When I was a little boy, I had a pair of hand-me-down Care Bears Roller Skates. As a child who would grow up being bullied and picked on for years and years, these skates were just one more bullseye for other kids to hit with their cuts and digs. My Pappy found them for me because he knew I really wanted to learn how to roller skate and my parents couldn’t afford a new pair at the time.
That was between ages 7 and 9, if I remember correctly. The skates were intended to be worn by little girls. Most little boys wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing them. I used them all the time. I spent an entire summer learning how to skate. I secretly loved my roller skates; and they were extra special to me because they were a gift from my Pappy.
His name was Daniel. My name was Daniel.
My mother’s father—Pappy as we call him—was retired pretty much since I was born. He had a funny way of talking (Pennsylvania Dutch); he had endured all manner of physical turmoil, from being burned all over his body to dying from terrible lung cancer; and we all loved him in our own ways. He also used to love to hunt for treasures among the trash at local junkyards. Since before I was born, his buddies all knew him as “Stinky” or “Dirty Dan.” They were terms of endearment—not meant as insults.
Like most people in my family, it was impossible to feel a real emotional connection with my Pappy, but we all knew he loved us. The Care Bears skates were a sign of that … and I loved them! I put up with kids saying ignorant things to me. I definitely got called a girl all the time. Deep down, it didn’t bother me. For trans kids not blessed with a supportive, understanding family, their trans identities don’t blossom in the beautiful ways transgender youth do. We grow up becoming masters of keeping the ultimate shameful secret. And then one day, we get over it.
As my parents and other members of my family refuse to acknowledge me (they have ceased communicating with me altogether), I’m sure they will deride me for disrespecting my maternal grandfather because I was named after him and have asked to be called by my middle name instead. The whole reason I picked the name Whitney was to lessen the blow of finding out I’m transgender. It didn’t help.
Had I been born sexually female, I would never have been given his name in the first place. But I’m proud that I was honored with my Pappy’s name for 36 years. What I hope family members will someday understand is the simplicity of who I am—I am a woman who was born with a penis. It’s a medical/biological/physiological condition that occurs more frequently than many people realize. We live in a complicated world that seeks to make simple things mysterious. Transgender is that simple; and since I am not a man, I ask respectfully to be called Whitney because it better matches my identity. Eventually, I may keep Whitney as my middle name and take a different first name. But when that happens, everyone should know I was just as proud of being named after my Pappy as I was of the Care Bears roller skates he gave me as a child.
As long as I’ve been self-aware (and very likely before then), I knew I wasn’t like the other boys. My brain has always known, and so do I.