Jay Ralko, a young transgender man, took his life. Most knew him as the life of the party. He was fun and funny and always ready for a good time. What many never saw was the dark side. Jay suffered from bi-polar disorder. In December, he left his dog, his apartment and his friends and family without any warning. A hastily scrawled note was left for his roommate asking him to take the dog out.
Last Saturday night Jay’s friends organized an event to celebrate Jay’s life. I was asked to speak. I had never met Jay. I didn’t know his family. I had only recently met a few of his closest friends. They wanted me to speak on behalf of trans allies and share some of our story. Here are my words:
Exactly two years ago, at the age of 14, my son, who is braver than I ever imagined, came out to me. Was I shocked? Not really.
Assigned female at birth, my child was the quintessential tomboy. He preferred denim over lace, Disney heroes vs heroines, tree climbing rather than nail painting…his avatars were always male, his costumes never feminine, flowery or frilly.
When my son began asking to shop in the boys department, our outings often ended in tears. When he showed me pictures of the hair cut he wanted, I was puzzled. When he began to carry himself different and walk with a swagger rather than a sway, I noticed. And, I wondered.
So, when he confessed to me with 100% certainty that he was transgender, I wasn’t shocked.
I was, however, concerned. I was concerned for his future. I was concerned for his health –emotionally, physically and mentally. As a parent, my main goal was to help Hunter achieve this holistic health bull’s eye; if I could do this, then I was confident he would find happiness.
Hunter was only in 8th grade. His friends were blossoming into lovely young women and he wanted to hide behind layers of baggy clothing and boyish attire. I won’t lie to you – the feeling of loss at this point was pretty intense. I felt sad. I was worried. My daughter is not who she appears to be.
So, while I put my calm exterior into high gear, my insides were doing nauseating, emotional gymnastics. I am sure at some point I thought to myself, “why can’t he just be gay? That would be a walk in the park.”
Let me just say, I love my children without reservation. I cannot imagine not loving them. I would go to the ends of the earth for them. But, there is no question that being a parent is one giant unknown. You don’t know who your baby will be; I.Q, eye color, personality, temperament, straight hair or curly – we don’t get to choose any of this… it’s one big surprise.
In fact, there is very little we can choose once we make the choice to be a parent and with that comes significant responsibility. Two years ago, when my some came out as Transgender, I made a conscious choice – because I love him unconditionally, I chose to accept, support, advocate and educate on his behalf and on behalf of others locally, nationally and globally.
I asked Hunter if he could articulate what our support has meant to him. This is what he said, “I am confident about who I am. I am not ashamed to be me.” WOW. This declaration took my breath away.
As a parent, how you react to the news that your child is trans is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. Fortunately, both my kids know that they can come to me with anything. That doesn’t mean that I approve of everything they do or that I don’t get angry. I certainly let them know when they’ve made poor choices — Coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming or gay – well, this is not about choice. From where I stand, the only choice here was how we handled things.
I must confess — I was little nervous about coming here tonight. I didn’t know Jay or his family. And, I only recently met a few of the FtMDetroit guys. As it turns out, we discovered some common connections in the community – apparently, it’s a small trans* world.
Truly, I am honored and humbled to speak to all of you tonight. My heart aches for each of you. You’ve lost a son, a friend, a brother – a cherished member of the community.
We have been very open about our journey for about a year now. The decision was made as a family that education was the key to creating awareness and acceptance. If we could save a life by telling our story we will have succeeded. As cliché as it sounds, it does take a village.
Following the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn, who did not receive the support and understanding she so desperately needed, we created Ally Moms. The message and premise is simple. Even if your own mom isn’t there for you, there are moms out there who have lots of love to give. Ally Moms is a group of about 60 women who are mothers of transgender individuals from all over the country including Canada and the UK. We are receiving texts and calls from trans teens and young adults as well as other moms who are struggling to help their kids.