16 November 2008

What Is a Family?

This morning Mom and I were talking about last night's segment of 20/20. In it, Barbara Walters interviewed the "man who gave birth" and his wife. Of course, the man who gave birth to that baby was a transgender who stopped taking his hormones, and the reason why he gave birth is that his wife is not capable of doing so.

Of course, Mom asked me what I thought of it. I said it's great; after all, she couldn't have the child, so why shouldn't he? Mom said she is "still thinking about it," and that "it's a new world we're living in."

"Yes," I agreed, "A lot has changed."

A silence. "Well, you know, what we call 'a family' has changed. It's not always a man, a woman and kids the woman gave birth to."

"Oh, I know," I said. "I'd say the majority of the students I've had didn't come from that kind of family."

"Still," she said, "I remember reading that kids do better with a mother and a father."

"I totally agree. As an educator, I've seen it."

"Mmm hmm..."

"But what does it mean to be a mother or a father? They're not always the people who gave birth to the child."

"True. There are adoptions, and all kinds of other situations. Things aren't what they used to be."

Another silence. Things aren't what they used to be. If she still wishes, in some way, that things could be the way they used to be (which I could understand), she isn't acting that way. She also talked about a cable TV show about the hospital to which I'm going for my surgery. Dad's been watching it, too. I know he wishes I were--no, I'll give him credit: could be--Nick, the namesake he thought he had. In a sense, he still does: I kept "Nicholas" as my middle name, though I like to think of my last name as Nicholas-Valinotti.

Well, he's promised to go with me and Mom to the hospital. Now all I have to do is hope their health is up to the task.

They're my parents, but not only because she gave birth to me and he planted the seed. I have always had a special bond with my mother, which I believe has always been more emotionally intimate than what sons normally have with their mothers--or fathers, for that matter. For all of the self-destructive things I've done, there are others--including a suicide attempt--I didn't carry through because I thought of her.

We talked some more about the surgery. She asked me whether I'm starting to get nervous about it. "No, not about getting the surgery. Maybe the operation itself, even though I'll be sedated."

"If you really wanted to, you can change your mind."

"I know. But I've thought about this, and thought it through for a long, long time. I know why I'm doing it. I have a good idea of what to expect. But there are still things I can't even imagine."

"Of course. There always are, no matter what we do."

"True. Anything we do, there's uncertainly. But that's no reason not to do it."

"Oh, I know you're going to do it. You'll be fine."

"Because of you..."

"No, it's not just me."

" I know. I have a lot else going for me now. Still, you're being a huge help. Thank you."

She gave birth to me. I am giving birth to myself. She and Dad want to be there for that. That'll do just fine as a definition of a family, for me.