Home General A Love Letter To My Granddaughter (Who I Knew As My Grandson Until 5 Weeks Ago)

A Love Letter To My Granddaughter (Who I Knew As My Grandson Until 5 Weeks Ago)

A Love Letter To My Granddaughter (Who I Knew As My Grandson Until 5 Weeks Ago)

I was raised to believe that I would go to heaven if I followed my faith’s rules, and that those who did not follow the rules would not get into heaven. In the late 1970s, I moved to Texas to raise my family. There, I experienced, firsthand, fundamentalist conservative attitudes and a lack of acceptance of others, which I had not witnessed before (it was apparent they didn’t even like “Yankees”).  But a divorce led me to the theater community, and once my kids had grown, moving back to New York was the answer to my next phase ― becoming a New Yorker again.

Striving to understand people who are different from me is important. Like many others, I realized that organized religion messed me up and that I needed to rethink my biases and understanding of sexuality and gender. Brainwashing takes time to undo. Often it means having (or creating) a wide enough circle of family and friends with different backgrounds to open one’s eyes to our shared humanity. I still hear my mother’s judgmental tone in the back of my mind telling me I am going to hell if I accept what was once (and, by some, is still) considered “deviant behavior.”

Maybe, in some cases, understanding a transgender person is easier for a non-family member. There are no emotional bonds and no history with that person to look back on and reminisce about. But when it’s your grandchild who is transgender, it’s complicated. I worry that I may do or say something wrong by accident. Saying a new name after knowing a person for 20-plus years isn’t easy. It’s not just about my granddaughter changing. It’s also that I have no “how-to” manual for processing my memories of my former grandson. All I know is that I love my granddaughter. 

I have been researching, reading and watching movies and documentaries to aid me in better understanding and empathizing with what transgender people experience. From the documentary “Born To Be,” which helped me to learn about gender confirmation surgeries and other health care options for transgender and nonbinary individuals who choose to transition medically, to Susan Stryker’s book “Transgender History,” which helped me to understand the importance of the movements that have led to creating a space for social justice for the trans community, this new knowledge helps me to support my granddaughter.

For instance, it’s key to understand that each transgender person thinks about their identity differently and uniquely, so it is always important to know which pronouns to use. Elliot Page uses both “he” and “they” pronouns. My granddaughter uses “she” and “her.” Getting it right may seem like a small detail to some people, but to trans people it means the world.

Still, no matter how good my intentions are, mistakes are made. Sometimes I slip right back into using my granddaughter’s “dead name.” Most trans people never identified with the name they were given at birth (which is known as their “dead name”), so they choose a new one that reflects and communicates who they really are. If you don’t understand this concept, you may not get that using their old name prevents them from being fully recognized ― and you may not realize how disrespectful and incredibly painful it can be for the individual when it happens.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to change my ways, especially when remembering the history of the sweet little child I once knew. But I am committed to doing everything I can to embrace her as the beautiful young woman she is (including apologizing if I do make a mistake), and I want to learn as much as possible to help our whole family make this transition easier for my new granddaughter. After all, a matriarch’s position should not be underestimated.


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