This is the fourth in a four-part series.
We have been awaiting a report on a best interest custody evaluation for over a year. This has been difficult enough, waiting and wondering. Though we finished the interview process over a year ago, the evaluator decided that he should finally speak to a teacher on the day he filed his report, which just happened to be a week after the social transition began. I reported Liam’s gender variance to the evaluator, including how badly the expression of anything other than “masculine” behaviors had gone for Liam as far as my ex-husband, XN, was concerned. Her teacher told the evaluator that she was so proud of Liam for being brave and strong. We didn’t have any intention of breaking this news to XN anytime soon, knowing how he would react and in hopes that the Court would finally remove him from our lives soon. The evaluator outed Liam in his report, stating the child had worn a tutu to school. Though I dreaded doing it, I had to tell Liam that XN knew. She cried and said “I didn’t want him to know! He’s going to hate me!” The next day, XN picked her up at our house and the first thing he said to her was “I heard you wore a tutu to school. Dresses are for girls. You’re a boy.” Liam said she sat in the back seat with her head in her hands and said to herself “oy oy oy.”
Two weeks after Liam began her social transition at school, XN arrived at our house twenty minutes early. This is a regular occurrence, despite his living only two miles away. It is disruptive to the time we spend together, which is probably why he does it, and causes anxiety in Liam. On this day, Liam and my husband, Oliver, were walking home from school on one of the first hot days. I was in Austin for work and Liam was so excited to wear her favorite new romper to school. When they got in the house she told Oliver she was scared XN was going to yell at her because he saw what she was wearing.
The following Monday I received a call from the school counselor. My heart dropped into my stomach. Liam didn’t have a run-in with a child bully, just the bully she thinks is her father. The counselor told me she had just spent a good deal of time talking to Liam because there was an incident at school. That morning XN escorted Liam into school and demanded to speak to her teacher. He told the teacher she needed to get control of her class because her kids are making Liam feel bad and that if his ex-wife ever forces his son to wear girl’s clothes to school again she needs to notify him immediately. He did this with Liam and others present! Despite a few questions initially, the other kids have been great. Liam was now crying at school because of XN.
Liam’s teacher notified the counselor of the incident, so she came to check on Liam. Liam had come from XN’s house so was presenting as a boy and the counselor told me she noticed a difference. She told me she asked Liam “you’re dressed in boys’ clothes today, on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best, how do you feel?” Liam responded, “A five.” Then she asked, “What about last week when you were wearing a dress?” She told me that Liam’s face lit up and she said “Oh, definitely a ten!” She called XN and told him this. Just as one would expect, he responded that I am “forcing [his] son to do this.” She tried to explain that this seems to be who Liam is without luck, but she did convince him to come in and meet with her, the principal, and my husband and me.
A few days later, we had a conference in the office of the school principal. It was me and Oliver, the counselor and principal, XN, and for reasons I can’t comprehend, his father’s girlfriend. I recounted the story of Liam’s transition. XN pulled out pictures of Liam from years ago dressed as Superman and Batman and talked about the strong women in his family. He went on at length about my emotional instability and cut off every woman in the room when she spoke. The school staff tried to explain to XN that it is our job now to support Liam and to make her feel safe, that we need to use pronouns that affirm her identity. They gave each of us packets of information. By this point I was already on my third book about transgender kids and parenting. Trying to help XN along, they said, “it takes dads longer.” I kept quiet but wanted to say “It didn’t take this dad (my husband) any time to support and affirm her. It didn’t take her biological father any time to say ‘As far as Liam’s gender is concerned, it is literally of no concern to me. If he identifies as a girl, then a son becomes a daughter ~ it is a simple as that.’ It didn’t take these dads long, you’re just an asshole!” And that was that. We were no better off than before, but the school staff got a better sense of what we’re all dealing with.
The next night we were at church for a rehearsal of the upcoming Senior Youth Service. I am a senior youth (high school) advisor at our church and I owe a lot of my knowledge, practice, and understanding of gender to these incredible kids. At the end of the rehearsal, Liam approached one of the ministers and asked her if that Sunday she would light a candle for Liam to celebrate her “being brave and living as her true self.” I watched on with tears in my eyes.
