I think my kids are special. The most special. But that’s not actually special. We all do, right? But… I can objectively say that I am really, really proud of my firstborn for a special reason. In the nomenclature we use at home to describe gender identity, when she was born, “the adults guessed she was a boy.” But as she got older and learned about herself, she showed and told us that we were wrong. She is a girl.
That was a challenge for her – or any gender non-conforming child – in innumerable ways. Through toddler and early childhood, she had to do all of these things, and all with limited understanding of society, language, and the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, let alone the strides made in LGBTQ+ rights: Censor her self-expression in many situations (regardless of supportive family and friends). Navigate childhood friendships with the realization that she was different – “a boy who likes girl things.” Come to an understanding of who she intrinsically is in spite of the world treating her as a boy. Express her deepest and most important secret to her family. With support from her family, stop censoring herself and allow herself to present as a girl. And finally, confirm to the world that she is a girl, A., she/her.
Although special (we think), our story isn’t that different from so many other families who have learned that they “guessed wrong” about their child’s gender. My husband and I spent years nurturing our gender nonconforming child’s interests, playing down how different she felt and playing up our acceptance of her uniqueness. We spent years telling her, “It’s ok to be a boy who likes girl things,” congratulating ourselves on our open-minded parenting skills: buying Barbies and princess dresses and those pesky LOL Surprise dolls; together showing the world around us that there are many ways to be a boy. When our child would sigh, “I wish I was a girl,” we would be quick to point out that she was happily enrolled in ballet and gymnastics and had a room full of American Girl Doll chattel. And that her friends and family accepted her for the creative boy that she was. What more could she need?
Although it’s painful to think of the confusion she may have felt at times but couldn’t express, when I really think about it, I don’t see that we could have done it any differently. We had to let her develop her sense of self awareness and tell us in no uncertain terms who she was. Part of the excruciating part of this journey, as a parent, is constantly trying to strike the right balance. I wanted to support her fully, to be sure, but needed her to be the exclusive owner of her identity and the guide of her journey. Plus, we didn’t fully anticipate what the future would hold for us. In all of the literature I read, there is a distinct difference between a child who says “I am a girl/boy” and one who says “I wish I was a girl/boy.” We had one of the “wish I was a girl” kids, and that was that.
We came to learn, of course, that it’s more nuanced than that, and has to do with whether a child is internally or externally processing their feelings and sense of self. Our child was steadily internally processing, studying the world around her. There were no hysterics over getting undressed at bath-time or protest when we referred to her as a boy. She didn’t express disgust over her body or her name. What she did, though, was withdraw into herself further as she got older and sensed that it was less cute and more awkward to be a boy in a princess dress for Halloween. She would go to friends’ houses and shut herself up in girls’ playrooms, poring over their shoes and toys and pink décor while the other kids tore around the backyard together. She would be stealthier when trying on my shoes and makeup at home. She stopped letting us cut her hair, and the short cut “like daddy” gradually grew into a shaggy skater-boy look… until it was a shaggy androgynous long-enough-for-pigtails look, which she would request on occasion.
So we observed, and educated ourselves, and showed our openness to whatever might come. We talked about neighbors’ rainbow flags and what they meant. We took care to show both our children that there is no one way to love or to be. We found little ways to increase awareness as a family: “look at this picture of Sam Smith! They are wearing eyeliner.” Or “when we talk about Coach C. at our swimming lessons we say ‘they’ or ‘them’ because they don’t feel like a girl OR a boy.” Our kids never questioned why some kids might have two moms or two dads, but together we were all learning more about gender identity and expression. It became clear that our then-four-year-old son is firmly male-identifying, and that his gender expression is all things male. He calls his friends “dude,” as in, “hey dude, look how much air I can get on my bike.” His best friends are whatever kids will dig in the dirt with him. His first love is trucks. It also became clear in stark contrast that our then-seven-year-old son was… what? That was the question that was growing in my mind, keeping me up at night, but never quite spoken.
And then one day was our turning point, the never-going-back moment that changed everything.
