It was the summer of 2021. An entire year of virtual school due to Covid had just wrapped up and my child was struggling. Anxiety and depression had invaded our home and all of us — myself, my husband, my father who was diagnosed with dementia and was now in our care, and my 14 year old child were all just barely getting through each day. One evening, after I had wrapped up most of my work and was finishing up my last bits of email and slack, my child came and sat next to me on the couch. With their head bent and eyes looking down, they quietly said, “Mom, I think I’m a girl.”
Immediately I felt a whirlwind of mixed emotions. “Stay calm” my inner voice kept telling me as so many thoughts raced through my mind. “This is probably a phase; They are just confused; They learned this on Instagram and don’t understand what they are saying; I can’t deal with another big change happening in my life, please not now!”…. But I kept that all to myself.
Along with all my fear, worry, and confusion, I also felt an immense feeling of compassion for her and an immediate need to protect her and let her know it was going to be okay. How blessed was I that my child trusted me so much to tell me her biggest secret? I decided at that moment to be stronger than ever, to put on a brave face, stay calm, and to just love her. I let her know that I loved her so much no matter what. At that moment she knew, she would be transitioning with me right by her side.
But inside I was so conflicted, and this was the hardest part. With the rise of anti-trans legislation throughout the US and the backlash against trans rights all I could feel inside was complete dread. What if she isn’t accepted? What if someone hurts her? What if she hurts herself? It was all too much.
So I got help.
I talked to my most-trusted friends. They listened to me complain, worry, and talk through my concerns, but mainly were fiercely protective of her. “Even if she’s not around, you have to start using the proper pronouns” they told me. I am so grateful that they held me accountable while also supporting me and letting me process it all. “Just follow her lead,” they said. So that is what I did.
In the following days, my daughter told me her chosen name, asked me to paint her nails, and asked if we could buy feminine clothes. I’ll never forget how she would cling to me in public those initial days out in the world as a girl. It was like having a toddler again in some ways. But I took so much pride in being her protector – mom’s not gonna let anything happen to you.
At the same time, I was processing my grief. My phone kept taunting me with old photo memories of my child before her transition. She asked me not to use her “dead name.” I was hurting so much because that child was my baby. My therapist told me I was allowed to grieve. I was definitely walking a line between being supportive and grieving who I had thought my child was. At this point, I reached out to PFLAG for help. PFLAG is the first and largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families. It was so comforting to meet parents who were in the same situation as me. Most of the meeting we spent telling each other our stories and allowing each other to cry. People don’t really talk about this part in the community. As allies, we don’t want to be disrespectful, but it’s normal and you have to let yourself go through the grief in order to truly be there for your child as they transition.
Although he did not like to acknowledge the grief, my husband showed support in other ways. He would take her shopping for dresses, tell her she looked pretty and was always sure to correct himself if he used the wrong pronouns. We were in this transition together.
My nieces and nephews immediately accepted their cousin’s transition with little to no questions. That Christmas, my sister gave my daughter makeup as a gift. Cards arrived in the mail for her addressed with her chosen name from our extended family. It was starting to feel like it was going to be okay.
Two years have passed since my child came out to me, and so much has changed. She started a new high school and has made friends with an ambitious group of talented kids that adore her. I’ve watched in awe as she has navigated her teen years with passion and determination. From singing in chorus, to playing in band, debating in Model UN, joining the National Honor Society, and being the founder of the film club at school – my girl is thriving. I’m so thankful to our friends, family, and community who have supported and accepted us. I hope they all know how wonderful they are.
Today, I’m proud that my daughter knows who she is and has the freedom to be herself. I realize this is a privilege that not all children have, and so does she. This experience has given me hope. I know we can read about the fear-mongering and the bigoted legislation being passed. The hateful rhetoric is hard to stomach, let alone comprehend. But I do believe more people than not are accepting. More people than not have love in their hearts. More people than not understand that being authentic, being who you really are is freedom. I read this quote the other day that put it perfectly– “your responsibility as a parent is not to raise a straight child or a cis child. It is to raise a happy child.” It’s simple, but that belief has become my north star and I’m very proud to have followed it.
This piece was written and published with permission from my daughter.
If you or anyone you know needs help or support navigating a loved one’s transition, please contact PFLAG at plfag.org