Liam and I talked often about XN and how to deal with him. I was trying to come up with ideas of how to empower her when she was with him. We decided together that it probably wasn’t going to go well if she presented as herself when she went with him and I was genuinely worried about her physical safety if we pushed him too far. I told her that maybe the thing we could get him to do is to not cut her hair. I emailed XN to ask that he please not cut Liam’s hair. She has been trying to grow it longer for over a year now and despite her objections, he takes her to have it cut. Despite my request and despite Liam saying “no,” he cut her hair. When Liam came home, she told me she was proud for standing up for herself, but that XN made her do it anyway, leaving her feeling powerless and defeated. He’s cut her hair twice since then, likely in part because it is the only way he can police her gender when she’s with us.
A few weeks after our school conference, Liam told us of a fight XN and his family had about her. She told Oliver and I that she and XN’s nieces and nephew were sent to the basement to watch a movie. Upstairs, XN got into a “screaming match” with his sisters about Liam’s gender. Liam said she “tried not to hear anything but [the other kids] were standing at the top of the stairs listening and telling [her] what was happening.” Liam said it made her sad to hear the things XN was saying about her but that it made her feel good that XN’s sister was sticking up for her. XN retrieved Liam, saying “come on my boy, we’re leaving.” Liam says that since she came out, XN calls her “boy” much more often than he used to.
It seems every time she spends time with him she has something awful to report, like him saying, “But you’re a boy. I don’t understand. Never in a billion years will I understand.” Another day, my daughter who loves dinosaurs and wants to be a paleontologist when she grows up was told by XN that girls don’t like dinosaurs, and he snatched the Jurassic World book she was looking at from her while she yelled and cried “No, don’t!” More recently XN went as far as to tell Liam that she was being “dishonest” for not coming to his house dressed like a girl. He told her, “I’m never going to like it, but right now you are being dishonest.” He said these things to a seven-year-old! I have wholeheartedly wanted to throw him against a wall and shake him, but I haven’t.
Though she had initially not wanted to change her name, she quickly decided that “Liam” no longer felt like who she is. This was a big struggle for me and I pushed back. Anytime she talked about it I’d try to convince her Liam is a girl’s name, too. I saw how much this was hurting her. I could be supportive 100% or I could keep acting as if I get to choose how to support my daughter. I mourned the loss of Liam and prepared for the next change.
At first, she liked Jaqueline but she didn’t know how or why that was of interest. We went to the library and picked up some baby name books. Together we sat down and read through page after page of baby names and their origins and meanings. Additional contenders were Charlotte, Annie, ad Beatrice. A trip to Smalland at Ikea gave her an opportunity to try one on for size. She chose Beatrice and away she went into the ball pit.
A “trial period” ensued and we began calling her Beatrice around the house. When we made the mistake of calling her Liam she’d look down her nose with a side-eye and say, “what did you say?” If we said Liam but immediately corrected ourselves she’d smile and say, “thank you.” She tried on Charlotte for a few days but decided that didn’t feel like her either and has been using the name Beatrice for a few months.
The time leading up to her visitation with XN is filled with fear and anxiety, and often tears. Other than that, our daughter is now one of the happiest kids I know. She is smart and caring as ever and goofier than we’ve ever seen. She has started seeing a therapist who we all really like and trust which will prove helpful for so many reasons. XN brought gender into the Courtroom, saying I am pushing this onto my child because I was sexually abused as a child. I think he has helped us to finally get rid of him with his cruel absurdities, but seven weeks after a hearing, we still don’t have a decision.
We are preparing to go back to school with a new name, though sadly no new hair like Beatrice had hoped. Right now, things seem easy. Maybe too easy. We support our daughter 100% and so do most of the people in our lives. Maybe we will discover this is just a phase, but I suspect it isn’t. If she changes her mind, we transition back. It is really that simple. She is seven years old and we have several years before we must start to make any medical decisions. So, for now, we wait for the Court to protect her from the wrath of a transphobic sociopath and enjoy watching her come into her own. A week after she told me she is a girl I was struggling and didn’t think I would ever be able to do this. Four months later, it is hard for me to see my son in there. I have a daughter and I always have. I am so grateful that she trusted us enough, that she knew we would protect her and keep her as safe as we can, so was able to tell us who she truly is. And what she is is beautiful.