We were getting ready to go to a Charlotte Knights baseball game with some other families. The kids had been looking forward to seeing the stadium and mascot, eating junk food for dinner, and riding the sugar high way too late into the evening with their friends. But all of a sudden, A. became distraught. She didn’t have anything to wear, she wailed. Frustrated, I pointed out all of the clothes that we had recently bought her that she had so far refused to wear.
“No,” she protested. “I want to wear something like what you’re wearing.”
“Shorts and a tank top? But you have those things!”
“No. More like what you’re wearing.” She was stepping out over her own precipice, daring to say it. And then it clicked for me.
“You want… girls’ clothes?”
She buried her face in her bed, sobbing. It was true. “They would make me feel more like me,” she whispered through tears. I hugged her, comforted her, and thanked her for sharing what might have felt like an impossible truth.
That moment led to the next, and the next, and to all of the moments that we walked together over a series of precipices. The day she wore her hair in pigtails to camp. The day she wore one of her cherished new girl’s outfits to a friend’s house (at first, she wore them just at home). The day she started second grade, still using he/him pronouns, but dressed proudly head to toe as a girl. And months later, the day she was ready to walk into her second-grade classroom and use her identified gender pronouns and the name she had secretly chosen for herself long ago.
That was our journey. It’s not over, but the voyage is on pause, in a contented steady state. At 8 now, she’s years off from needing medical interventions. And at 8, she’s already conquered the social transition and is living fully and happily as a girl.
Before she was A., while she was yearning for all things feminine, my child was also equally frightened of impending masculinity. At times, out of nowhere, she would suddenly be in tears: “I don’t want to have a beard when I’m older.” She doesn’t want to be tall like Daddy. She does, decidedly, want to develop as a female. Once she became A., we gave her generalized assurances that doctors would be able to treat her to first make sure her body doesn’t develop as a man (puberty blockers), and later to help it develop with female characteristics (gender affirming hormones). These assurances have helped her develop into the confident, carefree kid that she now is. But if just the specter of a years-away beard is terrifying for a young trans girl, please imagine with me the discomfort of actually going through male puberty: seeing unwanted facial hair and body hair sprout, an adams apple, deepening of the voice, and all while being powerless to stop it; her body literally betraying her.
We have been amazingly fortunate and supported in so many ways. We have experienced so much encouragement and affirmation. It helps that the clues were there for everyone to observe since A. could talk (or choose a toy or color to gravitate to) so nobody was exactly surprised. Mostly, people were excited and proud to see her blossom. It also helps that she transitioned at the age when kids may or may not understand the concept, but don’t really care. Or if they did care at first, they have already moved on and seem to have forgotten that she was ever anything other than A. (I have been impressed and relieved to tears witnessing this).
But for many of us navigating a child’s gender transition, it’s not really the kids we have to worry about. It’s the adults that bring their own baggage and transphobia and prejudice, or even simply lack of understanding or empathy that can still create wounds for trans kids and their families. And of course, it’s these same adults who can pass along their own baggage to the kids who would be otherwise open-minded and accepting. There are those who would question the legitimacy of my daughter, who are even fighting to create legislation which would have harmful and lasting impacts on trans kids’ rights and medical care. My hope now is to lend my voice to PFLAG and other organizations which supported us along the way, to help reach even just a few of those who don’t quite understand the issue and haven’t chosen a side from which to speak up. Because yes, there are clear sides. You can’t be ambivalent about whether trans kids should exist and whether they should have the support and medical interventions they need to grow into healthy, happy adults.
One of the bright spots in our experience has been finding new support and connections. We have a pretty special support group locally, Gender Education Network, which is specifically for trans and gender non-conforming children under 12. One of the reasons it’s so special is that most resources and support groups are geared towards older kids who may be at the point of needing the medical interventions. Our group, though, is just a gang of typical kids and their families. It’s usually impossible to tell which are the trans kids, and which are the cisgender siblings who have come along for the fun. We have playground meetups, where we are indistinguishable from other class groups or birthday parties flocking to the park. The group also consciously blends in, foregoing signs which might help a new member easily find us but also invite unwanted attention.
