There are many things in life that shape the person you become. Those of us who transition become acutely aware about the enormous role gender plays in our lives toward that end. For a while it seems to us like gender is (to quote Homer Simpson out of context) “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
But as we move through our transition we move past this monochromatic view of our lives. It’s not helpful to focus upon gender as the explanation for everything. Sure, heading into transition we often feel like living examples of how badly gender issues can screw up a life all by themselves. But our lives are so much more than only gender. And these other things need attention for all the same reasons they need attention in the lives of everyone, trans and non-trans alike.
One huge factor in shaping who we become is our relationship with our parents. My own parental relationship has varied from strained to almost non-existent over the course of my life, but it feels like we’ve recently made some progress which gives me hope. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I might do or say to break down the barriers between us. And that mental exercise is telling me a lot about how we came to our strained relationship in the first place.
I appear to have a textbook case of Middle Child Syndrome. This syndrome seems so interwoven with my trans issues when it comes to relating to my parents that it’s hard to focus on either one in isolation of the other. But I’m beginning to think that when I came out as transsexual to them I had it backward. I should have started working with my parents on the middle child stuff before I hit them with the trans stuff. I think it could have explained a lot all by itself, and could have lead quite naturally into explaining that “oh, by the way I’m also transsexual.”
I say this because Middle Child Syndrome seems perfectly designed to be amplified ten-fold if the child in question is transsexual. If that’s not readily apparent, allow me to illustrate symptom by symptom:
Lack of Belonging
The middle child may not feel a sense of belonging to the family in the same way as other children. He/she struggles to be close to the family because of feeling ignored and ‘unwanted’. Sometimes, the middle child also feels sandwiched between the other siblings. It is important as a parent, to not let such feelings overcome their middle child.
I felt this keenly, but it wasn’t simply about being ignored. I was absolutely certain that I would NOT be wanted if they ever found out about my secret gender struggles. I felt like an impostor, undeserving of belonging to a family which I was sure would cast me out if they knew who I really was.
Since a middle child feels that he/she is basically unwanted, he/she may have a very low self-esteem. There is nothing worse than to feel not needed and it can badly affect even an adult. For a child, it has a serious bearing on his/her overall development. Such a child will continue to suffer from a lack of self-belief on growing up. A middle child’s confidence may be shaky due to the feeling of being overlooked upon, by his/her parents.
Due to the gender struggles my self-esteem was already chronically low from about the time I became aware that something was “wrong” with me. Then, as the description above notes, add in all the feelings of being unwanted that come so naturally to middle children.
My older brother loved sports, excelled in school, and could never seem to do wrong in my parents eyes. My younger sister was the adorable charmer who seemed born for the stage, to the delight of our music teacher mother. I was constantly pushed to be more like my brother while being eaten up with envy about the life being lived by my sister. And I felt equally bad about myself looking in either direction.
It is, usually, seen that a child suffering from middle child syndrome is not too extrovert or social. There is a tendency among such children to become loners in life. They feel like an outsider in the family and therefore, become a recluse in other areas of life as well. Such a child believes in spending time with him/her self rather than others, because he/she feels uncared for. And so, he/she tries to create a world of his/her own and lean on his/her own self for support.
If a transsexual ever describes their life prior to transition without using a form of the word “lonely” they’ll be the first. Loneliness is built into the closet of every transsexual. We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, because we know we’re not really the person other people believe us to be. This makes us lonely in every crowd. Which leads to reclusiveness. Which was already my tendency owing to my birth order alone.
A curious side note to this is that I was always motivated to befriend others I perceived as fellow outsiders. As my sister likes to joke, my friends were all “freaks and geeks.” And you know, I think my life is actually richer for that. Still, it did no favors for my relationship with my rather conventional parents.
No Sense Of Direction
The children suffering from middle child syndrome also lack a sense of direction. There is certain disillusionment among them and they struggle to find the real direction of their life. They are not comfortable confiding in their parents, not even in their brothers or sisters. This is not to say that all middle children turn out to be failures in their life. Only those suffering from this syndrome have a tendency to lack any direction in life.
I remember talking to my friends during my high school and college years about where we all expected to be in ten or twenty years. And I remember that I couldn’t imagine it. I mean I literally could not do it. I tried to project myself into the future along any number of potential paths and I kept drawing blanks. I didn’t tell anyone about this. I followed the in-the-closet code and made stuff up to carry my part of the conversation. But it really did disturb me that I literally couldn’t imagine my own future.
Now some of this is surely due to the fact that I kept trying to imagine myself as a happy well-adjusted man, cured of all those silly thoughts about being a girl. My brain could never leap that divide because those “silly thoughts” happened to be hard-wired into my brain in a way these projected male futures were not.
But the other part has nothing to do with gender. It was just the kind of aimlessness you see in a lot of middle children. Nothing grabbed me as a direction in life. In contrast my older brother focused like a laser-beam on becoming a doctor from the seventh grade on, and never wavered from the path. My sister veered wildly in her own direction, but always with passion and conviction in the moment. In both cases my parents played large roles assisting the other two, while I felt like I dare not ask for the same because of…
A middle child, on feeling ignored and un-loved, may have trust issues. As a child, we first learn to trust and completely rely on our parents, but a middle child fails to do that and consequentially, faces such issues. Such a child has difficulty in opening up and confiding in anyone. However, not every child suffering from middle child syndrome has a distrusting attitude. Sometimes, such a child is pining to trust and lean on someone.
Good lord, does that above section describe me. All of it. Even the parts that contradict, because my coping with the issue changes over time. Sometimes I keep everyone at a distance for fear I’ll be burned and betrayed yet again. Other times I have put my trust in others almost recklessly, because I need to feel like I have someone to trust in my life.
But I have never felt like my parents were among the people I could trust. And some of that is surely based upon my inability to confide in them about my lifelong gender confusion. In my mind my parents were there to judge and to shame. I saved my trust in unconditional love for my relationship with my dog. And I’m not joking.
Lest I give the wrong impression in all of this, I’ve moved past the finger pointing “It’s all my parents fault!” stage. I don’t think my parents intended or even realized that they fell into a classic parenting pattern for alienating middle children. And I’m absolutely positive that they had no idea that a transsexual child might be super-vulnerable to this stuff while remaining completely undetected.
Regardless, I have the worst relationship with my parents of either of my siblings by far. These days some of this is based upon my coming out, but most of it is not. And I really don’t want to continue like this for the rest of our lives.
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