By Shasta Van Arb
January 2018 seems like a lifetime ago now, especially after how far we’ve come, but I feel as if that’s when my family’s journey of being true to who we all are really started. You see, January 2018 is when my oldest son started therapy and essentially changed my views on life forever, all for the better, I might add. After my son’s first therapy session, his therapist had me come into the room so that he could tell me some things. That was the beginning of my child transitioning from being known as my only daughter to my third son.
Surprise! My oldest son started out as my daughter. He told me that he had tried to hang himself in his closet in December due to the bullying he was enduring at the school he was attending at the time. He then told me that he felt like he shouldn’t be she, but that he felt he identified more as a he. After having my own personal experience with a suicide attempt at the same age, albeit for a different reason, and not knowing that he was going through all of these internal struggles really made me feel like a failure as a parent, but it also made me instantly supportive.
He became an inspiration to me. He is a fighter, a leader, an open, brave, and strong spirit, who befriends everyone and wears his heart on his sleeve. When I look at things, it’s easy for me to say that I fully support him. The transition from using his birth name/pronouns to his preferred name/pronouns hasn’t always been easy, but I accepted it quickly. I had read stories about parents struggling to accept their kids transitioning, and I didn’t quite understand why, until I was walking through Wal-Mart and passed the little girls section. I was seeing all the holiday dresses, and out of nowhere it hit me that I wouldn’t be shopping for my own child there anymore, and as silly as it sounds, I became sad.
The thing that I’ve come to realize is that it was okay to be sad and feel loss, because it was truly not coming from anywhere negative or unsupportive. It’s simply the loss of the past, of what was, and future that I personally had envisioned, much like any parent experiences as their child grows. It’s taken time to accept that my vision of what my child’s life should look like, or the hopes I had for them, are just that, mine, not his. The reality is that he is his own person, just like I am mine, and his future will look however he feels best. I love him, my feelings for him have never changed or wavered.
Now, I mentioned that my son was also an inspiration to me. I was raised in a religious home, but I knew from a young age that I liked females as well as males, even though everything I was told was that it was wrong to like people of the same gender as yourself. It was that same religious rhetoric that had made my son scared to talk to me that I was still following at the time. After everything with my son, I chose to leave the religion that I had known my whole life. I felt lost and alone, since a lot of my friends disappeared, but I knew that I was on the right path for my life.
It was my son’s courage that allowed me to search for support. At the time, even though I didn’t realize it, his courage was also for me. I took my son to his first pride festival in September 2018, and it was there that I found the Mama Dragons and got my first hug from a Mama Dragon. Even on the days I felt alone, there were so many people out there to help, and I know first hand how difficult it is to reach out and ask for that help. I’ve found that sharing my story with others seems to help them know they aren’t alone, and that crying and breaking down over the life you envisioned for yourself and your kids that isn’t coming to fruition happens sometimes, and even those who seem the strongest go through hell and back.
It’s taken me a few years to make the courage my son lent me become my own. Along with the love and support of my amazing husband, girlfriend, and friends that I have found who accept me without a religious attachment, I have been able to come out openly as bisexual and polyamorous. In that same time, my youngest son came out as gay, and my middle son has recently come out as bisexual. That’s right, I have one big rainbow family, and I couldn’t be happier that my younger two boys have had such a great example of bravery in their older brother, who paved the way for them to feel comfortable in being true to themselves.