At first, A. asked to find a club of “kids like her,” which is what made me seek out Gender Education Network. But now that she’s so confident in being herself, she seems to have no desire to expand beyond her school and neighborhood friends. It might be like that for some of the other kids in the group, too. At our support group park meetups, A. and some of the others are sometimes hesitant to join in with the games of hide and seek and red rover. But the families keep going. Because even though my child might not always be thrilled to be there, I stand with other parents in small groups where we furtively talk about the best swimwear and ballet classes and therapists and doctors for our kids. And about struggles some of the families have encountered with neighbors or school principals or unsupportive family members. We share strategies and advice and just a listening ear. And because our son is always hoping to see his favorite kid in the gang – the boy who brings the cool skateboard.
So A. identifies as transgender, sure, but it’s not a key part of her identity. Mostly she is just a second-grade girl. While we used to have long bedtime talks about her fears and dreams of transforming into the girl she knew she was, now her concerns are limited to typical second grader topics. Our bedtime talks might be about friend issues at school, or an upcoming science presentation in class.
The other day A. said to me, “Mommy? You know, people like me…”
She paused, carefully choosing her words, while I braced myself. Had she been hearing the latest news about attacks on trans kids’ rights? Was she experiencing bullying at school?
“… people with brown hair. Can we dye it to be just a little lighter?”
Ah, yes. A. really identifies as a brunette who wistfully believes that blondes really do have more fun. We have frequent discussions about the age at which it’s appropriate to highlight or bleach one’s hair. I hugged her and said that in the summertime, we can try some sun-in and see how it goes.
“3-2-1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!” An immense wave of relief and comfort washed over me like an ocean crashing on the beach. I was alone, wrapped up in bed, but I felt the collective sighs of the east coast celebrating that 2021 was finally over. What followed was a fearless optimism about the year ahead. I started 2022 being utterly unsure of what I’d be doing for the seven months before the start of law school. I got rejected from almost every internship or job I applied to, and it seemed like doors slammed in my face every day. And yet, it was continuous optimism that landed me a position as chapter coordinator of PFLAG Charlotte, an organization that helped save my life.
As a community activist, I believe the optimism that often comes at the start of a new year is paramount to success. According to NBC News, at least seven states proposed anti-trans bills in the first week of 2022. The ongoing attacks on my community can often create feelings of despair. However, I’m a firm believer that joy and optimism in the face of oppression are radical acts of resistance. They’re acts that don’t go unnoticed by those around us. They’re acts that remind us that we are both the sum of what is and could be.
I’m full of optimism about what we can accomplish as a community and a world. So I sing praises in advance for what will come for me, the LGBTQ+ community, and society in the new year. I know that times will get tough. I know that hopelessness and despair may find their way into my life like unwanted house guests. However, if I have learned anything in 2021, it’s that optimism is a key that’ll unlock treasure chests of endless possibility.
My name is Pamela, my pronouns are she/her and (like many of the amazing parents and caregivers reading this) I am a proud parent of a gender non-conforming teenager. My child is a super creative animal lover who is non-binary on the gender spectrum and prefers they/them pronouns. They came out to my husband and I three years ago as a lesbian. In spite of my love and respect for the LGBTQIA+ community, I was unprepared for the challenges ahead. I was oblivious to how much I did not know about sex and gender. I am humbled by the lessons my child has taught me and continues to shine light on every day.
The year that followed my child coming out was the most terrifying time of my life. During this time, PFLAG Charlotte and Time Out Youth Center (TOY) were rocks for my family in a sea of uncertain waters. We battled a mental health crisis induced by the rejection they experienced from family members, supposed friends, and select individuals at school. Their school counselor recommended I take them to TOY. The resources they had access to at TOY saved their life. I have no words to express my gratitude.
TOY introduced us to PFLAG right away. When we attended meetings together, my child borrowed every book in PFLAG’s library. My child made new friends in a community of inclusive, caring people during drop in space at TOY. My child taught me the importance of respecting their preferred name and pronouns. My child even helped remove stigmas that had kept me from seeking my own internal healing from trauma. Two words resonate with me when I think about my child. Bravery and Resilience.
Through bravery and resilience, they have generated patience. Patience for receiving breast reduction surgery is our current focus. The surgery we hope for is medically necessary regardless of their gender identity. Yet, it has been delayed. The improvements needed in our healthcare system hit our transgender and gender non-conforming youth especially hard. Institutional and financial restrictions inhibit youth and adults alike from receiving the care they deserve and need. We are patiently moving forward.
