Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Trouble With Swimsuits

I spend many of my days doing research on raising transgender and gender variant children. Most days, I think "We can do this. Everything is going to be completely fine. Though he faces struggles, Eli is going to go on to live a happy and fulfilling life." Then there are days that I start thinking ahead at all the what ifs and I wonder, "How is this ever going to be okay?".

Truly, we can't plan anything in our lives, though we can certainly try. We have NO idea what is coming around the next corner. I think that knowing those things have given me some peace. I feel a certain freedom in taking one day at time, especially where Eli's development of his identity is concerned. I just never know when he is going to change his mind about something or when he wants to take a new step in expressing who he is.

It is vital for me to reserve my emotional energy, so I can't expend it trying to predict and preeminently react to what might happen next week, next month, next year. But at the same time, I need to always make sure that both of my children (and me) are always emotionally prepared to be ready to deal with whatever might crop up.

For example, the last few weeks have been smooth sailing. Everyone in my sweet family of four has been content, confident and happily cruising through all the obstacles we meet by virtue of the fact that we are taking an unusual journey.

And then yesterday I checked the mail. And there was a birthday invitation for Eli. "Great!", I thought, "Eli is making friends in his class!" But then, I opened it and my heart sank when I realized it was a swimming party. Which means a bathing suit.

Bathing suits have been evolving with Eli over the past year. Over the summer, he was content to wear "feminine-ish" bathing trunks with swim shirts in feminine colors. For instance, a striped pair of trunks that might have a purple stripe matched with a turquoise swim shirt. Throughout the summer, he requested "girl" swim shirts so I found some that were pink and decorated with hearts and flowers. This seemed to do. Until it didn't. And then he began wearing his regular girls' clothes in the pool (a cotton flowered shirt and his favorite purple skirt). He complained that they were heavy in the water but still refused to wear his boy trunks, no matter how much I tried to highlight the Hawaiian flowers and purple stripe.

I decided the time had come to transition to girl bathing suits, but I wanted them to appear appropriate and not show off certain areas...I wouldn't let Ethan wear a Speedo, so why would I let Eli wear something that is essentially like a Speedo?

With a bit of hunting (it was post bathing suit season after all), I was able to find several suits that featured a skirt. The day they arrived in the mail, Eli wore one of his new suits around the house, completely over the moon with his new swimwear.

So, the problem for this birthday party isn't that he doesn't have a bathing suit. Our school community has been so accepting of Eli. They have seen him wearing girls' clothes every day since August. Those that don't approve have been respectful enough not to share their opinions with me and those that do support Eli and our family have been kind enough to uplift us with their amazing words of encouragement. But seeing a boy in purple jeans and a shirt with a heart on it is an entirely different experience than seeing a boy sporting a sparkly pink girls' bathing suit with a ruffled skirt. While I don't feel that I've had to "adjust" to seeing Eli dressed as a girl (after all, I've watched this very organic process unfold step by step, moment by moment), I DO understand that it is still "new" to some people and that new things take some adjusting to. While this is normal life for our family, this isn't exactly mainstream.

It's days like this, days where the most normal, routine experience can send me reeling into an Oh-my-goodness-how-do-we-handle-this paralysis. Most people turn to me when they needs answers about Eli.  But the truth is, I don't always have the answers.