I am a funeral director and embalmer with eleven years in the business, but many don’t know I am also the mother of a transgendered child.
I have always been supportive of the LGBT community and I knew the right thing to do was accept my child’s new gender identity. She [I still use the female pronoun, because she often does] is too young for hormone treatment, but has been able to choose a new name and dress in a manner that fits her male identity. Her father and stepmother are supportive as well, and her school is referring to her by her new name and, after meetings with the principal and the family, we have all decided that when she is no longer comfortable using the girls’ bathroom, she will be allowed to use the staff bathroom.
But even though I welcome my new son, I mourn the loss of the daughter I had for only a short time. After she was born in my house, she was wrapped in a towel and handed to me, and about an hour later the midwife asked whether I had a boy or a girl. I realized I had forgotten to check; I was so caught up with just enjoying the baby that her genitals did not matter. I wanted to be surprised – as I was with her older sister – so I did not have an ultrasound. I gave birth to a girl, and that girl is no longer with us.
It seems strange to mourn the loss of someone who has not died or otherwise gone away. I still have the child. I still take care of the child exactly as I did when she was my daughter. But for the past several years I had raised a girl, and now I am raising a boy. This is not what I had planned for. I planned for prom dresses and grandchildren, not for a boy who will now grow up facing discrimination and a unique set of difficulties. I dread the day when she decides to use the men’s room when out and about. I am only five feet tall so I wonder if she will grow to a height more acceptable for a male. While other parents are saving to buy their daughters cars and wedding dresses, I’m saving for a breast reduction.
I remember the article about the Idaho funeral home who presented a transgender woman in an open casket dressed as a man, at her father’s request. The young woman had died suddenly with no one but her father to make her final arrangements, and her father had obviously not come to terms with her new identity. Many in the funeral profession expressed their disgust at what they considered to be disrespect of a human body, and I agreed with them. She had lived as a woman; she should be buried as one.
But I also understand that there are people who grieve losses that others consider unimportant. A teenage girl who has a miscarriage; people who experience the sudden death of their extramarital affair partners; gay couples whose relationships are not legally recognized…each of these people still feels strong grief, while the world around them tells them they are wrong.
The father of the trans woman in Idaho may not have come to terms with her gender identity. Maybe he hates gay and trans people. He may be wrong for being a bigot, but he is not wrong for feeling grief. He not only lost the daughter he could have had, he lost the son he thought he knew. I can understand him wanting to see his son one last time, even though I decided if I ever got a transgendered case – and I have – I would present that person according to his or her gender identity and not serve a family if they would not agree to bury their child the way he or she would have wanted. Have your private viewing of the person you thought you knew, if you must; but allow them to be laid to rest as who they were in life.
If my child were to die, I would lose both the son I am just getting to know, as well as the daughter I am still coming to terms with not having. I will never again see the long blond hair and cute sundresses. Would it be wrong for me to want to look at my daughter one last time before burying her as my son?
I think the ideal situation for the Idaho funeral home would have been to allow the grieving father to see the woman the way he always remembered her, and then dress her as a woman and bury her under her new name. I think I would want to see my child in some jewelry and a cute dress, and then present her to everyone else in basketball shorts. She has lived her life as two people that I love very much, and if she were forever gone, I would miss both of those people.
I am glad that the transgender community is becoming more vocal and that trans people now have a name to put on their general feelings of not belonging. I am glad that my child’s risk of suicide – while still higher than those of gender-conforming people – is significantly lessened due to the overwhelming support she has around her. Just a few years ago, she would not have been able to use a boy’s name at school, or have the option of not using the girl’s bathroom. She has a long and awkward road ahead of her, and I grieve for the loss of what I thought would be a typical childhood and young adulthood. Will she be able to get a job? How will she date? Can she adopt kids?
I have lost a great kid, while slowly gaining another one. I need to be able to grieve my loss as I celebrate this new person and the life that is waiting for him.