A mother tries to help her trans child find balance and connection.
A mother tries to help her trans child find balance and connection.
Briefly describe how your child first came out to you and your initial reactions.
My daughter, who is of college age and had originally let me know she was a lesbian 4 years ago (end of junior year HS), came home from college for summer after Freshman year with her waist-length hair (normally kept in a bun) all chopped off. She proceeded to ask if she could buy some new clothes “from the men’s section” because they “fit better”. Not long thereafter, she said she wanted to see a gender therapist. From the time she told me she was a lesbian to now (she recently told me that she is in process of finding therapist and plans to transition) I have told her she can only have true happiness if she can be comfortable with her authentic self, and I have been begging her to get counseling/therapy for a long time so that she could determine how to do just that. I assured her that I will continue to love and support her. More than anything, I was/am scared for her because I felt with as much torment as she has experienced holding everything in/hiding so long, something could cause her to “break” and harm herself – the last straw if you will.
What concerns did you experience over the first weeks or months? How did you deal with them?
Finding information for parents of adult children who reveal that they are transgender is next to impossible as everything appears to be focused on those under 18. Add in that we are in Texas, with a husband (dad) who is conservative and scientific and not religious (everything black and white, no in between), all I can do is talk to my pastor. Don’t get me wrong, it is helpful to a point just being able to talk to someone, but who I want to talk to is my husband. He was in denial when I shared with him the news that our daughter was a lesbian. I have tried to talk to him about the transgender reality a couple of times, but to this point he just shuts the conversation down saying I know how he feels about it and he does not agree and does not want to argue.
Another reality about my daughter is that she holds very conservative views on everything, but she is not an activist by any means. In fact, she doesn’t want the world to change because of her. I struggle writing this because I already think of her as a “he/him”, and I see more and more each day that her struggles are not any easier. Here’s the thing…she ADORES her dad and does not want to disappoint him. So I guess my answer is that I am still dealing with concerns and anxieties of my own which are totally about her. I know she has not shared with anyone else in our immediate family that she is transgender, and I hope beyond all hopes that she has found people to care about, who care about her too. She is an introvert so really shares nothing at all with anyone. I don’t know why she shared with me since we have never had a close relationship, but my hope is that over time and with help she claims she is seeking, she will be confident enough to present as her true and authentic self, however that needs to look so she can FEEL RIGHT.
Has your child come out to other family members over time?
What is the hardest thing about knowing their LGBTQ identity?
The hardest thing about knowing my daughter’s identity is knowing that she has been feeling trapped for so long, and she still does…and at a time in life (college) when there are academic expectations and social uncertainties all around. Again, she is conservative transgender that says “hey, if I go into a business and someone doesn’t want to serve me, that is fine because I will just take my money elsewhere.” Knowing/believing that the LGBTQ community is mostly about advocating for rights and seemingly mostly liberal when my daughter is an independent transgender person who doesn’t want to be “loud”, well, that makes me worry every single day. I worry she will never find a place or way to fit, even with transitioning. I am so scared that my love and acceptance will not be enough for her.
What are some challenges have you faced concerning your LGBTQ child? How did you deal with these?
My challenges continue to be surrounding her avoidance or refusal to talk with me more, especially since she is not talking to anyone else. She seems angry, agitated and genuinely unhappy. I cannot control that, and yet she seems irritated when I remind her she needs professional help. She is about to move to a new college (by her choice) with all new people and challenges, and I don’t know what her expectations are but I don’t think hiding/avoidance can be her coping mechanism much longer.
Not knowing where to turn, concern for her health and well-being, and definitely the challenge with my husband/her dad acknowledging/accepting/loving her passionately and unconditionally…again, he shuts down and she hasn’t talked to him at all about it though I know she wants to so desperately. The only reason he knows is because I told him. I hope she really does get the help she needs soon because while she is back at school out of town, I want to work on breaking this barrier with my husband and his views. I fully believe that if her dad were to open his mind and heart (he loves her dearly) and invite/encourage her to share her identity with him, a huge weight would be lifted off her shoulders and she would have much greater success with everything life throws her way.
What is the best thing about knowing your child's LGBTQ identity?
The best thing about knowing my child’s identity is that I feel confident she knows she can come to me about anything at all and I will help her. And though our family has mostly conservative ideologies and we live in an area where my daughter and any other LGBTQ person would likely be chastised, I see a huge opportunity for me to educate people. There is a huge difference between acceptance/tolerance and invitation/encouragement/support, so I can be a voice that helps assure the latter becomes the norm and not the exception to the norm.
Knowing what you know today, would you want your child to “stay in the closet”? Why?
I wish my daughter would have come out sooner…but even she says she didn’t know what was “wrong”…she just knew it was “something”…I was so consumed with having a relationship with her at all that I felt if I forced her to go to counseling and therapy it would make her resent me even more. Plus, my husband would not support it saying it was not necessary.
I don’t think anyone should stay in the closet. In fact, I think people who believe the world is black and white and binary are the ones IN the closet. I think all of THOSE people need to open their hearts, minds, and souls and realize that the gender spectrum runs far and wide.
What would you say to other parents learning the LGBTQ identity of their child?
Every family has differences and challenges to face. Parents have a responsibility to first and foremost be sure that their child feels safe and supported. Whatever your value and belief system may be, make sure your children know that there are many others out there and regardless of what yours are, be the selfless person you want your children to grow up to be and encourage them to share their feelings with you and do not respond with hateful judgment. Do not assume gender identity is a product of what you or your spouse or children have done. Do not tell them it’s just a phase (even though it could be just that). Give your child a hug. Talk about it…find a therapist/counselor/psychologist to help your child and your whole family. Do not shame your child. Know that for every shred of despair, fear, anxiety, sense of failure you feel, it pales in comparison to what your child may have been going through for however long he/she/they were going through it. Tell your child “I love you” and say it more than you think you need to say it. But also, please know it is ok and normal to feel sad and even grieve. You may have dreamed of the day you’d walk your daughter down the aisle to a male groom at the end of that aisle; the number of grandkids you’d have; whatever the case may be. Those were YOUR dreams, so take some time to learn and ask questions, but realize that your child’s dreams and realities are theirs to make, not yours. If you do that, and focus on their happiness instead of your own, you will learn a new “normal”. It is not easy. But you will be fine and probably have the best relationship with your child that you ever had.
What would you say to youth coming out to their families?
Wow…what would I say to youth coming out to their families? The best advice I can offer is to not apologize. Do not apologize for being who you are. And as soon as you feel different or that something just seems off in your world, find a person with whom you feel you can share so you can get help if you need it before telling your parents/family if you feel they will not take it well. Maybe make an appointment with a counselor or pastor and see if they can be with you if you are afraid to tell your family. Maybe a sister or brother or other relative is someone who can be a support to you as you share with your families. Each situation is obviously unique, but don’t wait any longer than you need to because anxiety can grow and interfere with every aspect of your life. Speaking of life, yours matters. Life is not about gender or sexual preferences, it’s about experiences and dreams and striving to be the best authentic you that you can be. If the “authentic” part is hidden, then experiences and dreams can be negative. People can be mean…judgmental, cruel and unaccepting. That stinks, but it’s the reality. Always be the bigger person. Feel sorry for them for being so close minded, but never abandon who you are. Don’t steal, don’t be violent or hateful, and don’t ever forget that God loves you.
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