By Brandon Connolly
It took a moment for the tears to roll down my cheek. Thick, hot tears that hurt as they formed under my eyes. So many thoughts swirled through my head. Did my parents mean their words that had hurt me to the core? Do I not have a family anymore? Is this my life now? Am I alone?
I was meant to be transgender. What an odd sentence that is. Wasn’t I meant to be a….man? Yes! But my path to becoming a man – a transgender man – feels premeditated without my consent. Call it God, the Divine Spirit, the Universe, Allah, or just plain luck, but I look back at my life very aware that my transgender experience was always meant to be. I was always meant to be who I am. And my journey had to start being both female and disabled.
I was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome. My mom’s inner amniotic sac fell apart around her second trimester during pregnancy with me. String-like remnants of my mother’s womb floated with me, undetected, wrapping around my left leg and several other digits. This slowly cut off the circulation that was vital to my developing body. The doctors first noticed what had happened only after I was born. Medical technology could only do so much in 1994. So here I was! Seconds old and already faced with challenges ahead of me.
But let me just say, I never would’ve been as determined to be myself if it weren’t for my parents, especially my mom. My mom has always had a caring, kind and free spirit and her attitude towards my childhood ambitions was always, “That’s just who she is! That’s my girl!” I felt so liberated in her view of my independent spirit and how I expressed myself. Anyone who met me as the strong-willed child I was would receive ashrug and a head tilt from my mother as a disclaimer. So being an amputee didn’t slow me down or strike me as different. My parents had built up my confidence for challenges to come. And come they did.
Children can be so…curiously honest. Little jerks, really. I was at times bombarded with questions, glares, and sometimes even mean names. Looking back, I’m actually grateful to have gone through this as a child because now I enjoy questions. I rarely notice stares. And mean names are a reflection of the speaker’s character, not mine. This has translated very well into my adult life as a transgender person and LGBTQ+ activist in my town. But it took a long time to get to that point.
I remember a neighbor girl I would play with who called me a “freak”. It was the first time anyone had ever called me thatname and it stung. I ran home crying and told my mom how much that hurt my feelings. She called the neighbor girl’s mom and they were both over at the house with an apology by the end of the day. I learned not to tolerate hate and ignorance in little moments like that.
My parents’ desperation regarding me started when I was around fifteen, I think. My parents noticed my disinterest in boys, make up, women’s clothing, and other stereotypical girl things. Oh, and I loathed my breasts. In general, I wasoutwardly depressed and they knew it. I wanted to scream that something was wrong! But I didn’t know what that “thing” was or have a word for it. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my inner turmoil. I had been sitting on this uncomfortably familiar feeling since I was four or five and I still didn’t have the words at fifteen.
Because of my inability to communicate my gender dysphoria, my parents tried their best to help in ways they thought might. Mom tried a little harder to persuade me to wear that cute skirt she bought for me at the mall. It seemed every female in my life tried to put me in a chair to do my makeup. But my least favorite experience in that time was my one and only perm. My parents had the good intention of suggesting that I get a perm. It would teach me how to take care of myself. Maybe I’dfeel prettier and it would give me confidence. Ew. No thanks.But after a couple weeks it appeared I didn’t have a choice. Desperation was my dad’s accomplice as he carried me into the car kicking, screaming, and crying. My unrecognized dysphoria overwhelmed me as I continued to cry in the salon chair. I hated that perm and did everything I could over the next week to rinse and brush it out. Hair damage was a risk I was willing to take for a sense of control.
I look back on that memory with a lot of sadness. Not because my parents forced me into a situation I didn’t want to be in, but because they tried their best and I STILL couldn’t mindfully explain why it wouldn’t work.
One semester of college, a series of depressive episodes, intensive study on gender dysphoria and a personal epiphany later – I was sitting in my dad’s car…explaining to him why I felt transgender at 22 years old. The man who raised me, encouraged me, and inspired me throughout my life was suddenly angry and ashamed of me. I’ll skip quoting the hurtful things said on that car ride, but the essence of it was negative. The next day, talking to my mom wasn’t any different. All my life my parents had blessed the nurturing of my authenticity. But in sharing with them who I was I felt they couldn’t accept me. I felt so betrayed and lied to! I genuinely came to feel that because my parents didn’t accept me as their transgender child that I was broken, unwanted, and unloved.
My struggle to be me over the next three years was exhausting and invalidating. I was allowed to some family events, but not with extended family. I could see my siblings but not talk to them about my transgender identity or the process of my transition. I could come visit, but not correct my family on my pronouns or new name. Every visit, every text, every “I love you” was becoming too much. I couldn’t take it anymore. My mom texted me for my 25th birthday asking me what I wanted for dinner and what time I would be over. Tradition. “Mom, I’m not coming over for dinner.” I explained how the misnaming, incorrect pronouns, and hiding me from others washurtful and would eventually push me away permanently. She listened and opened up about her feelings, too. It was a unique and difficult conversation to have. We went to dinner that night and I think it was the first time my parents started calling me Brandon.
I couldn’t have had those difficult conversations with my parents and others without my mom’s own life lessons of standing up for myself and being authentic. Our relationship couldn’t be where it is today without her guidance through a completely different part of who I am – as an amputee.
Our mutual vulnerability has sparked ongoing conversations, questions, and relationship growth. Healing from the mistakes and misjudgments my parents have made has been less angry and more joyful. We’ve now gone back to the root of the matter – that I’m just being me. I am who I am. Accompanied by my mom’s signature shrug and a head tilt.