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On The Joys Of Being An “Ancle” At Christmas (And All Year Round)

Almost every day this week has seen me texting a single word to the family group chat: “BABY?” My brother and his fiancée are pregnant, and, as of writing, five days overdue. This will be my parents’ first direct grandchild, but the seventh in our family’s collection of children. I have six nieces presently, the latest (though not for long), I met for the first time on this year’s Christmas trip home from London. Niece number six was born four months ago and is gorgeous; I can’t help pondering how new she is, how everything is new to her. Driving home from visiting her, I wittered endlessly to my mum about how fascinating babies are, reminisced about standout memories of my other nieces growing up, and how impatient we both were for the next one to arrive.

I find it really very comical that I, Erin, find the idea of a new baby so exciting. For most of my life, I had absolutely nothing to say to kids. I could never figure out how to talk to them, how to explain myself. I knew quite resolutely that I would never have my own kids, but it was a decision I never really formally interrogated; it just seemed to be a foregone conclusion that I passively accepted. For the longest time I avoided interacting with kids at all costs, and went through a variety of justifications for it; maybe kids represented heteronormativity to me at one stage, and at other times I might have battled with the “proper” maternal or paternal way to respond to the concept of children. I think a lot about Rhyannon Styles discussing how a key point in her transition was that she couldn’t picture herself as an old man. For me, I could never picture myself as a “father”, and with that, the case seemed closed.

Now, with a greater presence of queer and trans parents in our media and collective consciousness, the concept of maternal versus paternal feelings has dissolved entirely for me. I’m lucky enough to know non-binary parents, and to read about trans parents going through pregnancy, such as the incredible Freddy McConnell. Their experiences have helped to blast off some of the insecurity I had about children, and how I relate to them. But, honestly, the biggest game changer has been the arrival of my own nieces.

I’ve been on a wild ride with these kids which, surprisingly, has been hugely impactful on my own journey as a trans person. When niece number one arrived, I was very nervous about hanging out with her. I’d never really been around kids at that stage, and had spent a significant amount of time building resistance. I worried that I wouldn’t know what to say to her; I panicked that somehow my baby talk would sound silly or disingenuous. I think in some dark corner of my mind, the moral panic about gay people I’d grown up surrounded by had seeped into me, and perhaps I felt inappropriate as a presence in her life. I knew I wouldn’t be a parent, and maybe that meant that kids and I had nothing to say to each other.

It truly baffles me now that I brought so much baggage to my relationships with my nieces. Further, I’m aware of how much of it was drawn from assumptions I had subconsciously absorbed from the society I grew up in. It turns out that baby talk is baby talk, and kids tend to be very straightforward in what they expect from you.

Five of the current six knew me before I came out as trans, the newer two will never have known me as anything other than Erin. “Ancle” Erin, in fact, a gender-neutral term that niece number four came up with when she learned my new name. When I came out as trans a few years ago, and when I updated my name a year later, I did worry slightly about how the kids would take it. I’ve known them each since they were born, and have come to know and love each of their vastly different personalities and characteristics, so I was panicked about the potential for confusing things for them. It’s bad enough that each time I see them I wonder if this is the time that I’m no longer cool. Looking back, it’s interesting to me how many expectations I erroneously placed at their door. The message we are so consistently fed about trans issues and children is that it’s confusing for them, dangerous, muddying the water in formative years. The concept is too wild for young minds to grasp.

From my experience, the evidence would disagree. My nieces were told by their parents, quite independently, about my new name and what that meant… and absolutely nothing changed. I’ve heard about the conversations they had about it, and their reactions have been so pure and free of any critique. They just get it, and I think the reason it comes so easily is because they haven’t learned how not to get it yet. Niece number two thinks nothing of picking a nail varnish colour for me, because she hasn’t yet been taught that that’s “not right”. Clearly, this is something we pick up later down the road.

It’s truly wonderful to look back on this as a full circle moment. Having spent so much time practically fearing kids, it’s now with their arrival and their presence and innate love and knowledge, that I’m able to free myself up a bit. Their acceptance and non-reaction to my transness has been a gift and a lesson. It’s a true “out-of-the-mouths-of-babes” situation. When I started to come out, it carried weight; the ending of one person to make way for another, and yet my kids demonstrate the nonsense of that idea. For them, there’s continuity which is unruffled by a different name or painted lips. It’s heartening to realise that, as they’re growing up, the whole family is growing up with them, often learning to pick apart our preconceived notions from them.

am excited for the new arrival who, two hours since I started writing this, has still not arrived. I still don’t want kids of my own, but I’m so happy that I have these kids.

Source: Vogue

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