It’s been two years since my “daughter” became my “son”. In that time, nothing has changed about him. He’s still the smart, funny, thoughtful, crazy music-loving, protective older sibling, he’s always been. He’s my child, and I love him. The only thing that has changed about him is that he’s a new adult. I’m the one who has changed. I was the one who needed to.
You see, what I had accepted was the fact that my “daughter” was a lesbian. She - at the time - revealed this to me when she was 14 or 15. What I had not considered was the fact that my daughter might want to move in the world differently; and that she might view herself as someone other than a young woman who happened to love other young women. So, a few years later when my “son” was ready to embrace his true identity, I inadvertently closed the door to the safe space where he could speak with me openly and honestly about his feelings. For that, I will always feel sorrow.
Parents Take a Journey
When a child reveals their feelings around being transgender, I’m sure that there are some parents who accept it immediately. However, I also get the feeling that most parents are like me, we must go on a personal journey first in order to reach acceptance.
What was different was the fact that I had to acknowledge that this was MY child feeling this way, and there was nothing that I could do to change that. I could not make him be who I wanted him to be.
Here was my reality. I’d given birth to two beautiful, healthy little girls. My ex-husband and I had raised and socialized our two “rug rats” as little girls – albeit a bit tomboyish, but what little girl isn’t? Plus, it wasn’t like I was unfamiliar with interacting with people who had felt like they were raised as the wrong gender. I had friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors and others who also knew this struggle and I always tried my best to support them. What was different was the fact that I had to acknowledge that this was MY child feeling this way, and there was nothing that I could do to change that. I could not make him be who I wanted him to be. Yet, here’s a news flash about parenting: even if he had remained a cisgender straight female, I still could not have achieved this. A child is an individual with their own thoughts, ideas and sense of identity. They are born that way. He, she or they are going to be exactly who they want to be anyway.
It didn’t matter to her whether her sibling was her “sister” or her “brother”.
Our youngest child, my daughter, was the first to reach acceptance. Maybe it’s something naturally encoded in the younger generations, but she understood that “love” is “love”. It didn’t matter to her whether her sibling was her “sister” or her “brother”. She helped me a lot on my journey, and by doing this, she helped me re-establish that safe space for her brother to re-enter. But, there’s one other thing that my youngest child helped me to understand: why I felt the way that I did and how to extract positive lessons from my experiences.
1. Your child’s gender and identity selection is not about you. It’s about them. As parents, we tend to think about such a decision only in terms of how it makes us feel as parents. We forget that there is a living, breathing person who must re-order their entire lives in this new reality.
2. Having the love and support of family matters. The moment when my child revealed his new identity to family members and friends on Facebook, no less, not a single relative or friend said anything negative. They assured him that he was respected, supported and loved and that’s all any parent can ask for. Or in the loving words of my older brother, “Can I still call you ‘sweetheart’?”
3. Other people’s opinions are unimportant. The first thing some other people want to do is try to project their own feelings and biases on you as the parent by saying things like, 'I’m sure you must feel like you did something wrong; you didn’t dress her up enough as a girl?’, or some other incredibly insensitive statement. In the famous words of my own mother, “they need to go and get some business,” and leave your family alone. Your only job is to support and protect your child. No matter how they choose to project themselves to the world, they are still the very same person you’ve known them to be and raised them to be.
4. It’s okay to become hypersensitive to the new world in which your child now inhabits. As a Black-American parent, it’s also an intersectional issue for me as well. I realized just how much so during a visit with my son’s transitioning counselor, because that’s when my truth and fear emerged. I knew how to protect little black girls in this world, I had been one. Although, I know how dangerous the world can be for little black girls, but it’s often even more sinister for black boys. I felt relieved to not have little black boys to worry about, but now I did.
The bottom line to this is as parents, any earth-shattering decisions that our children make require us to go on a journey to acceptance. It’s kinda like experiencing the Five Stages of Grief. But you know what else? If we love our children and we really want to understand them and grow with them, we don’t just learn acceptance, we fully embrace it.