Today, I am filled with hope, strength, and compassion. There is hope that collective consciousness is moving toward equality for all. Strength is generated daily by communal support and continued education. My heart is filled with so much gratitude for the love and learning I benefit from being an active member of the PFLAG community here in the Charlotte area. Practicing compassion for those blinded by hate is the best way to lead by example. This is what my child does every day. They have been my teacher from the moment they were born and I will continue to follow their lead.
Charlotte – PFLAG Charlotte has become an integral part of the Charlotte community since its founding in 1987. But the non-profit dedicated to supporting families, allies and LGBTQ+ people has especially seen demand for its services skyrocket in the past year, as families spent more time together during the pandemic.
To respond to increased community needs, PFLAG Charlotte is happy to announce new roles for two leaders who are very familiar to the PFLAG community.
Karen Graci will serve as PFLAG Charlotte’s first executive director. She will lead the organization’s efforts to strengthen families, empower LGBTQ+ allies, and elevate LGBTQ+ communities through peer support, education, and community outreach.
Previously, Graci served as board chair and president for PFLAG Charlotte. Earlier in her career, she worked with Deloitte in Washington, D.C., Wilton, Conn., and Charlotte, where her roles included manager of national recruiting.
“It’s an honor to be part of an organization where diversity is celebrated and all are valued,” Graci says. “We’re excited to expand our peer support programs and broaden our education and outreach efforts, while working collaboratively with other organizations to meet the increasing need in our community.”
Sarah Eyssen has been named PFLAG Charlotte board chair and chapter president. A volunteer with PFLAG Charlotte since 2015, Eyssen has more than a decade of experience in non-profit and board leadership. She holds a law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law. As a PFLAG Charlotte board member for the past several years, Eyssen has been an integral part of creating the board’s vision for 2021 and beyond.
Says Eyssen, “On my desk, a sampler stitched by my mother reminds me, “of my love be sure”. PFLAG began over 40 years ago because of another mother’s assurance of love for her child. It is in this same spirit that I serve. I am honored to be working toward a reality in which all LGBTQ+ individuals are affirmed in love.”
PFLAG Charlotte’s programs focus on peer support, education, outreach and advocacy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, PFLAG Charlotte has offered its programming online to meet the needs of families and organizations throughout the area.
Demand for support and education from PFLAG Charlotte has increased significantly since summer 2020, with a five-fold increase in requests for peer support, and more organizations taking advantage of the chapter’s ability to deliver remote programming. In the past year alone, more than 1,000 area professionals participated in a PFLAG Charlotte educational workshop.
About PFLAG Charlotte
PFLAG Charlotte is one of the more than 400 chapters of PFLAG National, the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents, families, and allies.
For LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones, PFLAG is known as a place to find community and support, to learn about the issues affecting LGBTQ+ people and how to be a better ally, and to work to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people.
Family acceptance and support are two of the biggest factors in trans and LGBQ+ individuals’ wellbeing. I know this truth at both a personal level and through my work as a psychologist with a focus on trans and nonbinary mental health; and this is one of the primary reasons I pursued an opportunity to be a part of PFLAG Charlotte.
As a transgender man with family and a spouse who see me as I am and embrace me as a son, grandson, brother, nephew, and husband, I know firsthand the power of family support. Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, my family didn’t know about transgender people and the best language we had for who I was was the word tomboy. My tomboyhood was embraced and affirmed. I was able to pick my own clothes, wear my hair short, have friends of all genders, pursue interests beyond what was stereotypically feminine, etc. – I got to live as me, and because of this, I was able to develop a confidence and comfort within myself. In my early 20s when I came out as a transgender man and transitioned, I drew strength from that childhood confidence and comfort. I also drew strength from the support of my friends, sister, parents, and extended family. I know that it was not simple for the people who cared about me to understand what I was experiencing and needing. I am forever grateful to the support systems in my family’s life (including other parents of trans people) who helped educate them and gave them space to process their challenges, so they could learn to show up for and affirm me. Being able to be myself and have my identity validated in my most significant relationships was critical in my development and my stability.
