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An Honest Talk About Gender Identity and Motherhood

[Editor’s Note: The following interview was done with the full knowledge and support of Tina Barker, and we thank her.]

Before having kids, you know everything you will and won’t do. “Oh, my kid will for sure eat a well-balanced diet,” or, as you side-eye the screaming indignant toddler, “My kid will know better. I will not let my kid behave that way.”

And then, once pregnant, it somehow gives people license to interject and superimpose their own ideals on everything you should do, from delivery methods and nursing advice to childrearing. And once the baby is born, you forget everything you’ve heard and realize we are all taking it day by day, learning as we go.

Parenting is incredibly unpredictable. You have this little person and assume you know them from the onset. You get an ultrasound, find out a gender and start preparing yourself as though this tidbit of insight into their prebirth humanity sets a precedent for who they will become. Parents treat gender reveals like the unveiling of what’s behind door number three on a game show, like they’ve won this giant prize once they figure out if the baby is blue or pink. Oftentimes, viral gender-reveal videos even depict parents showing grotesque outward disappointment in the outcome.

But let’s leave aside the question over what happens when your child grows up to learn that they weren’t what you wanted. Let’s ask another question: What happens when your child does not identify with the assumptions that the gender reveal made?

Fifteen years ago, Kim Barker gave birth to a little boy, Tino. He was confident, loving and reserved, but sure of himself. Around age 10, there was a bit of a shift. The quiet parts of him got more quiet, and he began spending more time in his room. He maintained a good relationship with his family but just wasn’t quite himself.

When Tino was in eighth grade, he sat his family down and told them he was gay. Kim, a musician and medium, was proud of him for knowing himself. She and her husband, Matthys, gave him their full support. But that wasn’t the full story. Later that year, Tino sat them down and said, “You know how hard it was for me to tell you I like boys? Well, actually, I think I’m a girl.”

And now, for the past year, Tino has been going through a slow and intentional transition, claiming her new self as Tina, while the Barkers have stood by her. They are learning daily things they never considered — how to deal with combative family members or the stares of strangers, as well as how to keep their daughter safe.

In the lead-up to Charlotte Pride, we spoke with Kim about those lessons. She shared what she wishes she’d known and what she wishes other people knew.

Queen City Nerve: What are some things well-intended people say to you that you really just wish they wouldn’t?

Kim Barker

Kim Barker: Because of the bubble I’ve created, the people that get on my nerves the most are the ones on the way to being self-actualized. It’s because you just expect them to be bigger and more accepting than they are. People ask questions like ‘Have you really thought about this?’ or ‘Have you thought of all the options or how this will affect her life in the future?’ And I’m like ‘No, bitch. I haven’t.’

I expect that kind of response from close-minded people — Trump supporters, people I don’t know. But when it’s people who are supposed to be on this path of peace and understanding, I don’t have a lot of patience for it. Normally I’m not around people who are close-minded and I’m prepared and in a setting of knowing my audience. I feel sorry for people who are totally Republican or conservative Christian, who love their kids, and the kind of shit they have to deal with. I don’t have to lose my community over this.

What has the response been from your family members?
For about the past year, we have all been calling her Tina — us and her sister, her extended family. They are all generally accepting of this change, even though we are all still learning as we go.

But we did have one family member who went back on what she’d said and decided she wasn’t going to be accepting of this and would not be calling her Tina. But, I’m like, “You didn’t name her the first time and you don’t get to this time either.” Then, she came back a few days later and said she was actually accepting and had changed her mind. It’s kind of a mindfuck and we don’t really know how to handle it.

How would you like to see people handle these thoughts?
If you’re having an internal battle, keep it to yourself. Wait until you figure it out. You think you know the risks of dividing your family, but you don’t.

How has it been interacting with others during this? What’s that like?
People still constantly talk to me like I’m her spokesperson, which I’m fine with for the most part, but I’m also trying to figure it out, too. And everybody in the fucking world keeps saying this one line, they’re like, “I just don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to call her ‘him’. I just want to make sure I’m using the right pronouns.” I’ve been hearing it every day of my goddamn life since this happened. They keep saying “What do we do?” It’s compassionate in a sense but it’s really fucking annoying. Like with family, they’ll say, “Is it OK for me to ask her if she wants to go do things with the girls?” Everyone just has something to say. Every single person. But there has only been one person in this whole process who has asked me how I’ve been. No one else, aside from a therapist, has asked Matthys and I how we are doing.

Has this changed your approach to parenting?
Having an awareness that I have a black boy child and fearing for his life. “You can’t play in the front yard with your guns. Play with your guns in the backyard.” I’m this basic maternal, fire-bear mama, meaning I’ll probably murder someone for you, in the right setting, anyway. Then you add the layer of going from black boy to transgender African-American female, the worry doesn’t become any less. It’s actually more. There are a lot of people in the black community who are still not accepting of this.

Tina has this power that nobody fucks with her. She can walk through any scenario and people will come to her and think she’s cool, but she doesn’t think that many other people are cool. My fears and awareness as a mother are heightened. I’ve started assuming the worst about people and how they feel about my daughter if I don’t know them. How do I know she’s safe? I really have to practice that. She’s not in a rush to get her license and I am not pushing it.

How has this changed how you talk about sex?
She talked with me at home and then with the doctor and the therapist. Mine is more about the heart and not giving yourself away or selling out your heart. We’ve always been open and now there is a different kind of awareness.

Tina Barker

What has been most difficult for Tina?
The hardest part, before she came out, was that she had to tell her old friends. But she’s now at a progressive, supportive school that has been her support system. It’s been the more conservative people we grew up with that are the hardest. For the most part, she just needed encouragement. “What can I say?” “Would you talk to their mom?” I told her, like anything, you have to go through it to the fullest. You can change your mind in the future, it doesn’t matter. But for now, this is where you are. You have to be willing to risk it all to be yourself.

Has this affected your relationship?
We are able to go through this well because we have always been so close. But honestly, it’s the teenage stuff that’s hard anyway. This stuff is really secondary to the annoying teenage bullshit we deal with. She can say, “I know that at the end of the day, my mom has my back.” And there is nothing at the end of the day that matters to a mother as much as that. It hasn’t really increased our bond but I feel I have a greater advantage having gone through this. It’s increased my bond with my younger daughter. Everything is out in the open. There’s no hiding behind anything. It’s an advantage in a lot of ways. It’s putting the most private thing you can imagine — your sexuality — just all out in the open for our family. No stone is left uncovered.

Has this affected your relationship with your husband or your other daughter?
My other daughter, Ziva, had to take a stand really young. When people have not accepted Tina, she’s been able to say, “Your love is conditional and I stand by my sister.” The two have gotten closer. Ziva gets into her world more than most people.

For my husband, Tina’s stepfather, he has been incredibly supportive, although it hasn’t been without trials for any of us. When we first went to pick up the hormones, Matthys kind of freaked out. Like, we knew we were going to do this. We’d talked about it. But it still seems to catch us off guard at different points and in ways we didn’t imagine.

What have you been able to do to help Tina with her self-expression?
Tina was at a queer music camp called QORDS (Queer-Oriented Radical Days of Summer) and was able to be herself. She was the star in her element. She was like she used to be before all of this happened, like when she was a little kid. It gave her tools for a voice and her own advocacy.

How do you show her your support and how do you think others should support people going through this?
By helping her find a voice and her self-advocacy as a person. For others, having a broader sense of empathy, by learning more, asking how they are, holding hands through it. Ask, “How can I be here for you?” Do your own research and be there for the person in your life going through things instead of expecting them to have all the answers. Because we don’t. We’re still learning.

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