Eight years ago, in May of 2011, my middle child publicly came out as transgender. During the couple of months prior to that life-changing Facebook post my son, Grayson, my husband, David, and I had been telling family and close friends the news. Together we had made a list of the people we wanted to tell personally, and divided up the task of telling between the three of us.
The people I was most worried about telling were my parents. They were 85 years old, very conservative, and my mom was already showing signs of dementia. It was getting harder for her to come up with the words she needed to carry on a conversation, and I could also see that the quality of her handmade quilts – formerly flawless and hand pieced – was starting to decline. I arranged for my sister to be in town so that she could help answer any of their questions, and went over to my parent’s house. I decided to tell them when Grayson wasn’t there, in case they blurted out anything hurtful before they had time to process the news. I was worried that if they said anything hurtful, Grayson wouldn’t be able to forget it, and it would diminish his relationship with my parents.
I shouldn’t have worried. My dad had a lot of questions, but he reaffirmed his love for Grayson and worked hard to use his new name and pronouns. Because of her dementia, the new name and pronouns were hard for my mom, but she too used “Grayson,” “he,” and “grandson” most of the time thereafter. She proudly displayed pictures of Grayson around their house along with photos of their other grandkids and great-grandkids. Both of them continued to ask about Grayson, and how he was doing, as often as they asked about my other boys.
The greatest show of support from my mom came from her quilts. The first time Grayson went to visit his grandparents after he had transitioned, my mom was working on a quilt with white sashing and blocks in shades of indigo. Earlier that day Grayson and I had been talking about redecorating his room to get rid of the horrible pepto-bismol-pink walls and carpet and give it a more traditionally masculine style. Grayson saw the quilt my mom was working on, and said, “I want my room to look like that!”
Motivated by Grayson’s enthusiasm, my mom worked feverishly on the quilt. It took her less than a month to finish it, and when it was done she gave it to him, along with two other smaller quilts she had created earlier. She thought they would all look good together in his new bedroom. We picked paint, carpet and bedding to match those quilts, and the room turned out beautifully. Even now, eight years later, those three quilts decorate the walls of Grayson’s room. Both of my parents passed away in 2016, but anytime Grayson looks around that room he can be reminded of his Grandmother’s love and support for him as he transitioned.
I sometimes meet parents or grandparents who complain about how hard it is to use a new name and pronouns for their transgender child or grandchild, as though it being difficult is an excuse for them to not make the effort. I want to tell them, “Yes, it is hard at first, but we do hard things for the people we love. From age 85 until she died at 91—as dementia gradually stole her ability to speak—my mother worked hard to call my son ‘Grayson.’ It did take effort for her, but she made the effort because she loved her grandchild. If she did it, so can you.”