We went to our friends Andrea and Byron’s house the other night for smoked meats and conversation, and the hosts have 3 kids, ages 9, 4, and 1. The little girl (the 4-year old) had been suspicious of me the past few times we had visited, eying me from behind a pillar, her mother’s legs, or from behind the couch.

This night, however, she and I were best buddies. We talked about dolls, dogs, forts, her baby brother, and the fact that I used to be a boy, but now am a girl. She explained this fact to me multiple times during the night and repeated her observations to her mother (Andrea), to Mary Jo, and to the other guests.

She asked her mother if I could have babies, and her mother answered that I turned into a girl, but didn’t have the necessary girl parts to have a baby.

She came up to me and explained, “This is my dog Maddy — she likes you — but she didn’t like you when you were a boy.”

She asked Mary Jo, “Is Joyce still Lane and Ezra’s daddy? Is she still your husband?” And Mary Jo and Andrea explained, “That’s right, she’s a daddy who’s a girl and a husband who’s a girl.” Further, even though I’m a girl daddy, that doesn’t make me the mom.

At one point in the evening, she summed everything up beautifully and insightfully: “You were a boy and turned into a girl, but I’m just a girl. I didn’t turn into one.” Yes, I told her, most people are like that — they’re simply created as who they are. That’s the story of my life, isn’t it?

The little girl was fine with me and with all of her conclusions. And I think that these observations reveal a process that she must have been undertaking in her mind as she worked to make sense of a daddy who’s now a girl, a process of calling up an image or a statement, and revisiting it until it becomes familiar. I can’t tell what was in her head, of course, but this repetition was evident in her actions and words the other night, deliberate and ritualistic and catechismic and cathartic for both of us. For her, the repetition has apparently made my existence real and valid; for me, her validation, even as it comes from a 4-year-old, signifies to me that my life will eventually balance out and settle down.

Her words illustrate the power of language and the power of repetition, and upon reflection, this process is not unlike what I found myself saying a year ago, initially in disbelief and increasingly with conviction: I’m a transsexual. I’m going to transition. And I distinctly remember how utterly terrifying it was to form those thoughts and the words that accompanied those thoughts the very first time: boiling in my stomach, pounding in my heart, sadness in my head. But over time, I began to realize that the ideas and words weren’t going to kill me, that my situation and its therapy and its consequences had names that I could say, slowly bringing them into possibility while also de-fanging them of their horror.