A while back I made a statement that I felt very sure of. Today I am retracting my statement and offering an apology. When my son told me he was transgender (FTM), I was surprised to hear those words spoken by him. However, I wasn’t shocked. There had been little signs all along and more recently, lots of signals – like cutting off his hair and asking to shop in the boys’ department. As we stepped off the starting block and inched along on our journey I began to meet parents who told me they were SHOCKED by their child’s confession.
“How could that be?” I wondered. Surely, when one reflects back and starts put together all those little pieces, signs, and nagging intuitions, the result is one big message; a billboard of sorts, screaming “how could you have missed this?”
I have always believed that if a parent is tuned in to their children they would never miss something so important.
The other day I had the privilege of talking with a woman who just found out that her daughter wants to be male. Her “girlie, long-haired, pink skirt-wearing” child can no longer live in secret. Anna* was SHOCKED. Listening to her anguished, desperate account of the prior week, where her daughter spent several days in the psychiatric unit on suicide watch, I knew I had been wrong. There had been no signs.
Now, Anna did tell me that her daughter has suffered from depression since an early age. Perhaps this was the red warning flag. Tatum* didn’t have the words or understanding or ability to articulate what was going on. Most likely, the root of her depression was that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. Her vocabulary didn’t include the word “transgender.”
As a side note, one of the reasons we chose to tell our story publicly was to be a resource for others. It was our hope that by coming forward in our community, at least one family would be helped. Anna told me that while in the hospital, Tatum asked to read Hunter’s story. Never having met us, Anna had no idea how Tatum even knew about Hunter or the recent article that ran in the Detroit Jewish News. Not having their own subscription, they googled the story and were able to print it out, delivering words to their daughter that would bring a source of comfort and hope.
After spending quite a bit of time speaking to Anna, I realized that it is possible to be caught entirely off guard. It is possible to love your child so much that you become deaf and blind to anything that is a bit “off.” We often think, “they march to their own drum,” or “they just aren’t that social,” or any other phrases that make allowances for our children’s differences.
So, I am sorry. I am sorry for making a judgment and pretending to know what goes on in another family. We do the best we can to love and provide and nurture and educate. As parents, we learn as we go. We don’t always have all the answers. As friends and community members we need to reach out and support each other, sharing the knowledge we do have so we can raise stronger families.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of this family