It was March of 2016, and I was at our town’s community center to vote. A woman I had known since I had moved to town was checking me in. As usual, she was asking how my children were. Our children grew up together. Her oldest son was in the same grade as my oldest, and her youngest son was in the same grade as my youngest.
“How’s Ashley? Did she start college this year?”
I stared at her, not knowing how to respond. It was the first time I realized that people outside of our family wouldn’t know that my son was transgender. I didn’t have an answer already prepared for this question.
After what felt like a long, uncomfortable minute, I panicked. “Fine, thanks for asking. Yes, Castleton State College* in Vermont.” I grabbed my voting papers and hurried to the booth.
I felt like I had been sucker punched.
The entire time I was filling out my ballot, my inner voice was berating myself for not having a better answer. Why didn’t you just tell her that there was no Ashley anymore and that your child was transgender? What was the worst that could happen? Are you going to chicken out every time someone asks about your daughter? Are you ashamed?
The truth is, it hadn’t even occurred to me that this was a situation I was gong to find myself it. If it had, I would have been ready for it. I would have been prepared for the moment someone asked about my child, and responded in a way that honored him, instead of made me feel like I was ashamed of him, which I wasn’t.
I had to prepare a response for the next time someone asked. Not only did I need to think about what I was going to say, but I also had to practice it. The first thing I did, was to decide about the wording. It had to be direct and to the point. It had to invite the person to ask further questions or tell them everything they needed to know without having to engage in further discussion. This is what I tell them:
“Oh, you didn’t hear? Ashley is now Leo and he’s doing fine, thank you for asking.”
Leo was going by Lee at that time, but you get the idea. Once I had those words, I practiced them. First, in my head, to ensure they made sense and were respectful. Then I wrote the line down and practiced reading it. This helped me to remember what the words were. Finally, I began practicing the words aloud. In quiet places where only I could hear them: the shower, my car, my office at work.
I practiced how I would say the line, changing the tone so that it sounded more natural. Over and over, I said the words until they rolled off of my tongue. Practicing, until I didn’t have to think about what the words were. They just came natural out when I thought about someone asking the question.
I wasn’t going to get caught off guard by someone asking about my daughter again.
The truth is, we can’t always prepare for how people will respond when they learn our child is transgender. We can prepare for how we’ll react when they ask about our child in a way that no longer represents who they are. Knowing what you will say ahead of time and practicing those words until you feel comfortable saying them will allow you to feel confident when the situation arises.
*now Castleton University