Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Dealing with Child's Gender Change; Persevering as a Writer

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I have an eighteen-year-old who is going though sex reassignment surgery, from female to male. Of course there are a lot of obstacles that we have to get through, but one issue that I keep worrying about is her name change after the surgery. How do we deal with the people  we have had previous contact with that do not know? I'm thinking about people like doctors. Do I warn them ahead of time or just make the appointment under a new name? What do you suggest if we run into someone and you can tell they are uncomfortable?

Meeting Old People as New People

Dear Meeting Old People as New People,

I commend you for being such a strong advocate for your child. He* is very lucky to have a family that supports him and his choices during this difficult time. As you suggest in your letter, not everyone will be so receptive.

Have you asked your kid what he would like to do about his doctors? People who will be helping him make choices about his physical and mental well-being should be queer-positive and supportive of his decision. He should be comfortable voicing concerns about his body to doctors, especially considering the new hormones he will soon begin taking.

If your child believes these secondary doctors will be unsupportive about the decision to go through sex reassignment surgery, then kick them to the curb. But even if you think they'll be understanding, make sure that they know about the change before he arrives at their office as a he for the first time. Often, I find people are more accepting when they are not caught off-guard and have time to process information.

In regard to people you run into, as opposed to those you seek out for their services, your kid can say something as simple as "I prefer to be called James now." Considering the kid will dress and have the secondary sex characteristics of a man, it's possible they will not recognize "James" as your daughter. Your kid is under no obligation to speak with these people for extended periods of time, nor are you. After a reintroduction, you should have no qualms about walking away.

One more thing -- while your kid needs someone like you to help him navigate all of these complications, it sounds like you're doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Your kid is about to face a whole lot of ugly, and needs to be able to advocate for himself as well. Make sure you share in responsibilities, like phone calls to the doctor.

All my best,

*I use "he" because your kid identifies as a male, though I wish English pronouns allowed for a non-gendered option.


Dear Rachel,

I love writing. I have been told I am a talented writer, and in high school and college received many accolades for my work. Currently, I am a recent graduate working in public relations, where I sculpt meaningless press release after press release. I feel like it's making me a worse writer. I dream about writing for a publication like The New Yorker or Harper's, and then I realize that lots of people my age have the same dream. How do I know if I should pursue being a writer, versus simply having a job where I write?

The Write Stuff

Dear The Write Stuff,

The only way to know is to keep writing! After spending all day writing drivel, I bet the last thing you want to do when you get home is to keep on writing. Surely, though, expressing yourself with words feels different from the stenography you do at work. Even if it may be hard to get your juices flowing for the first five minutes, keep at it and you'll be glad you did.

Try to balance your time writing for pleasure with applying for other jobs, as well. That way, you could spend the day doing something away from a screen, which might inspire you. Also, keep a look out for openings at your favorite publications like editorial assistantships.

As you're doing this, make sure you submit work you're particularly proud of to different publications. Steady yourself for hearing a whole lot of nothing and rejections. You're right that writing is an incredibly competitive field. If you really love the craft, then you'll enjoy the process of creating for its own sake, and the rest will fall away.

I noticed something in your letter, though. When you mention writing, you talk more about how others perceive your work and the awards you've gotten from it than anything else. Writing for esteemed magazines like The New Yorker and Harpers is probably thrilling, but it's also an indicator of prestige. That's not a bad thing in itself, but chasing cachet isn't going to make you happy. Instead of trying to be great, focus on doing great things.

All my best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a reporter at a financial trade publication. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel at advice (at)


  1. I'm delighted to see your new column for the Cleveland Park listserv. Your voice is authoritative and confident, while placing a verbal hand on the shoulder of the questioner.

    Re: the Write Stuff's inquiry today, you might suggest she look into virtual freelance work. One network I belong to,, would give her a chance to specify what projects she's like to scout and then compete for paying assignments to build up a portfolio. Just a thought.