C.J. met Samuel about three years ago when Samuel was a boy named Samuel. Now, Samuel is a girl named Sophia.
Initially, C.J. and Samuel bonded over being boys who liked to be mermaids in water and princesses on land. They painted their nails together, celebrated birthdays together and put on fashion shows together.
“Samuel is more gender nonconforming than I am,” C.J. would point out to me privately. It was a fact that often caught him by surprise because he rarely met a boy who was more gender nonconforming than he was.
About this time last year, Samuel decided — once and for all — that he was not Samuel, he was Sophia.
I had emotional talks with Samuel’s mom. We’d both always known it was a possibility that our sons were transgender; but, thinking it could be so and having it be so are vastly different. Nothing prepares you for your boy’s first day of school as a girl.
With every ounce of my being, I tried to make it all about Sophia and her mom during our talks and time together during her transition. Then, I’d hang up or walk away and wonder what Sophia’s transition would mean for my son and my family.
C.J. had gone through periods during which he wanted to be known as Rebecca, Chloe, Raquel and Cleo. At different times, he said that he’d be a girl when he grew up. A few times, he’s said that he might be trans. But, he never fully committed to any of it. When it came to his gender identity and gender expression, we followed his lead, but he never continually led us in the same direction. It was maddening a lot of the time, though we never let him know it.
If his friend Samuel became Sophia, what would C.J. become? Would C.J. want to transition because Sophia did? If C.J. transitioned, would it be the right decision for him?
After much stalling, I nervously sat down next to C.J. on his bed and explained to him that Samuel was becoming Sophia.
He looked at me oddly and thought for a minute or two.
“Is he transgender?” he asked.
“Yes. She is transgender. So from now on we call her Sophia and use ‘her’ and ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘him,’” I replied.
He was quiet some more.
“What are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you sad?”
“Are you jealous?”
“I want to wear dresses to school and everywhere like Sophia will now.”
“Well, you know you can.”
“I know. But it’s different now because she’ll be a girl wearing a dress and I’ll still be a boy wearing a dress.”
The first few times C.J. saw Sophia, I saw some envy in his green eyes as he studied her. I worried how Sophia’s transition made C.J. feel; it was clear that it was making him feel something.
“I don’t want to be a girl every day. I don’t even want to be a girl every other day. I’m not transgender,” he blurted out one day while we were playing with his LEGO Friends.
“Okay,” I said.
C.J. has been consistently leading us in the same direction for six months now. I was worried that Sophia’s transition would influence C.J. to do the same, but, as of right now, it’s done the opposite. C.J. still dresses up in skirts and dresses at home, plays with dolls, paints his nails and loves to take part in fashion shows. He’s the same boy he was when he met Samuel, even though Samuel is not.
“I’m gender nonconforming, but I’m not transgender,” he sometimes explains to people.
I tell him he doesn’t need to clarify.
“Sometimes I do,” he insists.
“Okay,” I say.
C.J. and Sophia have taught me that gender is unique to every person. You don’t have to clarify your gender for other people, but sometimes you have to clarify your gender for yourself.