I've been thrust into the role of a defender of my newly-out Transgender son from the usual people you would expect -- well-meaning relatives, people who need a bit of education. However, as a long-time supporter of the gay community, I have been saddened by a minority of responses he has gotten and I'm compelled to share our story.
Recently, we were at a vigil for the shooting victims at the in Orlando, and I introduced my son to a gay gentleman that I’d met earlier in the evening.
He stared at my son, and said, “Your son. Right. Whatever you say.” I was stunned. He went on (I was not processing words at this point) and indicated that he knew my son is a girl, but “whatever."
Of course, my son was upset.
After the vigil we talked. He was so sad. I tried to explain but couldn’t understand myself, so I did a bad job of it.
This morning, I posted in my Parents of Trans support group and the response was electric. This was the experience of many, many Trans people. In some cases, the gay community was outright transphobic.
Here’s what I wished I could have said to that man:
Being Transgender is not a decision any more than a decision to prefer sexual partners of one gender or another. We don’t decide what turns us on, we don’t decide who we are inside. We just are.
However, transgender is different in one major way--our kids didn’t hit puberty and realize that they preferred partners of the same sex. (I realize some homosexuals figure it out earlier, but allow me this for argument’s sake).
Being Transgender is not a decision any more than a decision to prefer sexual partners of one gender or another.
Many of our kids who were AFAB* tore off their pink dresses at age 2. Insisted they were boys from age three, sometimes crying in frustration. I remember my kid screaming and crying, “I’m a boy! I’m a boy!” at age 4, in utter despair. It hurts to think back on it.
They played boy games in the dirt, shot guns, hated dolls (I once had to rescue an American Girl doll that had been hung up by its hair as a POW in my “girl’s” room) and got into big trouble at age 6 for insisting on going into the boys’ restroom because that’s where they knew they belonged.
Our kids wore swim trunks with no shirt until age 9, when well-meaning relatives made it so uncomfortable that they forced themselves into a T shirt, even though there were no breasts.
At age 10, tired of being called a “lesbo” at his super progressive, run-by-a-lesbian couple school, he forced himself into being a girl. Even wore dresses occasionally. NEVER EVER wore pink of course, but used the girls’ bathroom as he was told. Allowed himself to be called “she” and “her”.
That’s when the depression began. My bright, happy, incredibly joyful child became moody and withdrawn. This child, who of my three children, was the beacon of joy, the happiest child I ever knew, underwent a personality change that frightened me. I felt them slipping away.
By age 12 my kid bore the scars of the self-mutilator. Age 14 my kid was suicidal.
Why didn’t I respond? I thought I was. I didn’t understand. As a supporter of gay rights from childhood (my parents were activists) I thought I understood LGBT issues. I figured my kid was a confused lesbian, which didn’t bother me at all--I remember a conversation about them being a lesbian, and I said, “I don’t care who you love, just so long as they love you and treat you like the amazing person you are.”
He is not a lesbian. He is not gay. He is transgender. And so, so happy to be acknowledged as the male that he is...
I didn’t understand when despite all of my support my child became more and more depressed. It was like watching the brightest bonfire of joy be snuffed out, stick by stick, until nothing was left but a miasma of smoky depression. I did not recognize this person living in my house. I was terrified of losing my baby.
Two months ago, my child came out as Transgender. I was a bit shocked--initially. I mean, I’ve always supported human rights, but I’d never thought through the “T” in LGBT. And, I was losing my only daughter. Me, the big supporter of the rise of the Divine Feminine.
But the more I remembered the childhood, the insistence on being a boy, the more it made sense.
I wouldn’t say it was a straightforward task of acceptance... I had a lot of work to do to understand, as I’d always lumped trans people in with gay and lesbian people, and I had to really come to grips with it, but then something happened.
My beacon of joy came back.
The kid I had missed so desperately, who fills my life with joy and laughter and gasps of recognition when he says something that you would expect from an 80 year old enlightened buddhist monk, not a 16 year old kid, was back.
As we’ve cautiously navigated our new relationship, he as a boy and me as a mom of three boys and no girls, that person that I remember so well is with me again.
He is not a lesbian. He is not gay. He is transgender. And so, so happy to be acknowledged as the male that he is -- the happiest I’ve ever seen him is when a clerk in a store called him by his appropriate pronoun.
My child, my friend, this amazing person who is going to light up the world with his joy, is back and that is all I care about.
Please accept him. Examine what you believe about transgender people. They are not confused homosexuals. They are humans who simply know exactly who they are inside and who have the courage, the incredible strength, to express who they are no matter what anyone says.
*AFAB: Assigned Female At Birth
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.