I feel like I don’t always do a perfect job of explaining what it feels like to raise a gender nonconforming child (even though I’m usually pretty good with words).
I recently ran across Emily Perl Kingsley’s essay titled “Welcome to Holland” and it describes my parenting experience perfectly. I am not raising a child with a disability (like Kingsley is/was), but my child does have unique needs and his life — our life — looks much different than what I envisioned when the ultrasound technician told me that he was boy. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it took me some time to adjust.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
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Because I check this website periodically, I keep seeing the title, and for some reason, every time I look, I first see it as “What it feels like to _be_ a gender nonconforming child.”
The day I came out to my father as lesbian, he hugged me and said, “When a child is born, the parents have all these ideas and dreams for who that child will be. Parenting is really about letting go of your dreams for your child so that your kid can dream her own big dreams, braver and more miraculous than you ever imagined.” It’s the best piece of parenting advice I ever got.
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I teach a college class about gender creative kiddos to future teachers and other helping professionals, assigning chapters of Raising My Rainbow and using the Welcome to Holland parable; I’m so glad to read that you see the parallels as well. When I was an undergrad one of my professors said, “We all dream about what our children will be like when they are born; and then when they ARE born, we have to let the dream child die” so the real child can be their true self. This always stuck with me, and I think that’s what Welcome to Holland is about. Thanks for sharing your journey so we all can learn from you.
Over the years, I’ve commented several times on how the struggles and discoveries you face and the information you share is applicable to atypical children of all stripes, not just the gender non-conforming. This particular post is another such instance. It comes at a time when my family is struggling with its own “destination” woes and I greatly appreciate the wise words from Ms. Kingsley.
Keep doing your good work and thank you.
Someone I work with recommended your book after hearing my talk about my 5 year old daughter. She seems to fit the mold of gender non-conforming. I can’t thank you enough for your courage to put yourself out there and provide an outlet for a topic that is not an easy one for many. We are letting our little girl take the lead. She loves all things boy and has asked on a few occasions to have her name changed to Jacob and most recently Carson. She then will backtrack and ask to keep her same name. She has told me she likes boy things more, but doesn’t want to be made fun of and that she still likes girl things.
I am so grateful for your book and this site and will continue to visit her frequently.
Thank you so much!
My older son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age 4, my younger son, nobody knows what exactly is going on. (Well, lots _think_ they do, but it’s painfully obvious they don’t.) I can’t say I mourn for my lost expectations because I really had no idea what we were getting in for when we had kids, anyway. I do know that everyone in my family has been non-standard, so I wasn’t exactly expecting a Leave It To Beaver family life, anyway. But it has been hard, because things haven’t gone easily for either of them and I guess I had hoped to make their growing up less painful than my own. (Some days I think I have, somewhat, but some days I don’t.)
What is hard is having other parents, and teachers, and doctors, and who all, look at us and talk to us like we’re bad parents because our kids aren’t well-behaved, popular, honor-roll kids — “normal” kids. It’s a hard and lonely road.
They’re both adults now, at least in calendar years, and still having trouble getting started on the life steps that most of their age-mates have been on for years. And, as if my “times” weren’t “interesting” enough, the older one has told me that he’s trans. (“He” because he hasn’t requested different pronouns.) Though so far, he seems to be doing being trans differently from how I’m doing it, so even there I can’t help him all that much.
So it’s less like ending up in Holland when you’d expected Italy than ending up in some country nobody even knows exists, so there are no guidebooks and your friends back home think you’re making it all up and you have to find your way by trial and error, but mostly error.
(Why, oh why, don’t they come with instruction manuals!?)
Hi AMM, I am so with you! My son has AS and gender dysphoria. And my other son has issues too. I’m documenting our journey on my blog. Maybe reading my story will help you? http://www.mjsjuice.wordpress.com
Reblogged this on Fairy JerBear's Queer/Trans News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
Some insight into what it’s like raising a gender creative child…
This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.
I am in the unique position of raising a child with a disability (ASD) who is also undergoing what I like to call gender exploration. Sometimes I feel like we’re on an island because there aren’t many like my child but I know there are others and I want to shout to each and every one of them “hey we’re over here! Come join us, let’s build our own resort!”
I hear you. I have never had children. But I am gay and gender creative in a way. I also have Cerebral Palsy. Sometimes I feel isolated because ther’re are are many people that are very well know who are LGBTQ….. and also have a disabiltiy, we are a very rare. This blog has given me a lot comfort as I have been exploring who am over the past couple of years. Hang in there B’smom,
thank you Taylor!!! We’re all trail blazers in our own right and I just hope to create a path that others may want to explore someday.
I like this too. It’s so well written. It speaks her truth poignantly. I feel privileged to read it, as I feel privileged to read all parent’s experiences of overcoming difficulty. It is comforting. Particularly because I don’t know anyone in our neck of the woods that is going through what we are.
Yet, when I get to the end of this piece I think, ‘no, that’s too negative for what I feel now!’ – Emily’s feeling in this are different to mine. Thought I accept that I felt like this once. I suppose I’ve been through the shock of discovering our children are different and now I just don’t feel bad about that. I still worry for them, I still want to protect them and I’m sure I have anxiety issues I never had before they came (!) but I think that goes with the territory of all parenting.
Our children both face their own very different and individual challenges and I accept that. They are definitely different to their peers currently and I accept that too. And so, currently, do their peers! They are popular and accepted despite their individual grooves and gender expressions.
Also, I sometimes look at those ‘Italians’ and think “God No!! That’s not for us!! Thank goodness our children are the way they are!!” That may be because Italy is not what I know… and if they fitted that mould I’m sure I’d like them that way too 🙂 !
I also quite like that Emily chooses Italy, which behind its alluring veneer and attractiveness has a nasty Facist history. Yet the Netherlands has a history of tolerance, of overcoming war and bullying and then emerging to become one of the most open and prosperous nations. The Netherlands was ranked the top ‘happiest’ country in the world a couple of years ago. Huzzah for places like Holland with its tulips and happiness! I like it here!
Reblogged this on Literature Life and Lattes and commented:
Thank you! Once again you have explained how I feel.
I love Jeremy dearly but, yes, life is very definitely different than I expected with zir. From perfume on the counter to plants in the bathtub to a freaking solid wood headboard in the living room. Zie insists zie’s going to turn it into a table. If Holland’s purple and floral scented, I’m definitely there 🙂
That is putting it beautifully. We certainly didn’t expect to be where we are when we saw the ultrasound picture either, but here we are. And Holland is beautiful.
I think that there’s an important lesson here.
If you live with what might have been, then you will enjoy nothing, because there WAS nothing.
You have to learn to live with what is, and what can be.