Marie, who is profoundly deaf, came to live with us at the age of 7 years old. At first she appeared to be your typical “tom boy”, but then she began to exhibit symptoms of being something more…symptoms of being an actual boy. Quite simply, she TOLD me she was a boy. She would only wear boy clothes, (including boy’s underwear.) She refused to use the Ladies Rest Room so we found the family and unisex restrooms if she had to go to the bathroom in public. She begged me to let her get her hair cut short, but her birth mother’s rights had not yet been terminated and she would not give permission for Marie to get a haircut, so Marie would pull it up in a pony tail on top of her head and wear a baseball cap everywhere. She looked like a boy and she acted like a boy. She did not want me to tell people she was my foster daughter, insisting I tell them she was my foster son. Swimming at the public pool was problematic because they did not allow t-shirts. Because she wore boys bathing trunks, she always wore a shirt. The lifeguards always told her she couldn’t swim unless she took her t-shirt off. I obtained a letter from her doctor indicating due to her “disability” she needed to wear her t-shirt while swimming. I still had to argue with each new lifeguard that there was a letter on file which indicated she was allowed to wear a t-shirt as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Because Marie was deaf, most people did not know the extent of her insistence that she was a boy. She did not hear me introduce her as my foster daughter, and the use of male/female language did not reach her ears, so in some ways it was easier to deal with socially. She knew she was a “boy”, she looked like a boy, so she assumed everyone thought she was a boy. Somehow the fact that her name was Marie was feminine escaped her, but that was because as a seven year old who was deaf, I doubt she knew the context of male/female names. Difficulties did arise when relatives and friends gave her “girl” presents or try to give her “girl” clothes. She would look at them as though they were crazy. Didn’t they KNOW she was a BOY!!!
I accepted Marie for who she was. She was allowed to behave in the manner in which she was comfortable, and if the only problem was finding a unisex bathroom, then we were lucky.
At her ten year old visit with her family practitioner, she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her. He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision. He told her that things might change in the meantime. She begged and cried and said she didn’t want to wait, but he said she was too young to make that decision.
Marie continued to insist she was a boy, and when she was adopted she was allowed to get a short haircut. She was very adorable, boy or girl, with short cropped blonde hair and gorgeous big blue eyes.
By the time she was eleven, Marie had become accustomed to our family and she felt supported and accepted. She also felt safe. She and I had started to bond, (something which she was reluctant to do because she had promised her birth mom she would not love me.) I bought a book for girls on puberty, “The Care and Keeping of You”. Knowing she thought she was a boy, I was cautious in bringing this subject up. Reading this book, however, had an amazing effect on her. She was excited. She was thrilled. We read if from cover to cover until the cover was worn out. She would bring it out to show anyone who visited, (male of female.) We had to go to the store to buy sanitary napkins, and she insisted on buying 10 packages “just in case”. She asked many questions and I answered them as straightforward as I could. She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl. She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men “hurt girls” and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said “the men” never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe. Marie did not realize the huge significance of this admission. She had finally lived with us long enough so she felt safe to become the girl she really was.
Link to my book
The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane
Link to the Readers Digest review of my book: http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/