Indeed, research on mental health in the trans community demonstrates that family support is key to our healthy development. Typically when we talk about trans and nonbinary mental health, we hear about what can go wrong or what can be hard. Many are aware of the very scary and tragic statistics about high rates of suicidality and psychological distress in the trans community, but it’s important to understand that so much of this suffering can be prevented when trans and nonbinary people are supported in their gender identities and expressions. The Trevor Project just released their most recent study of LGBTQ youth mental health and found that young people who felt that their gender was affirmed at home were significantly less likely to consider suicide than those with non-affirming homes. Again and again, studies and stories show that trans people who report high levels of family acceptance are actually likely to lead happy and fulfilled lives. For example, in one study, 70% of trans teens and young adults who had very supportive parents reported very good or excellent mental health. (Only 15% of trans teens and young adults with somewhat or not at all supportive parents did.) There were similar trends: The majority of trans teens and young adults with very supportive parents were satisfied with life and had high self-esteem, while only a very small number of youth with unsupportive parents reported these measures of wellbeing. This is all to say that the research shows that to be invested in the happiness and health of trans people, we need to also be invested in facilitating family support.
Every trans person deserves the support and affirmation I was able to receive – every LGBQ+ person deserves this, and far more people would be flourishing and thriving if more families were able to be accepting. I’m so grateful for PFLAG National and PFLAG Charlotte’s meaningful contributions to a future in which gender and sexuality diversity are understood, affirmed, and celebrated.
 The Trevor Project. (2021). National survey on LGBTQ youth mental health. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021
 Trans PULSE Project. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for children’s aid society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. https://transpulseproject.ca/research/impacts-of-strong-parental-support-for-trans-youth/
Photo Credit: Dino Rowan
In 2008 as a recently graduated nurse, I remember taking care of a transgender woman in the hospital. She was on suicide watch. She had tried to kill herself because she had been in a fight, gotten arrested, and was being sent to jail because she couldn’t afford bail. The police were insisting that she go to the male jail, but she knew she would be beaten and abused there. I will never forget the anger I felt when the Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner made a very crude comment about how the genitalia she was born with should determine which jail she should go to. It was beyond my comprehension how a mental health care professional could be so ignorant and heartless.
A lot of people in the LGBTQ community have difficult stories. My child’s is not one of them; our family’s story is one of hope. My daughter was a senior in high school when we noticed she was interested in becoming more active in the LGBTQ community – going to Time Out Youth, Gay Pride Parades. We didn’t pry; we simply tried to encourage her to let us know what was going on. We let her know we supported her wherever her life’s journey took her.
By her sophomore year in college, we got THE phone call. She needed to talk. She told us that she was transgender; our daughter was now our son. I remember getting off the phone and thinking to myself – she’s not pregnant or dropping out of school, we are good. My husband had an anguished look on his face. I asked what he was thinking, if he was upset by the news. He was feeling awful about all the daddy/daughter dances, proms and other activities through the years that were forced upon our child and had made our child so uncomfortable. All my husband could think about was that he’d wished he’d known sooner.
I’m not saying the journey has been completely smooth. We were unprepared for the speed with which our son wanted to move. He wanted to start HRT immediately and had done all the research and had selected a doctor. We were still digesting the information. We were also struggling with what to tell people, when to tell people and how to answer questions. We were about 100 steps behind our son which was a very unfamiliar place for a parent to be. We had a hard time letting go and letting this be his journey that we were participating in. But he was clearly driving this bus.
When we did communicate to friends and family, we did so by email with the help of a PFLAG volunteer. We had a very supportive extended family and friend group. There are friends we haven’t heard from and some who have told us they don’t understand, but we are committed to supporting our son even if it means losing friends. My mother-in-law, a devout Muslim, was not accepting or welcoming of the news. This was hurtful to all of us and there didn’t seem to be a lot we could do about it. She was terrified that her religious group would find out (never mind that she lived in Canada) and that she would be ostracized. My husband tried talking to her, but it didn’t seem to help.
