October is LGBT History Month. To honor transgender people and their unique histories, I will be featuring transgender people and parents of transgender children all month long. Through sharing their stories, I hope to raise awareness of this amazing population of people who still struggle for basic human rights.
By Jennifer C, proud mom of four boys, including 15 year old CJ
There are scratches. Cuts. Barely noticeable but I see them as she moves her sleeve. “Are you cutting?” I say. “No” she says. But when she takes off her jacket I see them. And I’m scared and I overreact. We go to the hospital. Talk to psychiatrists and therapists. She’s ok they tell me. Mildly depressed. Follow up. Maybe it’s me but I don’t know what she could be depressed about.
One day she tells me, “I’m not seeing Bobby anymore. I like someone new.” I name names. Is it Derek? Travis? Brandon? No. No. No. “It’s different.” She says. And I know. A girl. Natalie. It takes me by surprise and I have to sit for a minute. I didn’t suspect but ultimately I don’t mind. Maybe it’s me but I think that love is love.
Struggles in school. Not turning in assignments. Not studying for tests. She has always been so smart, done so well. Gotten straight As. I threaten. I scream. I punish. I know she can do this work. She is so much better than this. Maybe it’s me but I think she is just lazy.
Ups and downs. Relapses with cutting. Outbursts. Depression. She cries sometimes for no reason. She looks in my eyes and says “mommy, why am I so sad all the time?” And I don’t know. But I do know that I wish I could take it all away. Maybe it’s me but I would do anything to stop the pain.
Two years of this. And one day we drive home after her birthday dinner. Just her and I. And she says I have something to tell you. Please don’t let it be THAT I think. Anything but THAT. But it is. “I am transgender. I’ve felt this way for awhile and I promised myself that this year I would say something.” OK I say. Maybe it’s me but inside I’m dying a little.
Months go by. Not much changes. I don’t get it. There are boy haircuts and boy tee shirts and boys swim trunks. But there’s also painted nails sometimes. And pink lacy shorts. And that boy that she likes. Maybe it’s me, but I’m confused.
I think of the past 15 years. She was my little girl. There was no doubt. She loved dresses, and princesses, and butterflies, and pink and purple. There were no sports. There were no cars or trucks. There were tea parties and Care Bears and My Little Ponies. Maybe it’s me but I wonder if this could be a phase.
Friends call her Cecil. Cecil James. I roll my eyes each time I hear it. I hate it. I don’t know how I can ever say it. But I stop saying daughter and sister. I stop saying Sarah. I say my child. I call her “honey” and “sweetheart”. Maybe it’s me but I think I might as well just say “hey you”.
So I start reading. Learning what I can about transgender. And I start looking. Looking for others. Other moms with this secret. They are hard to find. And when they are “public” (as public as social media can be) they are all gung ho. “My kid is great.” “We allowed the change immediately” And when I asked how long until you could use their new name “Right away. As soon as they told me.” Really?! How can that be? I hate his new name. (His?) Maybe it’s me, but this is hard.
One day she asks “will you ever call me your son?” I tell her I’m not ready. “But I will be one day. I love you very much and I hope that’s enough for now.” “It is mommy. I love you too.” And I think, maybe it’s me that she needs.
I finally find a group. A secret group where moms can say what they think. And ask questions. And feel real feelings. These other moms support their child. They say “son” and “he”. They give T and they buy binders. But they also feel and they grieve and they mourn. And they cry. They cry. Like me. And for the first time I think “maybe it’s not JUST me.”
I start remembering the past and looking at pictures and asking myself questions. Did she choose the dresses or did I? Was she trying to tell me something the THREE times that she cut her own hair? And her face in that picture. The one where she is wearing a beautiful dress and high heels and I think she looks so grown up. Maybe it’s me but now I just see such deep sadness in those eyes.
Strangers say “he” and “your son”. I reply with silence. But once I say “my other son”. And once I say “brother”. And I see it. A smile that is so subtle and yet somehow takes over his whole face and lingers in his eyes. I ask if I can call him CJ and he tells me how much he loves me for trying. I begin to realize there is a key. And maybe... just maybe... it’s me...
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Special thanks to Mary Tyler Mom who inspired this unique and beautiful way of honoring LGBT History Month.