It is incredibly difficult to put into words the emotional uproar that my family has been through as my daughter has transitioned into the beautiful woman she is today. The road has been long, with many speed bumps and it is far from over, but every mile has been worth it for my daughter’s happiness. Although most people think our journey started in 2015, in reality, it started long before that.
My husband and I could not have been more elated by the birth of our healthy, baby boy. We were fortunate to have close friends who had a new baby boy who was near the same age. We spent a lot of time raising our boys together. It did not take very long to notice that our sweet baby was significantly different than the son of our friends. As a toddler, he never quite fit in with the rest of the boys. I even recall late one night when he whispered to me, “What if I am really a girl?” He was bullied at school and was even so ashamed of his body that he refused to take off his shirt at the public swimming pool. We did our best to emotionally support and love our son but he never seemed to love himself regardless of what he tried.
In May, 2015, my husband came into our bedroom and told me to check Facebook before I left for work that day. There it was, the Facebook post from our child, heard around the world. Okay, maybe not around the world, but it certainly rocked our world. Our 15-year-old son was announcing that he was no longer going by his birth name, and we were asked to use her new name, Lana. I took a deep breath, got up, got ready for work, and walked out the door. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do other than put one foot in front of the other. The drive to work was incredibly difficult and I pondered the night, years earlier, when my sweet toddler had whispered those words to me, “What if I am really a girl?”
At first, I blamed myself, thinking I had done something wrong in the raising of this child. But then I remembered how amazing this child was and vowed to myself that I would do whatever was necessary for her to be happy being her real self. My husband and I buckled down for a few weeks and created a fortress of safety and love in our home.
It did not take me long to realize that the fortress ended at our doorstep. How were we ever going to make it beyond that? At the time, we were pioneers in our community. The school district was no help. The charter school was no help. We couldn’t even find a therapist. Things really were not going in our favor. Her depression was getting worse; the dysphoria was literally crippling her. I finally broke down during an appointment with my own doctor and begged her to help me. She referred me to a local pediatric physician who could at least help with the depression. I did everything that my child wanted. Lana was on just about every antidepressant/antianxiety medication and nothing was helping. I cried myself to sleep every night because I felt helpless. I mean, she couldn’t even use the girls’ bathroom at school and the teachers refused to call her Lana. It seemed even the simplest things were impossible to tackle. I was scared to wake up every morning fearing she had committed suicide during the night. This went on for at least a year and it still haunts me to this day. But we just kept on pushing.
Residing in a small, conservative town meant that there were not too many people who were willing to stand with us, but the ones who really mattered, not only stood with us but gave us something to lean against when our legs were feeling so weak. One couple really comes to mind; a couple in their 70’s who you would expect to have some cultural reservations based on age alone. I will share their story because I think about it often, particularly on the difficult days. Our good friends, Bill and Donna, were clueless when it came to what was happening in our home. We couldn’t get the words out. We were so afraid they would think we were failures or that we had done something wrong when raising our child. I was terrified to tell people of our situation. I think social media really reinforced this fear for me because of all of the anti-transgender politics that were happening at the time. A year had gone by and we were still hiding from these friends. My husband invited the couple to come over to my parents’ house for a BBQ on Easter Sunday. I just told Lana to be herself and maybe they wouldn’t recognize her.
Lana walked outside and all I could see was their faces. They were white as ghosts! Lana immediately wanted to leave. So, we quickly snuck away and I drove her home giving as much support as I could muster. A few minutes later, our dear friend Donna barged through our front door screaming, “Where is he???? She??? I don’t even know what to say, but I need to hug that child.” She yelled in Lana’s face, but with only the purest love, “We are here for you. This road is going to be hell but Bill and I will support you any way we can.” She wrapped my daughter in her arms and kissed her. That is the exact moment I realized we will survive. We really did have that support system. People will surprise you but sometimes you have to look for it.
It was roughly a year later, September 2016, and things at home were still very rough. Lana was incredibly emotional and it seemed that all of the medications were not helping. My husband and I had had enough. We decided that the most important thing at this point was her happiness and safety. I pulled her from school because that situation still had not improved much and we stopped all medications. Next, it was time to let Lana be Lana. We went shopping and indulged in makeup, clothes, and everything that made her feel beautiful. We decided to focus on the positive and to celebrate that we had survived the first year! It truly was a celebration for us.
Lana still struggled with progressing in life. Although she was comfortable in our home, being herself, it was incredibly difficult to get her outside of the house. I felt like I had to be ready to fight and throw-down anytime we went out together. I wanted to protect her but I soon realized all of my shielding was making her too comfortable being closed in at home; she was missing out on the beauty of her teenage years. I had to step back and push her to evolve as a person. It started with me urging her to get a driver’s license. This took us back a few steps because legally she was still Karson and it had to be documented as so. We took the bumps and bruises and moved on. Next, I literally forced her to get a job. She needed to get out of the house and learn to interact with others. If I thought getting the driver’s license was hard, it was nothing in comparison to her starting a job. Work was incredibly difficult at first. She thought everyone was looking at her. She thought her boss was gender shaming her. I honestly handed out some tough love during this time. It was hard but I knew it was right. We survived it.
In 2017, things really started to look up. We found a great gynecologist who specialized in hormone replacement therapy. Although it was a four-hour drive, I immediately scheduled an appointment. It was time, Lana was ready to start hormone therapy. She was functioning at work, she was off all of her psychiatric medications, and above all, she was ready!! The appointment went great. During this appointment, we realized we were definitely not alone. The doctor was amazing!! She actually treated Lana like she was NORMAL. I am pretty sure Lana had never felt that way before. Every patient that walked in that office was transgender and we were in Utah.
It definitely was a turning point for us. Lana was building self-confidence and I dare say it again, was feeling NORMAL. I believe this is what really motivated Lana to apply for a new job at Sephora. She was so nervous. She practiced her interview questions and applying her make-up a million times. Obviously, she is a natural make-up artist and a perfect fit, so she got the job. She absolutely loves working there. It brings out the best in her. Just yesterday, a girl walked up to Lana in Target and told her how amazing she is. She loves going to Sephora because Lana is so happy and friendly.
Lana never ceases to amaze me. She gets stronger and more mature every day. In the last year she has even moved out, into her own apartment. She is out in the world living her best life and making great memories with her roommates and friends. We have continued to hit hurdles along the way, but trust me, there is always a way to get around them, above them or below them.
To those mothers who may be just at the starting point, I want to end with some words of wisdom that were shared with me – “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child”. It’s true. We can help lift their burdens but hopefully we can also do it with a smile.
Writing this is one of the hardest things I have done. I try to only focus on positivity; however, this journey is really challenging. But I promise, you will survive. Reach out to your allies who are around you for help when you need it. I am very grateful to share my story and hope that my words can help some of you who may be on the same difficult journey. I am proud to be the mother of a beautiful transgender daughter!!!