There are moments in parenting I assumed were inevitable – things I looked forward to as markers of being a mom, not just of my kid’s growth. Stuff like their first steps and first words, saying goodbye as I dropped them off at their first home away from me, and the opportunity to hang out as adults. But, “I am not (insert child’s name here). I am (insert opposite gender version of name here)” and, “I want boy/girl clothes (whichever gender does NOT match their child’s genitalia)” weren’t things I thought I’d hear. Neither was, “Mom, I’m transgender.”
This blog has always been about what is on my mind; from talking about life as a cancer survivor to the places and events that have impacted me, this has always been where I have told the truth and learned out loud. But I have been leaving something out – a secret I was keeping that was so big I was no longer able to write until I wrote about it:
BOTH my adult children are transgender.
Before you shake you head and mutter about this being a trend or another way to be “alternative,” you need to know that I am starting in the middle of the story – well over 20 years in. This didn’t come about because my kids live in Portland and you’d consider them “hipsters”. We’ve been dealing with this long before gender identity became a such a buzz-phrase that television specials and magazine covers talked about it. From the time they were toddlers, I’ve known who they were inside would never match societal expectations based on how they presented on the outside. And it shaped every moment of my parenting.
You are not the only one to have to catch up this part of my life. Even people intimately connected to my son and daughter and I are just now finding out – maybe by reading this. Don’t take it personally. The unraveling of The Secret and the freedom and fears built into the process of release is challenging for all of us.
My kids are excited – they finally get to step into their own, the world is new to them. They have always longed for the opportunity to be their true selves – something most of the rest of us can never image being separated from. As adults “coming out” in their mid-to-late twenties, they still have their struggles, but they finally see a bright future ahead of them and are excited to get there.
I, on the other hand, have a different experience. My entire adult life has been about protecting them and teaching them how to honor themselves in a world that wasn’t ready to accept gender variant people. While they move forward eagerly, I’m learning to accept the fruits of my parenting and stand back. What was once about actively pushing through the odds of debilitating depression, anxiety, and over 40% rate of suicidality in trans kids is now about standing aside to be an ally.
I am not always “good” at this: I mix up pronouns, use old names (called “dead-naming”), and get tired of the entire thing being a THING. In the past three years, I ran away to Ireland and refused to think about it for a whole month – twice.
I am not one of these moms who acts as if it is hip to have a trans or gender non-conforming kid. I love and accept my kids unconditionally, but this has been fucking hard, not some great adventure in parenting. There is a lot I would do differently if I could go back. I have found myself lacking and haven’t always been proud of how I have handled it. I have weird feelings of guilt and sometimes even embarrassment about their “issues”. I am scared A LOT. But loving my kids and fighting tooth and nail for the lives THEY want – not the ones I dreamt for them – has never been in question.
If you don’t want to learn, stop reading. Unfriend me. Don’t bother to debate the “right” or “wrong” of this with me. I don’t care what you have to say unless you are trying to understand in a supportive way. Ask me questions – answering them so my kids don’t have to is part of my job as an ally. I know it isn’t easy to wrap your brain around – I’ve had years to adapt and I don’t expect you to get it overnight. I know you will make mistakes or say the wrong thing and I understand. It’s okay as long as you are trying. It’s just that for the safety of my family, you are either on board or not. Simple as that.
Every day, for more than 20 years, I have been afraid of close minded, scared people who think they have the right to control how my kids live their lives. But I also have that many, many, years of discovering hope and love too – I have watched my kids become better, stronger, more compassionate adults than I ever hoped for, and I have been surprised at how many people have shown themselves to be the same.
My family is weird – I get that. But, I think we are weird in a good way. I hope that someday being trans won’t be a Big Secret for so many – it will just be a thing that shows how beautifully diverse we are. I hope you are a part of that change and learn as I write about mothering through it.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out – you and your experience are valued:
Crisis Intervention/Suicide Prevention
The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 (online chat available)
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741
Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline: (888) 843-4564
The GLBT National Youth Talkline (youth serving youth through age 25): (800) 246-7743
Both provide telephone, online private one-to-one chat and email peer-support, as well as factual information and local resources for cities and towns across the United States.
For Parental Support:
PLAG Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has 400 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.