Updated: Aug 17
By Olivia Petersen
To say we didn’t see this coming is a huge understatement.
It was obvious to us that our oldest had been struggling through adolescence and young adulthood, as it was to everyone else. It was painful as parents, to watch our child struggle with an invisible weight for so many years and to feel unable to help. There were so many attempts at counseling to try and troubleshoot the source of her anxiety and depression. Never once did it occur to me that THIS was her invisible struggle. So, when our 19-year old came and sat on our bed that Sunday morning and said she had something to share with my husband and I, I was ready. So ready. I honestly thought I was ready to handle ANYTHING she could possibly throw at us.
She sat on our bed in silent agony for what seemed like forever ¬– trying to make the words come out of her mouth. I was in anguish for her. “Just tell us honey. You can tell us anything. We will love you no matter what.” She finally took a deep breath and said, “I gave myself a deadline of today to tell you. It’s not bad – it’s neutral. I have given this a lot of thought. I need you to NOT question me. I need you just to listen and hear me.” What wasn’t said was that she hoped for our love. She hoped for our support.
And then she shared her truth. “I experience considerable gender dysphoria. I am transgender, and I will be transitioning to female.” And for a long second, my brain broke. Processing… processing… I have a transgender child… processing… processing… processing. My wonderful, amazing, unphased husband chimed right in with, “Wow –OK! That’s great. We love you no matter what.” After my brain rebooted, I remember giving her a big hug. “Nothing could change how much I love you. Thank you for sharing this with us.” Then she left our room.
I remember asking her two questions later that day. I asked if she had a new name, if she wanted us to use it, and if she wanted us to use new pronouns yet. “Yes, I’ve thought about a new name. Probably Cadence. I thought it would be easy to change it from Caden to Cadence. And no, I don’t want you to use it yet. I’m not ready. I don’t want any of my sisters to know – just you and dad for now.” How clever. “I love the name. We’ll respect whatever timeline you have. We will keep this information safe. You know your sisters are already awesome allies, right? I know they’ll embrace you!”
My second question came after I spent a few hours imagining the child I had raised for 19 years as a boy, now becoming feminine. She humored me. I queried, “OK… on the scale of femininity, from Ellen DeGeneres to Kim Kardashian, where do you think you’ll land?” My daughter replied, “I just want to be me.” Of course… you will just be you.
Pure. Simple. Beautiful. Brave. Honest. This is my kid. She’s always had these qualities.
What came after that morning was a lot of processing on my end. My heart was full of so much love for my daughter, but my mind was so full of fears. Jumping days and years down the road to how she will be accepted by her siblings, extended family, peers, employers, professors, relationships. Will this road lead to happiness, or will it lead to more pain? It would be a life of compromise. But my heart answered my brain and reminded me that the first 19 years had already been a life of compromise – a compromise that was at times nearly catastrophic.
Cadence had given me permission to reach out and talk to a few people I trusted, one of whom was my sister in California. She listened as I cried. I cried because my paradigm had completely been blown up. I cried for fear that I was losing my son and I couldn’t conceive of what I was gaining yet. I cried out of fear that my own sister, my own family, my best friends – may not accept my daughter, the way we have chosen to accept and love her. My sister reminded me that her sister-in-law lived close to us in Salt Lake City, and that she and her wife had fostered a transgender child. They would know where to go to find support. My sister asked if she could reach out to them. The next day I got an email with a list of resources from them. On the top of the list of resources to connect with was “Join the Mama Dragons Facebook group!!!” And I did – three days into my new paradigm. How blessed I’ve been to have found such a community of loving moms who lend support, and create a safe place to process all the changes that this year has brought… from my fears to all my joy!
There have been many chapters this past year. The chapter where my husband and I held this information “in the vault”. The chapter where we found a good counselor. The chapter where Cadence had her first visit with a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) specialist. The chapter where she was ready for her sisters to know, and for us to start using her new name and pronouns. The chapter where we shopped for a new wardrobe and went to our first PRIDE events. The chapter where she came out to work and we came out to extended family and friends. And the chapter that followed which was full of so much relief, fueled in part by the love and acceptance she has received.
Throughout all these chapters, I witnessed firsthand the metamorphosis of my daughter, slowly coming out of her shell, becoming her authentic self at every step. At times it would take a second for my brain to catch up with my heart, but through every stage, the fear I once felt was replaced with joy as I slowly got my witty, happy, confident child back. She is thriving at work, thriving in college, thriving in relationships, and thriving in our family.
In short, this year has been a sacred miracle to behold. It has taught me that unconditional love is the healing balm of life. For love to be a salve, it must be free of the toxic ingredient that is judgement. Such love changes lives. It provides fertile ground for all in the garden to flourish. I will forever be grateful to my daughter for teaching me this kind of love.