Women Lead
January 26, 2021

‘This Is How It Always Is’ Shows Transgender Family’s Struggle

What would you do if your little boy told you that he wants to be a girl when he grows up?

by Frances Danielle
English
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Rosie Walsh never thought that her dream of having a daughter would come true until her youngest child came along. The dream indeed comes true, only that this time it happens in a way that she and her husband, Penn, could never have imagined.

Rosie and Penn were already occupied with four spirited sons—Roo, Ben, Rigel and Orion (yes, a twin)—when Claude was born. Claude is a remarkable, precocious little boy who walks at nine months, makes a three-tiered birthday cake for his twin brothers at three years old, and not only wants to be a chef, but he also wants to be a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a recorder player, a scientist, and an ice cream cone.

Among these other things, however, he wants to be a girl the most. At first, they assume it was only a one-time thing or a phase, like what their other sons have gone through. They assume he cannot not possibly mean what he says. Not until later when Claude insists on wearing a dress to kindergarten, wears a bikini to the public pool, or when he wakes Rosie up in the middle of the night just to tell her that he wants to be Poppy that they realize their youngest is not really a boy deep down.

Beautifully written, This Is How It Always Is is a wonderful story about parents’ journey of supporting their youngest child’s wish and their struggle in society as the parents of a transgender child. A parent of such herself, writer Laurie Frankel successfully brought the readers a heartwarming story that covers varying issues including parenthood, gender norms, violent transphobia, family love, and acceptance.

Also read: The Ugly Truth Behind Gender Bias in Literature

As husband and wife, Rosie and Penn have never been what would be considered normal for most people. While Rosie works as an emergency room doctor every night, Penn is a writer who cooks dinner, folds laundry, helps their kids with homework, and is also in charge of bedtime duty. Their household is far from the typical one. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. So, when Claude experiences gender dysphoria, they know there is a wider range of what society believes as normal and acceptable. Still, they are aware that people outside would not understand Claude.

Accepting Transgender Child

Through this story, Frankel emphasizes the parents’ struggle of striking a balance between letting kids express themselves and protecting them from a cruel society. This book shows us, as parents, the importance of making these huge decisions on behalf of our kids whose fate is entirely in our hands, these tiny humans who believe that we know what is good for their happiness and what is more important—their future.

It explores a lot of practical issues that parents of a transgender kid are still striving with even to this day: the decisions parents can and cannot, should and should not make and whether these decisions are the right parenting choice for a child so young in age.

To those who are not yet a parent, this book will touch your heart as it dives into the fluidity of gender that entails the different responses of the family members as well as society. Throughout the book, we can see the different pace of the characters’—Rosie, Penn, Ben, Roo, and the twins—development in accepting this special condition of Claude. Although it started as a feeling of doubt and dilemma, the entire family choses to forge ahead on the emotional path to support Claude as he embraces his true identity and becomes Poppy.

Especially after encountering a tragedy of her patient who got beaten up to death by transphobic college students, Rosie and her family decides to move to Seattle, a city where she hopes the environment will be much more favorable to the concept of the rainbow flag. This family is a reflection of all families with a transgender child who, despite making mistakes along the way, are still struggling in protecting one another. The challenges are indeed inevitable, but their love as a family is unconditional.

It might seem like the family’s acceptance is too good to be true, but it is balanced by the honest confusion of the children, the fears of the parents, and the emotion displayed by them as a family of a transgender child. This is a realistic depiction of what the family of a transgender feels living in a conservative society that enforces gender binarism. A society that requires us to conform to the idea that gender can only be these two distinct, opposite forms of feminine and masculine—there is no such thing in between. The transphobic and homophobic comments made by both kids and adults in this book reminds us of what families of a transgender and even the transgenders themselves have to deal with in reality.

Also read: Rowling, TERFs, and the Danger of Essential Sex

This book is a great introduction to the dialogue surrounding transgender people and having a transgender family that is still quite taboo in our society. Through this emotional story, Frankel emphasizes that whether we are a family member or just a part of society, it is our responsibility to leave our prejudice behind and embrace these transgender children, as they are innocent human beings.

This Is How It Always Is will challenge you to break the social stigma of transgender and other issues surrounding LGBTQ+ that have been around in our society for a long time. This society that we live in, where the accepted gender is either feminine or masculine, is constructed by false perception and prejudice because, in fact, nothing is how it always is.

Growing up with Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables, books have inevitably become a big part of Frances Danielle’s life. Now, a student of English Literature, she finds books as a safe haven where she can take a moment from this busy world and savor a complete solitude.