Walking the Line

Dorottya Turza

Our world is constantly changing. Some would say it is for the better, some think the complete opposite. Even with the bad things in our mind, we can’t deny that in many aspects our current society surpasses that of our predecessors. Living conditions are certainly better than before. We gained a bigger space to freely practice our rights, as well as many opportunities for workplaces and ways to engage ourselves in our free time. Considering the above, many would even say that parents have a much easier time raising their children. It sounds good in theory. However with our continuously altering society, the problems haven’t disappeared. They have simply changed as well.

My husband, Ben, and I met during our teenage years. We clicked pretty much instantly. In a blink of an eye we were already living together, and not long after that we got married. And a few years later we were expecting a baby. Her name is Emily. The moment she was born she became my whole world.

Surprisingly (considering our stubborn personalities) she turned out to be a precious angel growing up. Still had her temper tantrums as no doubt every baby does, but I like to believe that we handled them properly. I much preferred to talk things out rather than just plainly brush them aside. Maybe I was a bit soft-hearted at times, but I had Ben at my side on those occasions to help me navigate through them.

Emily’s bond with me was extremely strong. She used to tell me everything from mundane everyday things to more serious matters. She seemed to naturally gravitate towards me during those times and await some advice or even just an opinion. For a parent it is certainly a relief to know that your kid trusts and values your thoughts enough to approach you and consider them.

So it was all the more frustrating and at the same time crushing to know that something could alter this state of affairs.

The change was so sudden it felt like a slap to the face. One day she happily learned a new braiding style, and the next day she wanted to shave her head completely. I wasn’t against the idea, simply curious as to where this came from. However, when I asked her she went berserk. She started to yell at me that I can’t understand her and finally shut herself in her room. I was stunned. This kind of breakdown had never happened before. At that time it surprised me, but I simply blamed it on puberty..

I was entirely wrong.

These kind of situations became more and more common. We coudln’t even remain in the same room without one of us shouting. It got out of hand. Until ultimately she confronted us.

She told us that she didn’t feel like a girl and she felt like she was born in the wrong body. She said she was a boy and would like us to accept her. I like thinking that we received it well. As well as we could in that moment. The fact that your child isn’t comfortable in their skin is quite shocking. Especially at first. So what do you do in that situation after the temporarily freak out? We asked a lot of questions. I mean a LOT of questions. She (he?) answered all of them. After all of this, we reassured him that we will try our best to make him fell accepted and comfortable in our home.

The next weeks were really awkward, because we didn’t know how to behave around him. For a long time we slipped up a lot, but with more time we adjusted relatively well. He looked extremely happy, and it seemed that our problems were solved at last, or at least I hoped so.

Then it hit again…

One evening he came forward with a serious face and claimed that he was a non-binary individual with ADHD. This time we were a lot more skeptical. The rapid identity changing was bizarre to say the least. And compared to the previous conversation we were at a complete loss and couldn’t understand half of what he said. Apart from this we moved on, with difficulty.

Later at night I discussed the issue with Ben, but from his attitude it appeared he had kind of given up and taken it as a phase that would go away. Simply going with the wave didn’t soothe me, just made me feel even more lost.

Now the slowly built up routine fully crumbled, and the uncomfortable atmosphere appeared once more. We tried to get back some normality, yet the absence of communication did the complete opposite instead. Usually we avoided any topic involving gender or sexuality. As well as calling Emily/Emil by name, instead using pet names like darling, sugar, etc. This condition lasted till it was time for high school, when everything finally made sense.

They continued their education in another city, so we had to start packing to be ready on the day of departure. While I was focusing on organizing the different belongings I overheard some things. They were having a conversation probably with one of their friends, where they were speaking about a strange sounding thing. Something called Tiktok. Apparently they did a Tiktok test which told them they have personality disorder and extreme anxiety. These aren’t unheard-of things, but you can’t just toss them around lightly. So I downloaded the application and started researching.

It was certainly an experience. A really concerning one. This platform was stuffed with different kind of influencers. Unfortunately many of them could easily impact people and their way of thinking. Especially children who are still developing individuals. With a curious click they can easily find themselves on more mature platforms. After witnessing a huge amount of people doing the same thing, you feel a strong sense of pressure or need for belonging, so you simply follow their example. These are so-called trends. Trends are circulating through the app, causing people to make instant, thoughtless decisions. Some of them seem fairly harmless (like cutting your hair during the pandemia), but countless others could alter lives forever (like changing toddlers’ gender with different operations, because they don’t like to play with trucks or dolls).

I only needed a few hours to have enough of this. I approached her room, gathered my thoughts, and stepped inside. I told her that I knew about these trends and wanted to know how much of this was influencing her current identity. She flipped, and started to shout that it was completely natural to be a boy today, but a girl tomorrow. That there are certain things that can trigger this. We are the ones who were too conservative to even comprehend this.

From then on I don’t remember much. I felt so angry and disappointed, mostly in myself. I should have paid more attention to her and questioned these sudden shifts more. At the end I confiscated her phone and stormed out of the room.

After I calmed down, Ben and I had a discussion to try to figure out what to do from here. When we came to a solution, we called her in. We told her that we wouldn’t oppose her identity-searching journey, but that she shouldn’t expect us to support it either. If she wholeheartedly committed to it with different kinds of operations or hormones, then there would be no turning back. That she can’t just change gender for the sake of convenience. Also she can’t just self-diagnose serious conditions, even if at that moment one or two symptoms seem plausible, However, if she truly thinks a gender transition is best, then she can talk about it when she reaches adulthood.

Of course after we gave our opinion, our farewell was sour, but I felt much better. We did everything; now the only one who can decide where things will end is ultimately her.