28 March 2009

You're Not Adopted

Someone once asked Anne Coulter what she would do if her son told her he was gay.

"I'd tell him he was adopted," she snapped back.

Now, I know that a man I talked to today is not going to tell his kid anything like that. It's hard to imagine that he would, after the conversation we had today.

He and his business partner sell organically-raised chicken and other products from stands next to the Farmer's Market on Roosevelt Island. I'd been buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the market for a couple of years before I stopped at their stand. I was first drawn in when I noticed that they were selling fresh mozzerella, which is one of my greatest weaknesses in life. Now, I know it may not be the healthiest diet in the world, but I could live on fresh mozzerella--especially the stuff that man sells--with fresh tomatoes, basil, freshly-ground black pepper and a couple of drops of oil and balsamic vinegar on freshly-baked French or Italian bread.

OK, guys...Now you know the way to a girl's heart. This girl's heart, anyway!

D'ailleurs, a quip about my numerical incompetence--"Hey, I'm an English teacher"--led to conversation about teaching, specifically teaching foreigners. I mentioned that one of my early teaching experiences was in a language school a couple of blocks away from the UN. It seemed that every other day another student "fell in love" with me. In particular, I recalled, there was a young woman who begged me to marry her.

I paused when I noticed the partner gazing at me. "Oh..." I caught myself. "I was living as male in those days."

He smiled. Then we talked some more, and the other man asked me if we could step aside and talk "personally." Well, I told myself, I got myself into this one. But he didn't seem menacing or judgmental. Au contraire...

"I have a five year old." I knew what was coming next. "I want him to be the best William he can be"

"What does that mean to you?"

"That he's a good human being and he's happy."

"Sounds good to me."

"Well, he's having gender issues."


"He's playing with dolls," he continued. "I'm OK with him as long as that's what makes him happy. He's a great kid, a beautiful kid."

"Well, of course. Look at who he has for a father."

He blushed. (That's another one of my weaknesses!) "Well, I was wondering where I could find leadership for him."

"He's in school now?"

"Yes." He mentioned the name of the school in his hometown, which has a reputation for being diverse and progressive. They moved to that town, he said, because for his child it's "a better environment" than town where they had been living

I admired and respected the man. All kids should have a parent like him. But I also could hear his unease: After all, as they say, kids don't come with instruction manuals. And who can teach anyone how to raise a transgendered kid? I had the sense that he wanted to hear some magic words in some language I don't know. I really felt bad that I couldn't offer him any more advice than to find a good counselor or psychologist to work with his kid. He said that he hasn't been able to find anyone who knows how to work with transgender kids.

He seems to think--accurately, from what he told me about William--that his behavior is not a phase that will be outgrown. And, of course, he doesn't have the idea that he can beat or shock it out of him. Thankfully, William isn't headed for a military school or life on the streets at sixteen.

For those of you who've been reading my blog and think that I'm either very close or have a somewhat unhealthy attachment to my mother: Now you know why. She really did the best she could with me yet she had absolutely no idea of what she could do. Sometimes I think that she still believes there are things she could have done differently. I'm sure that she would have, had she known any differently--certainly if she hadn't had me before she turned twenty years old.

A couple of weeks ago, she and I were talking about the kids of people we've known and what's happened to some of them. She said she'd had a conversation on that topic with one of her friends. "I told her I'm proud of all of my kids, for different reasons."

"Even me?"

"Of course. Some things you could do better, some you could've done better. But you're a sensitive and generous person. And you're handling yourself so well in everything."

I think I could have told that man to think that way. He probably does already. But maybe I could've advised him to be sure that William knows that he makes his dad proud and happy.

I promised him that I would ask people I know about people who might be able to work with him. He thanked me for that. But now I wonder what else I could have said, or done.

Oh, and by the way...I decided to buy one of his chicken pot pies and a package of his eggplant pomodori ravioli. They're in my freezer now.

And I never have, and never will, tell anyone he or she is adopted. Charlie and Max know they're not: They found their way to me. They just can't have any of that fresh mozzerella!