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What a parent of a transgender child knows

When one of her twins transitions, this mom and minister begins to see the trouble with our binary view of gender.

sarah ferone for the boston globe

The most common question people ask me when they learn I am the mother of twins is “Fraternal or identical?” My answer (fraternal) is generally greeted with a happy “Ah” and a nod of the head.

The second most common question I am asked is “One of each?” Until recently, my answer was “Yes,” and the response was generally greeted with a joyful exclamation of “Perfect!”

I never thought much about the exchange. Until about two years ago. That is when one of our twins began trying to find language for the lived experience that was clearly causing her great anxiety. After a tremendous journey of learning, reflection, and wondering for our whole family, it became clear that the person we’d identified as a daughter when born understood himself to be a boy at the deepest level of his being. Late last winter, she was “relaunched” into the world as a he.

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In the midst of this journey, I wasn’t sure what to say when well-meaning people asked me about my twins. “One of each?” My hesitation was, in part, because we really weren’t sure for a while. We were listening to the wisdom of experts and friends who said that when a young person is raising questions about gender, one should watch for consistence, insistence, and persistence. Was this just a phase? Was something else going on? What adolescents like their body, anyway? It took some time to sort all that out.

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But it wasn’t just the uncertainty that caused me to hesitate in answering the question “One of each?” It was also the fact that my experience had shown the answer “Yes” would be met with such glee. Was something lost if I were no longer the parent of boy/girl twins? Should the world be less thrilled if I answered the question “No”?

And the question itself carries assumptions that were dissolving in my mind the more I learned about gender. Gender is not binary. “One of each” is a poor question. There is no “each.” There are boys and girls, and there are lots of people who understand themselves to be somewhere in between or off the grid.

One of each is not necessarily “perfect,” especially when one of the children is in such deep distress that they (and I use “they” because our singular, gendered pronouns are inadequate here) cannot imagine a future for themselves. One of each is not perfect if simply hearing a minister say “My brothers and sisters in Christ” leaves them feeling lonely and invisible. One of each is not perfect if it makes no room for their reality. One of each is not perfect if keeping up the pretense of being something one is not crushes the spirit.

I know that people asking “One of each?” mean no harm. I understand that our traditional understanding of gender as binary has been a fundamental means of ordering our lives since the beginning of everything (however you understand that beginning). It’s harder to imagine an anthropology of more complexity. It’s messier. But both as a parent and as a Christian minister, I find it beautifully enlivening. It means we all have to pay more attention. We are invited to listen more deeply, ask more questions of our sacred texts, and to annex our personal comfort zones. That’s holy stuff.

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So, what to say to parents of twins? How about “Wonderful!” or “Tell me about your children.” How about “What are their names?” or “Twice the joy!” This is an era for redefining perfection and re-imagining what truly connects us as a human family.

Amy McCreath is a parent and an Episcopal priest. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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