gino. Being offered a trans story by an incredible kid changed my life. I had achieved so much of what I wanted; yet, I was still carrying those years of self-doubt, struggling to offer myself acceptance and care. When you don’t fit in the box, it can take a while to realize that the box is the problem, not you.
This friendship that straddled my past and my present helped me to see what it could look like to normalize trans experiences, to share our stories, to have books to offer one another. His strength let me see that I am not the problem, he is not the problem and if I wanted a world that loved him, I needed to allow that world for myself too.
Today, I read books with my child which actively discuss gender identity, and ones where characters just happen to be trans. Every day she asks to read Casey’s Ball by Kit Yan, a story about soccer and trying your best which mentions in passing that the main character is trans. In It’s a Wild World by S. Bear Bergman, we learn about queer and trans experiences in nature. My child is learning to celebrate all identities, to love all identities. She is also learning about discrimination and hurt, and how you can choose to raise your voice against injustice.
Sometimes I think people forget (or actively ignore) how many families like ours exist, how many trans and non-binary kids are in our schools. I do not want my child or others to feel like they ever have to hide anything about their families or who they are. I want youth to open a book and see themselves in the pages; to know that their peers are growing into allies because they too have read the same stories. I want folks to think about how incredibly cruel it is for a young person to be told that who they are doesn’t belong in a classroom, that their whole self is not welcome. I know too well what it feels like to be told that you are the problem, not the system. I refuse to allow the classroom to be a place where young trans voices are silenced; where they are diminished; where they are bullied by the system itself.
To my trans peers, and particularly to trans youth: no matter what any system says, what public officials say, what’s happening politically here and across the border, even if adults in your life don’t understand or aren’t offering you support, you DO belong. We can make this—your school, your community, a space for you. You deserve that and so much more.
I cuddle up with my child before bedtime to read a story about a kid who is bullied for wearing a dress at school. She points to their classmates and says “those kids are being mean, that’s not nice, they made him sad.” We talk about how clothes are for anyone and she can wear whatever makes her happy. She calls the clothes beautiful in her sweet little voice and I can see that already her world will look so different than mine has. A while later she turns to me and says “Dada, you’re beautiful too.” And from her kind heart, at this moment, I have truly never felt so beautiful.
TK is a Kitchener community member, a parent, and the Executive Director of SHORE Centre, a reproductive rights and sexual health non-profit. They have previously worked as a sexual health educator, as an education manager for our local sexual assault support centre and as a facilitator for queer youth groups. TK is passionate about queer and trans rights, raising feminist kids, inclusive sex-ed and violence prevention.