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.
I was the same way in middle school–when the other girls were embracing their curves and assets, I was trying to hide them under bras that would flatten (not enhance) my chest. I wanted short hair, while I was pressured to keep it long. I wanted to focus on my schoolwork and interests, not my looks and boys. (The one thing no one minded were my pursuits in math and science over whatever girls usually get pressured into.) I preferred and identified with Disney heroes over the princesses and heroines. I would sit with my legs open, and they would say I had to with them closed, or that I should “bow like a lady, not a man”. (I had a huge fight with my teacher in kindergarten over that. I still bowed like a guy at the school play.) I wanted to dress in a TUXEDO for prom, not even ladies’ pant suits, but NO ONE would let me; there was money for a dress, but none for a suit.
I never had the language for it till I was 17, but it would take another 10 to be comfortable with the fact I was a guy, not just some butch female or tomboy.
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Cai, thank you so much for sharing your story.
Very well said.
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Roz, it was such a pleasure meeting you for the first time. That night will stick with me for awhile. Love concentrated in one place like that is hard to forget. Your words are wise and as a trans woman and trans activist, I appreciate knowing there are allies and advocates like you in my world. Peace, Char
Thanks, Char! I am glad we met,
Reblogged this on char – inside and commented:
This blog, from my friend Roz Keith, speaks for itself. Her presentation on February 7 was moving and informative. Thanks, Roz, for being so wonderful ~ Char
And the tears fall for those in pain for those fighting to accept who they are and when thy do much of the world tears them apart and the tears fall for an uncaring hypocritical world. May God have mercy on us all!
I am a mother of a FTM who just came out last week. We are 100% supportive and just love and adore our son. It has been very difficult but finding things like this blog is helping tremendously. Thank you so so very much.
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Wow. He just came out a week ago and you are already using male pronouns. Kudos to you. Best of luck on your journey. Thank you for your note! Keep me posted.