So back to the theme of my story – hope. I realize that there are lots of bad things happening in the world and in the LGBTQ+ community. However, there are lots of positive things happening as well; progress is being made. Whenever I come across these hopeful nuggets, I collect them up like trinkets and send them to my son and his friends.
Let me share a few messages of hope:
- In 2018, the first transgender man fought in a professional boxing match.
- In 2019, Everlast named that same transgender man as the Face of Everlast.
- In 2020, Playboy Mexico featured a transgender woman on the cover.
- In 2020, former boxer Mike Tyson defended Dwyane Wade’s transgender daughter against transphobic comments.
- In 2021, Joe Biden nominated the first transgender woman to a cabinet position.
- In 2021, Joe Biden nominated the first openly gay person to a cabinet position.
- In 2019, LGBTQ people of color outnumbered white LGBTQ people in broadcast shows for the second year in a row according to GLAAD.
- In 2020, after the election, only three states remain that have not elected openly LGBTQ state legislators.
Most importantly to me, in 2020, my mother-in-law started referring to my son as Oliver and using his preferred pronouns of him/he/his. Oliver has even gotten several recipes, the occasional “I love you” and a few blown kisses over FaceTime.
While we still have a long way to go, I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction. I will continue to collect and share my little nuggets of hope, knowing that one day they won’t be so extraordinary.
I am a 15 year old sophomore in a North Carolina high school, a member of the LGBTQ+, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. When I first came out as lesbian to my parents, I had been thinking about this day for a while. If I’m being honest, I thought they would be a lot nicer. Both of them said some very hurtful things to me. Words like “Do you know what will happen to our reputation if anyone knows about you?”, and “This shows you don’t care about how we feel”. I began to believe these words, and I was later diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
I never understood how being attracted to the same sex would be considered betrayal to my parents; I can’t help that I feel this way. I later found that a lot of teenagers and even adults have similar experiences when they come out. As human beings, we are all different, and none of us should have to apologize for who we love, or for who we are attracted to. I know what it is like to be in a crowd of people and still feel alone. The last thing I would want is for someone like me to feel alone as they’re becoming aware of their own identity. So I have taken my passion for supporting others, and have made it my mission to spread awareness.
I believe to move forward as a whole, we must come together and learn to accept others for who they are. Why? “LGBTQ+ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.” (CDC). Following are some thoughts from some of my LGBTQ+ peers.
“I sadly don’t have accepting parents, but it would mean a lot to me because I feel like It’d make everything easier. I wouldn’t have to go hide anything, and I could just openly be myself.”
“Having accepting parents means the world to me. They support me in everything I do, and without them I would have no motivation.”
I once heard someone say that you can’t heal in the same room you got the sickness from. Just like that sickness, negativity is all around us. It’s time we come together, spread education, awareness, and positivity. We all bleed the same blood. Sexuality should not be something you have to hide, and nobody should be able to tell you who you are supposed to love. Be yourself. Be proud.
This year, at least 34 transgender individuals have been killed, the highest number since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking it in 2013. The sad reality is that, not only have the lives of at least 34 people been cut short, many of their killers will walk free. The trans panic defense, which is currently only banned in 11 states, allows people to claim that they killed someone in a panic after learning the victim was transgender. This defense is typically used against trans women, especially Black trans women who have been historically overrepresented in homicide counts. This year is no different. Of the 34 known homicides against trans and nonbinary individuals this year, 25 were women of color. We know that within the oppressive forces imposed on LGBTQ individuals exist systems of misogyny and white supremacy but why? What can we do about it?
One of the biggest dangers that I see even among other members of the LGBTQ+ community is the failure to remember that we can, and often do contribute to systems such as misogyny and white supremacy that disproportionately impact the members of our community that need us the most. It could even be argued that this phenomenon is even more dangerous within the community because, though we are fighting for the rights of our LGBTQ siblings, the myth that we can’t contribute to the oppression that we are fighting against leads us to exclude our siblings that have also been excluded by society. Even within our diverse community, trans women of color are often left underrepresented in leadership, unheard in discussions, and unseen in movements.
