Happy Mother's Day, Mom: You're the Reason I Transitioned

two generations women embracing, looking at sea
two generations women embracing, looking at sea

My Mom and I have a lot in common, and it seems more of late.

Certainly we've always shared tastes: For the past 25-odd years we've had the same liquor habits. No, not types; she likes Scotch and I have a sweet tooth for Irish Cream. But she's the one that taught me that when you're drinking just to drink, there's no point in buying the expensive stuff. In our world, "top shelf" refers to where you'll find our brand of choice at Wal-Mart.

Lately, however, I'm amazed how many people say I look like my mom, and I think they're right. Even though for the first 47 years of my life they said I looked like my dad. (Talk about gender being a societal construct.)

This doesn't bother me; I love both of my parents equally, so being compared to either of them is fine with me. Better: Both of them have aesthetically aged well, so hopefully I'll end up non-ugly.

I just hope my mom and I make it there together. No, not because she's dying.

The woman is indestructible. She still tends the yard and flowers and does every domestic chore herself. The descendant of a famed Longhorn cattle driver, she might be the only Texan on earth who doesn't own a gun -- because she's never needed one.

Throw in my dad, who survived more terminal illnesses than Donald Trump's had wives, and my interior seems just as prepared for coming decades as my exterior. Indeed, in the 5 months since I decided to transition I've had more meaningful conversations with my Dad than in the previous 5 years. I suppose what they say about fathers and daughters is true, even when it starts nearly 5 decades after the kid came along.

My Mom, and I however, seem to be drifting apart. She says she supports my transition -- and she does. But on those evenings when I'm home, when my dad has called it a night, when we both start knocking back a few drinks, things go awry. Not that they begin that way.

During her first two rounds of Scotch and mine of Irish Cream we chat about things, little things that don't matter. That mindless chatting you do when you're trying to catch up on the things you just don't ever get to say over the phone.

We talk a little about transitioning; it's hard to avoid. My favorite mom question of all time? "Why couldn't you just be gay like all the other kids?" We both laughed at that; perhaps it's a sign of progress in the world.

But it's in the 3rd and 4th rounds of Scotch and Irish Cream -- still separately, thank God -- that our real conversations have always begun. "How are you doing?" she'll ask me. "Are you happy?" "How can you tell me you're happy?"

I've always been able to say yes and she's always accepted that -- until now. Now she can't possibly believe I'm happy; transgender people aren't exactly known for that, are we?

I try to assure her I am, but it doesn't seem to matter. She worries about what it says it about my life -- and what it says about hers. "What did I do?" she's asked me more than once, and with that, things kind of fall apart. I wander off to bed, and my mom stays up, perhaps rounding up cattle; there is a field behind the house.

It's possible.

It's possible because my Mom can do anything -- and she taught me I could do the same thing. When she asks what she "did" I can very simply say she made me able to transition.

The choice to transition is a huge one, and writers far better have written thousands of words on the subject. What's often unsaid, however, is that it takes a lot of courage.

It takes courage to face down a misunderstanding and often misanthropic world. It takes courage to stick with a process that it seems will never end. It takes courage to look yourself in the mirror and realize that whoever you thought you were, you're not. It takes courage to learn to love someone so completely different from yourself, someone you don't even begin to understand -- even when that person is you.

I remember when I was about 8 years old, I called my brother the "N-word." I was fishing about for insults and I guess I'd heard that one on TV. My mom overheard me, although being from Texas it certainly wasn't the first time she'd heard it.

But it was the first time she'd heard it from me. So she sat me down and explained the origins and the meaning of that word. How it hurt people, and that it was morally wrong. Not just the word, but the attitudes and beliefs behind it.

I've never forgotten that, nor other moments like it that have followed. She is the one that taught me to accept other people for who they are. Both by virtue of what she said, and the way she lived her life.

It took courage to grow up in rural Texas a half-century ago, often surrounded by hate, and tell those people they were wrong. And not just say it; live it. Live your life according to your truth because it's the right thing to do, if not the easy one.

And so when my mom asks me "Why can't you be gay like all the other kids?" It's because I'm not -- and she taught me that's OK. And when she more pleadingly asks "What did I do?" I can simply say, "Everything."

She taught me that it's OK to be different. She taught me to have the courage to do what I need to do -- and stand up to those who don't understand. She taught me to love the differences and contradictions within myself. She taught me to speak for those who can't. She taught me everything I needed to know to transition -- and be happy doing it. Thank you, mom -- and happy Mother's Day.

I couldn't have done it without you.

Love, Bethany