A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of presenting a writer’s workshop to parents of transgender kids. “Telling your story, one moment at a time,” was the title. The purpose of the conference session was to help parents find the space to acknowledge their own journey.
Ally parents are their child’s staunchest advocates. They rush to fix, mend, support and rescue. It often becomes too much about shepherding their offspring along a journey without paying any attention to what is happening along their own parallel path.
The experience with this amazing group of people was incredibly moving, impactful and powerful. For some, they had never been able to share their story with anyone. The tears flowed easily but not without pain as they imagined the little moments that touched them along their journey as their child transitioned.
Last night, as I was wasting time on Facebook, I had one of those moments. As I began the final countdown to Hunter’s homecoming and thinking about how much I was beginning to miss him, a photograph showed up on my newsfeed. It was a picture of Hunter (actually Olivia) from four summers ago, at camp with one of his best friends; looking back at me is this beautiful child flashing a carefree grin. This freedom can only be known by those who embrace, love and can’t live without overnight summer camp. Seeing this picture was a “take my breath away” kind of moment.
As much as I’ve accepted Hunter’s transition and never really looked back or grieved, coming face to face with my camper’s happy, go-lucky image gave me pause. Parenting Olivia was difficult. She was complicated and angry and emotionally distant. Often, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got lost in rage and sadness. There were times that I was so incapable of keeping it together that I thought my heart would beat itself right out of my chest.
Other parents of transgender children talk about grieving the child left behind. I understand it, but can’t relate. Rather, I find sadness that I have a child that had to live hidden for such a long time. I wistfully wonder what our journey would be like if Olivia didn’t have to suffer the indignity of going through a puberty she didn’t want; a puberty that belied her identity.
Perhaps, I don’t grieve the loss of this daughter because what I got in return is so much better.
That photograph, though, was wonderful and strange all at the same time. She looked comfortable, relaxed, happy; in her element. There was no hint of dysphoria or discontent. I searched her face for some sign that things were not right; some sign that gender identity and anatomical sex were misaligned.
Nothing. Not one inkling that this smiling face was hiding a locked chest of secrets that would remain hidden for two more years.
Four years ago (almost to the day) I was waiting for a different child to come home from camp.
That was a wonderful story. Thank you so much. I needed to read something exactly like that today.
My journey has not been easy and my daughter was a lot like yours. My son still seems depressed and we are seeking counseling now. I just want to cry all of the time.
Your story gives me hope.
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I glad that I can be of some help. It is a very individual journey but we do need each other for support. Keep me posted and let me know how I can help.
I emailed this but I want to post it here too.
I recently found your blog and have caught up on all of your posts. I look forward to following your journey.
The child I knew for 25 1/2 years as my daughter told me back in October that he was my son. Looking back now, it really makes sense out of a lot of things. He’s known since he was 4, but didn’t know what to say or do about it. When puberty hit, he repressed all of the feelings and just did his best to live in the body he was born in.
After he graduated from college in 2012, he decided to work at some random jobs for a few years before going on to grad or med school. His looks began to change. He started binding, cut his hair and got rid of all of the female clothing he owned. He works at a clothing store in the mall, and was able to buy male clothing there. Being transgender never crossed my mind. I just assumed ‘she’ was lesbian. I knew there were some issues, because he alternated between being very angry and moody and depressed. We begged him to tell us what was wrong so we could help. When he finally came out to us, it was like the weight of the word was lifted from him. His friends and co-workers already knew.
It was only this Spring that he told us his new name and requested the he/him pronouns. We are saving for top surgery. He’s not sure right now about when he wants to start taking T.
We live in a small southern town and he doesn’t want anyone here to know because he is afraid of harassment and violence. We live in the middle of the Bible Belt, so being LBGT isn’t exactly welcomed. He works in a nearby big city and that’s where his friends live. He doesn’t even what to go ahead and change his name because we know the judge personally.
I want so much to be an advocate for him, but since he doesn’t want anyone to know it’s hard. I feel so disrespectful to him when people ask how my daughter is doing. I hate having to pretend ‘she’ is fine. I think when people who knew him as a girl do see him, looking like a teenage boy, they assume he’s lesbian.
Anyway, I’m sorry to ramble on. I just want to thank you for this blog and the support you have already given me. I look forward to any advice an words of wisdom as we journey on the path we’ve been given. I love him unconditionally and will do whatever I can to make sure he becomes the person he was born to be.
You are an amazing mom and am so glad that your son finally confided in you. Keep doing what you are doing.