This Transgender Day of Remembrance, let us remember the at least 34 transgender individuals whose lives were violently and senselessly cut short. Let us continue to fight for legal protections for our community. But let us not forget that the work starts with ourselves, recognizing our biases and blindspots. Let us not forget to hold ourselves accountable in the same ways that we hold our oppressors accountable. Our lives and the lives of our siblings depend on it.
When my son Justin came out his junior year in high school, my wife and I were supportive and, in many ways, there was very little change in our relationship. Justin had an excellent group of friends and other kind and supportive adults in his life and he was extremely independent and confident, so we did not worry about him. In some ways, it may have brought us closer. Justin was so busy with school and theater we seldom had time to even discuss it – Justin was just always so driven and self-assured. Seems like he graduated and was off to college in the blink of an eye and our interactions were more infrequent as he poured himself into a double major and Elon’s theater program. It wasn’t until a few years later when Justin was dealing with some issues that my wife and I realized just how much Justin had internalized during his school years (especially middle school). When Justin finally decided to open up to us, we realized that Justin had effectively lost a significant part of his childhood. He was continuously worried that he would embarrass us if it came out that he was gay. That brought tears to my eyes because that meant that regardless of how “progressive” I thought I was – Justin’s perspective was that he could be an embarrassment. I don’t know the burden being gay carries – I’ve read about it – Justin has lived it especially here in the South, but I can’t say I know how it feels and I certainly don’t know how it feels to not have a childhood.
Now add to all of this the position held by most – not all – conservative churches regarding homosexuality and you can easily see how anyone who is LBGTQ would struggle mightily to find their way in our society. I will spare all of you the results of my own personal deep dives into Biblical hermeneutics, dissecting the original Greek and Hebrew (a difficult task considering I barely eked out a C- in French). What I can tell you is – that as I look back with 20/20 hindsight – I wish I had held Justin close and told him (the first time that I thought that he might be effeminate or gay or different than his other friends) that he was perfect just the way he was. I wish I had told him that he was enough and that I loved him, that I was proud of him and that without question he is a beautiful creation of God – who also loves him – and to be himself because he could never ever do anything to embarrass me or anyone else. I also wish we had changed churches sooner than we did, but that is a story for another entire blog in and of itself.
My journey began four years ago when our smart, introverted child, took on an unrecognizable attitude. My child had recently turned 15, so my husband and I assumed that she was simply showing the “symptoms” of adolescence. Nevertheless, we were still very worried and wanted to help our child.
We had noticed shifts — more isolated, even sad. We observed changes in how she presented herself to the world — a short hair cut, more masculine attire. We began to wonder if perhaps our child was lesbian and didn’t know how to tell us.
One night, not knowing what else to do, my husband simply asked our child if she identified as lesbian, and she said yes. Now that our child was out, we thought the behavior would improve, but the depression got worse.
We were scared, and we didn’t understand. We found a therapist who told us after several sessions that our child had something to share with us when they were ready. It wasn’t long before our child left us a letter under our bedroom door.
The letter said that, after much thought and analysis, our child was ready to accept that he identified not as a girl, but rather as a boy. At first, I was shocked. I kept asking him if he was sure. Then I remembered that my child was never easily influenced and had always known what he wanted. I knew that he had done the research, and that he had no doubt about who he was.
As my husband and I supported our child with his transition, we worried a lot about bullying from classmates and the community in general. We also were not sure how to explain the transition to my mother. Would he find acceptance and support in our Hispanic community, at school, and within our family?
Our worries brought us to PFLAG Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that supports families, allies and LGBTQ individuals. We found understanding and advice in the peer support groups offered by PFLAG Charlotte. They helped us find affirming healthcare providers for transgender individuals. They even offered Spanish-language publications for my mother. As someone who plays a prominent role in my child’s life, it was important that she have her own resources.
PFLAG Charlotte guided us through the most complicated period of our lives. I am committed to giving back to the organization, and we are working to increase PFLAG resources for communities of color in Charlotte.
My son has overcome enormous challenges in order to be true to who he is: a happy, brilliant 18 year old who earned a full scholarship to an excellent university.
I didn’t end up having the daughter I anticipated, but I have a son who is full of all the traits I’ve admired since he was a child. PFLAG envisions a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued and affirmed – inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. With the help of PFLAG Charlotte, I believe this vision will come true.