My first step on this journey came when my youngest child and I were eating dinner one fall evening. Homecoming was around the corner, and my kid asked me to go dress shopping. This wouldn’t have been remarkable, except that for 16 years I had considered this child my son, and I was confused. “Why would you want a dress?” I asked. “And what does your girlfriend think about it?” My kid just shrugged and said it would be fun to dress up and that it’s dumb that some clothes are only for girls. “What about a kilt?” I asked. “I’ll buy you a kilt and it’ll be original and cool and that will be great!”
My kid’s headshake and doubtful look told me that I wasn’t getting it. And I wasn’t. I had no idea what was going on or why this was coming up now. I was afraid - afraid my kid would be embarrassed or teased or physically hurt, and if I’m being honest, afraid I would be embarrassed. Because what was I going to say to someone who asked me why my kid was dressed that way?
At the time, my kid communicated that there was a curiosity about clothing and makeup and that there was no question about gender, it was just expression. I struggled with this - are there just boys who wear dresses? Is that a thing? But I came back to something that I have told both of my kids their entire lives - there is nothing you can do that would ever make me stop loving you. When I started saying that, I envisioned underage drinking or petty crime or just basic adolescent poor decision making. So I asked myself - was I lying to my kids this whole time? Was my promise to love and support them no matter what so fragile that it couldn’t endure a skirt and some eyeshadow?
We started going shopping together in the girls' section. I gave makeup tutorials and we discussed shaving legs. I periodically would check in, “Are you questioning your gender? Is this just a form of expression?” My kid would say, “I’m just trying things out. I think it’s fun.” I hoped it was a phase that would pass eventually, or that my kid would turn out to be an eccentric musician or artist, and that this would all make sense in the future.
Senior year of high school came and my kid said “I think I might be trans.” And as much as I possibly should have seen this coming, or I should have instantly been okay with it, I struggled. What would this mean? If my kid wanted to change pronouns and go by a different name, this would be something that the whole world would have to learn about. It wasn’t about a particular wardrobe anymore, but about who my kid was. Anyway, I thought, can you even realize you’re trans when you’re 18? Isn’t that something that kids understand about themselves much earlier? In theory, I had no issue with young children who asked to be identified as another gender or name. I always thought - how can you argue with that? No one gave them that idea, it’s just who they are. I had a difficult time applying that same argument to my own life. I overlooked the 3 years of high school that my kid had been questioning and experimenting and working on self-understanding.
I told my kid, “I’ll try to use the right pronouns and name, but I’m going to mess up sometimes.” And I did. And I saw my formerly anxious, moody kid who didn’t usually say more than a few words to me, turn into my happy, independent daughter who felt comfortable with herself. Where in the past I had let myself be guided by fear - What will people think? What will happen to my kid?; I began to let myself be guided by my daughter’s bravery. Did it really matter what other people thought? Did I want my daughter to deny what she knew to be true about herself to make other people comfortable? I did not.
So I had conversations - with my parents, friends, and coworkers. Most people were surprised. Many had questions. But no one said anything negative or mean. I began to have hope that my daughter would be okay in the world. We sent out high school graduation announcements using her chosen name, and we celebrated her accomplishments. She went to college as her true self and said that she felt so happy that no one there ever knew her as anyone else.
There have been bumps along the way - some of her childhood friends struggled to accept her. She has had to battle anxiety and depression as many young people do, especially during this pandemic. Through it all, however, I am most proud that my daughter has a network of people who love and support her, and she knows it. I found the Mama Dragons community through a friend, and it was life changing for me. I learned that there are moms all over the world experiencing similar things with their kids, and that our binary system of boy/girl doesn’t work for lots of people. My eyes were opened to the beautiful range of human experiences, and I have been able to be a more open, accepting person.
We’ve gotten to a point where my daughter’s gender isn’t really a topic of conversation in our house anymore. Although I try not to assign her the role of being my teacher for all things LGBTQ+, sometimes I ask her to help me understand an issue. Recently I asked my daughter if she was ever worried that we wouldn’t accept her when she came out. She shrugged, rolled her eyes, and said, “Not really.” I guess she really had been listening to me all those years.