It was a day full of emotion and tentative words. A day of loud silences, tears, and hugs. It was the day my child told me she was not “she,” but was he.
I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I also wanted to wait until my teen gave me allowance to address this. Let me set the scene:
Since my child hit puberty, he has had a rough time. There was some bullying and a lot of self-loathing. We even had a brief time where he was suicidal. I chalked all this up to typical teen emotions and a hypersensitive child. I, too, was hypersensitive, but I learned to quietly swallow everything and bottle it up. Emotions were not dealt with healthily, so I have always tried to cultivate a safe and open environment for my husband and child. Emotions themselves are not unhealthy—it’s how we use those emotions that can be toxic.
We got through the middle school years and coasted into high school. Life was somewhat better, but my child still floundered. For 10th-12th, we let him do an online public school because of his sometimes crippling anxiety. By senior year, life seemed to be leveling out, and my baby graduated June 2015—just shy of his seventeenth birthday.
Fast forward to July 2015. I had spent three days at teaching GAfE for a school near Muskogee. After that last day, I eagerly headed home. As I flew down the turnpike between Tulsa and OKC, I tried calling my teen to check in. No answer (which is actually pretty typical). Then I got this text:
I stopped at the McDonald’s halfway to text my response (I don’t text and drive!).
Then this one came in (a Google doc was also attached):
My heart dropped. I’m not a worrier; I’m more of a problem solver, but when you get a text like this, you can’t help but feel a level of anxiety.
There in the McDonald’s parking lot, I read the attachment, with some trepidation. It was lengthy but beautifully and honestly written. I have raised a talented writer. J
To summarize, my daughter was actually my son. He had begun some soul-searching in recent months and realized the truth of his gender. He logically and eloquently explained how he arrived at this conclusion and shared his new name. He also remarked how the movie Inside Out helped him explore his identity since the emotions and the character Riley seemed more open and not set on a two-gender dynamic.
I read slowly and thoroughly. This was my child’s heart and soul on paper, so I took my time to chew on and digest.
Then, I cried…and prayed.
Let me clarify: I did not cry and pray this wasn’t true. I didn’t rail to God and ask, “Why?!” Instead, I cried and prayed I would say and do the “right” thing when I got home. I cried and prayed because my rational mind immediately clicked through statistics for LGBT people in America, especially transgendered people. I cried and prayed because I’ve read the stories about the beatings and/or murders of transgender people. I cried and prayed because I knew my child was about to begin a hard journey—harder than anything else we’d encountered. I cried and prayed God would give me even more strength to be there for my son. Then, I started home.
I managed to compose myself before I pulled into the garage. I took a moment and a deep breath. The next words out of my mouth had the potential to nurture or destroy my future relationship with my baby. I don’t say that capriciously: My child and I have always enjoyed a closer than “normal” bond. I have no idea how I am so blessed because I’m not really a nurturing person, but my child is definitely attached to his mother.
I walked into my house and saw my child in our kitchen. I walked around to him and said one of the simplest and most profound sentences of my life, “Hello, Coby. It’s nice to meet you.”
I will never forget the look of relief on my son’s face and how he collapsed into me. I surrounded my sweet child with my arms and my love. In that space of time I knew nothing had changed and everything had changed.
It’s probably the only time I have been 100% proud of myself as a parent. I have no regrets and don’t think I could have handled that moment any better.
The last year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbow-farting unicorns. Coby is seeing a therapist for the anxiety. The therapist also focuses on LGBT issues with her practice, so that has been wonderful. We did keep all this pretty quiet for much of the last year, at my child’s request, to protect him. I even did the balancing act of saying “daughter” at school and to friends and family and “son” at home because I respected Coby’s desire for privacy.
We did enjoy a wonderful summer break together. In the last few months, he’s been much more open and much more confident. I am so proud of who he is becoming.
Ultimately, I have once again realized not everything in life is about me and my feelings; this is about my child realizing who he actually is and about him becoming comfortable in his skin. This has been about me not giving a flying f*** how my family feels or how anyone feels about my child. This is about my son being happy. Period.
As we have begun telling people, I have been amazed by the beauty and goodwill from some of our family (not everyone knows yet), our friends, and my students. While I have never minded letting Coby fight his own battles, I will say if anyone harasses my son for simply being who he is or if they deny him his right to live his life, this momma is ready to take on those people. Let me warn you, it won’t be pretty—for you.